WhiteAfrican

Where Africa and Technology Collide!

Tag: london

An Evening with Chinery-Hesse and Negroponte

Next week I’ll be in London to speak at the 21st Century Challenges event put on by the Royal Geographic Society with a focus on “Digital Technology in Africa“.

Besides that main event, it will be a busy 3 days as I’ll also be speaking at the World Bank, meeting at #10 Downing Street, talking at the BBC College of Journalism and at the launch of a Vodafone SIM paper on the mobile web in East Africa at the London School of Economics.

I’m particularly excited about the RGS event because of who I’ll be sharing the stage with. The other speakers are Herman Chinery-Hesse and Nicholas Negroponte.

The above video is Herman Chinery-Hesse, a successful and well-established software entrepreneur in Ghana. He’ll be keynoting the Tech4Africa conference this October in South Africa (along with my colleague Jon Gosier). Herman brings a wealth of knowledge on successful technology businesses, within a West African context. The understanding that the regions of Africa have differing business models and technology success stories is important to recognize.

Nicholas Negroponte is known internationally due to his long and storied history at MIT’s Media Lab. He’s leaving soon, and Joi Ito will soon take over the leadership of that institution. Negroponte spent his last few years heavily pushing the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, and I’m sure that will be a large discussion item in London.

Here’s Negroponte a couple years ago talking about the OLPC:

If you’re in London and can join, do check to see if any tickets are still available.

(The Lack) of African ICT Research

I’m at the ICTD conference at Royal Holloway, University of London, this week. Usually I wouldn’t be at a conference full of academics and researchers, but Tim Unwin (conference Chair), was interested in having a practitioner panel leading it off, of which I was a part. It’s a conference of very intelligent and driven people, with a lot more patience than myself, studying a lot of what’s going on in the ICT space as it relates to development in Africa, Asia and South America.

More Research in/of Africa, by Africans and African Institutions

One of the people that I’ve been speaking a lot with here is Shikoh Gitau (on Twitter), a Kenyan lady who has spent the last few years down at the University of Cape Town doing research. In the talk about “ICTD Research by Africans: Origins, Interests, and Impact” by Gitau S; Plattiga, P and K.Diga, there were some very interesting points given and a great argument made for why Africans need to be involved more.

“African research agendas need to involve Africans more”
– Geoff Walsham

It’s no surprise that most of the ICT research comes from South Africa, followed by Nigeria and Botswana. But even if you added up all the research done in all of Africa, it is only 9% of the research done in Africa is done by African institutions.

Who are the researchers in Africa?

This, of course, is what Shikoh and her team looked into. Here’s where you can help to. What are the African ICT research institutions? What are the publications?

Add any ones that you know to the comments below and I’ll add them to the list above.

Thoughts on Doing More

One of my questions about why there isn’t more African ICT research was whether this was a supply and demand problem. Is it because there aren’t enough researchers in Africa? Not enough research institutions? Or, is it because the people paying for and funding research are only funding researchers in their own back yard (the US and Europe)?

Part of the answer seems to lie in the lack of incentives for African academics to get away from “just” lecturing and into research. Another seems to be the lack of funding organizations looking for Africans to do the actual research.

I’m intrigued enough by this that I’m thinking of how the iHub can be used to support African researchers. If that interests you, let me know.

Virtual City’s Mobile Distributor Solution Wins Nokia’s $1m

John Waibochi of Virtual City, from Kenya, won the Nokia $1,000,000 Growth Economy Venture Challenge here at Nokia World today. This is an investment of $1m in John’s business, so it comes with support and connections that only an organization of Nokia’s size can provide. The award was given out by Stephen Elop, Nokia’s new CEO, as the first action of his at Nokia – this sends a certain signal to all devs around the world.

I asked John to give a quick soundbite on what this solution is:

John Waibochi wins the Nokia $1m Challenge from WhiteAfrican on Vimeo.

Here’s more:

Virtual City Ltd, a home-grown Kenyan company, has developed a solution that aims at addressing systemic issues along the Supply Chain for distributors and retailers of Fast Moving Consumer Goods in emerging markets. The Mobile Distributor Solution is designed to contribute to improved efficiencies and value to all the stakeholders in the value chain and result in increased number of transactions, accurate records, improved Inventory management & reporting from the field and effective management decision making. The solution will also bring value to a large number of beneficiaries comprising of thousands of small and micro enterprises in the FMCG Market.

It’s a product that can be monetized due to high demand by both retailers and distributors in Kenya. This is a very solid company, with a solid proposal. Seeing the video (not available yet) of this working with one of Africa’s leading beverage company’s was impressive.

From a Nokia Challenge perspective, this provides a solution that will bring value to a large number of beneficiaries comprising thousands of small and micro enterprises in the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) Market through the smart application of mobile business and cashless payment technologies.

The project will generate revenue for the partners Virtual City and Nokia, while increasing the income levels of the stakeholders in the supply chain by opening up increased product sales coupled with additional benefits of mobile payment capabilities, transaction fees revenue, loyalty programs benefits, etc all facilitated by inexpensive and affordable mobile phones.

The new found ability to transact via mobile phones and use cashless means to make payments for goods or services, has the potential of availing solutions that the over 6 million users of mobile payment solutions from the telecommunication players can access and utilize in their business dealings, the aim is to fully utilize the potential that a mobile phone has in adding value to the user.

Background on Nokia’s Growth Economy Venture Challenge

Launched at CES 2010 by Nokia CEO, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, Nokia’s Growth Economy Venture Challenge called on innovators from around the world to create a mobile product or service to improve the lives of people in developing nations and compete for the chance to win venture capital investment of $1 million.

Why is Nokia holding the Growth Economy Venture Challenge?

Nokia is a leader in enabling mobile technology to transform people’s lives for the better (through projects like Nokia Life Tools, etc.). Efforts like The Progress Project and the Nokia Growth Economy Venture Challenge endeavor to show the mobile community what is possible in order to focus the entrepreneurial spirit of innovators on accelerating transformation in these areas of the world. We see this Challenge as a win for Nokia, a win for the developer that is selected, and a win for their customers.

What are the criteria for selection of the finalists and eventual winner of the challenge?

  • The mobile product, application or service must undeniably enhance the standard of living or lifestyle of the target customer.
  • The target customer must be from a region of the world where the general daily per capita income is $5 USD or less.
  • The organization that receives the $1 million USD investment must have shown that it has the potential to be a vibrant and successful business that will be profitable for itself and its investors (as judged through normal venture investment vetting procedures).

Nokia World in a Time of Flux

I’m at Nokia World this week in London as part of the final judging panel for the $1m Growth Economy Venture Challenge. I’ve been reading and reviewing dozens of entries from all over the world, and I’m excited to see the finalists in action as they do their presentations tomorrow.

Nokia in Flux

There are a lot of things going on within the world of Nokia right now. The Monday Note has a great overview of the big challenges facing Nokia right now, not least their incoming Canadian CEO, Stephen Elop, and the effect that it is having internally on other high level executives.

A couple months ago I gave a talk on “Innovating Africa“to some of the Nokia executives in Nairobi, they largely dealt with Africa, as well as specific products and operating systems. Most of my suggestions were directly from passionate customers of theirs from all over Africa. The Nokia brand is still very strong in Africa, the game is still on here. However, Nokia needs to be careful that they don’t lose this advantage by faster moving, cheap Chinese manufacturers and the better software and UI found on the Android/iPhone smartphones.

Developers, Money and Nokia in Africa

Smartphone growth and marketshare is getting more and more aligned with the types of apps that are available for people to use. If the apps, utilities and games that they want aren’t present, then they’re more likely to move somewhere else. In Africa, where unlimited, high-speed bandwidth isn’t the norm, the mobile web as an option isn’t quite reality yet. It’s a different paradigm than in the West.

This means that you need third-party developers interested in building apps on your operating system. While almost all operating systems have a store for apps now, including Ovi, iPhone, Android, Bada and others, there is a glaring hole in Africa:

You can’t get paid…

So, here’s a hint for Nokia, taken from the talk months ago: make it easy for developers to make money, even in Africa. Figure out a way that people get paid and can bill via your server-side offerings like Ovi.

Smartphones

Africans are aspirational; they might not be able to afford the Mercedes Benz, but everyone is working their way towards buying one. The same holds true for smartphones, though the vast majority cannot afford a high-powered iPhone, the latest $600 Android phone or the Nokia N8, they look to who the leader is in the space. He who controls the mindshare of the smartphone space, holds the mindshare of the mobile brand as a whole.

Nokia N8

I’m looking forward to testing out, I’m sure it will have excellent hardware as all Nokia devices tend to be well engineered. However, I’ve yet to find a Nokia with good software or UI, and since it’s running the brand new Symbian 3 OS, it will likely be laden with bugs as all first-time OS are prone to have. (Engadget and CNet reviews)

Why Mobile Operators Can’t Make Services That You Like

Last month I had a surreal experience as I sat in the Global Messaging Congress in London, listening to mobile operators talk about mobile phone services from their perspective. It’s a crazy world really, one where the providers of the infrastructure also mercilessly try to hold onto and strangle every drop of profit from any service that sits on their network.

We’re all born in a small “company town“, where the mobile operators are the landlord and the bank, the grocery store and the mafia.

Interestingly enough, there is a completely different industry built on a much more open standard that separates infrastructure from content, transactions and use. That is, the internet. So, as we get closer to a world where there is less of a difference between the mobile and web worlds, then we see what happens when a strangling monopoly won’t give in to an open system. The open system bypasses it.

Some examples

Multimedia
It starts getting humorous when you start looking at value-added services like location, video or images. I sat there and listened to the mobile operators talk about how “MMS will never be the equivalent of SMS” – their cash cow. Of course, not with them running it.

However, 2 days later we see this headline from YouTube, “just since last Friday, when the iPhone 3GS came out, uploads increased by 400% a day.” What? Yes, that’s a staggering number and it’s due to the fact that no operator is running it, they’re just selling the underlying data structure.

Messaging
Twitter is a great service that allows personal networks to form and SMS messaging to take place on an ever extending one-to-many and many-to-many basis. It also works on the web, in fact, that’s one of it’s great strengths – the ability to treat any channel as native. When I look at Twitter, which is 3 years old now, I have to wonder why we still don’t see a Twitter-clone offered up by any of the operators working in the 192 countries that Twitter isn’t in. For goodness sake, the only major cost for Twitter is the “to-many” part of it, and that’s virtually free to an operator on their own network.

Location based services
When the mobile operators of the world wanted to control their location services, in the early 2000s they kept their prices too high for large and small consumer-facing organizations to buy their services. So, the web went around them… The entrepreneurs saw an advantage to going out and getting the number off of every mobile phone tower and doing basic triangulation from them and WiFi signals. Voila, the operator is bypassed and now makes no revenue off of a service that it could have provided for a lower fee.

Operators can’t build real consumer services

I’ve heard a a number of comments from within the industry like this:

“we’ve had the ability to do such-and-such (insert your favorite third-party service here) for a long time, there’s nothing special about YouTube/Twitter/Apple doing this.”

This is a true statement (most of the time), so why are there millions clamoring for these other services and not the ones that the operators offer?

The release of increasingly more user-friendly phones, coupled with services that bypass the traditional restrictions placed upon everyone by the operators, has created a way for the internet players to replicate or make irrelevant many of these same services offered by the operators. This will continue to be the pattern too, as the two industries collide.

What the operators should do is open up their basic infrastructure for third-parties to build consumer-facing applications on. Take a smaller cut on each application or service, and create a true ecosystem that supports more developers and companies trying to figure out ways to make more money off of your framework.

England – Africa Gathering – London

© 2019 WhiteAfrican

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑