Where Africa and Technology Collide!

Tag: poptech08

“Made in Africa” my talk from Pop!Tech

Here is my 5-minute talk that I did at Pop!Tech this Saturday. It touches on Ushahidi, AfriGadget and why I’m optimistic about Africa.

The best part for me is that in a recording I can make sure I don’t forget any lines and I can add more images into the slideshow. I know I had to cut out a section of the talk in the live event as I was running out of time. Either way, I hope you enjoy it, as it’s a mixture of my history that explains a little of my present occupation.

FrontlineSMS, Clay Shirky and Project Masiluleke

Ken Banks at PopTech 2008

Ken Banks, who I’ve become even better friends with since we roomed together for the PopTech Fellows program, spoke today about FrontlineSMS. With his British accent, talk of Daleks from Dr. Who, and witty comments he won over the room.

Matt, Clay and Chris at PopTech 2008

Two of my favorite speakers were in the first session of the day, Clay Shirky (Here Comes Everybody) and Chris Anderson (The Long Tail). Just read their books, it’s probably the best advice I can give you.

PopTech 2008

Project Masiluleke

From the PopTech Blog:

“In Zulu, the word masiluleke means “lend a helping hand” and “give wise counsel” – a concept at the heart of a new project announced this morning at Pop!Tech. Project Masiluleke, which spun out of a talk by HIV campaigner Zinny Thabethe at Pop!Tech 2006, is attempting to wrestle back some initiative in the HIV-Aids crisis in Africa.”

PopTech 2008

When the team who worked on this went through the numbers, the impact and the process created to attack the issue of HIV in South Africa, it was incredibly emotional. Robert Fabricant of Frog Design worked on this, and I’ve learned first-hand how this man can laser in on strategic design challenges – and they did the same for this project.

Robert of Frog Design at PopTech 2008

Really, this was an all-star team, Gustav Praekelt – one of the most knowledgeable mobile phone specialists in Africa – is helping to run the program. It’s done using the 120 character free space in “Please Call Me” SMS system that’s used in South Africa. They tack on messages to get people to come to get HIV treatment in private, so that they don’t have to worry about what stigma attached to that treatment.

Highlights from my Morning at PopTech 2008

If the rest of PopTech is anything like the morning of the first day, then I’m not sure my head can handle it. You can follow along live at Poptech.org/live, and track images on Flickr at PopTech08. Finally, follow the PopTech blog, as they liveblog the whole event. Here are my highlights and images from this event so far.

My catapult-driven tinker car

Before I get started on today though, I need to give a quick shout out to Gever Tulley, who helped re-awaken my love of tinkering and creating with my hands. I spent yesterday afternoon bending wire, strapping down chopsticks and creating power with rubber bands. My masterpiece was a catapult-driven car. Best of all, Gever runs the Tinkering School, and he’s a big AfriGadget fan.

Carl Safina and Saul Griffith at PopTech 2008

Saul Griffith started us off with some amazing visuals supporting his studies into energy use by himself over one year. You can join in at his crowdsourcing project of personal energy use at a site called Wattzon. It’s really quite interesting to see the breakdown of energy use by those of us who travel a lot.

Malcom Gladwell at PopTech 2008

Malcolm Gladwell spoke about capital usage by societies – I’ve read both Blink and The Tipping Point, so am also going to buy his new book Outliers when it comes out. Frankly, he’s an amazing speaker and it was just enjoyable listening to him talk. Funnily enough, I got to chat with his mother during the break, which was unexpected.

Language Hotspots

David Harrison is on a mission to save disappearing languages from all over the globe. He’s a professor of linguistics at Swarthmore University, and expressed well the need to save languages as we lose so much human knowledge that cannot simply be translated into a “global language”. Harrison has developed the idea of “language hotspots” – examining where the highest diversity of languages are, where the danger is most and where knowledge that is not widely known exists.

Imogen Heap at PopTech 2008

I actually didn’t know anything about Imogen Heap before I heard her here at PopTech. It was an absolutely fascinating moment for me, as she used technology to start echoing her voice and did a full song with only her voice weaving in and out in a symphony that can only be heard, not explained. Amazing. You can also follow her on Twitter @imogenheap.

It was wonderful to finally meet Rob Katz, who started NextBillion.net – the website that tracks and keeps discussions alive around products and services targeted at the “bottom billion” people in the world. We have big plans of having a good long talk over the next couple days, more after that.

Eric Dawson a PopTech 2008 Fellow

Lastly, a new friend of mine that is also a part of this year’s PopTech 2008 Fellows class, is Eric Dawson. One of the more grounded individuals that I’ve ever met, he exudes peace. This is good, as he runs an organization called Peace Games, focused on ending youth violence. His short talk was well done, asking us to not feed the evil, but the good in ourselves.

Best of all, the bags handed out by PopTech are by Timbuk2, and are excellent bags. However, anyone who wants to can donate their bag to Eric’s Peace Games organization for one of the 40,000 youth taking part in their program.

PopTech 2008 Bag

A Crash Course in Branding from Cheryl Heller

Cheryl Heller, from Heller Communication Design, is spending the morning with us at the Pop!Tech Fellows program. We’re getting a crash course in branding and, “creating a brand promise”. Branding is more than a pretty logo or a nice website, it’s everything that you say, do or are perceived as. It’s what makes up the organization and it’s what people understand of you.

Cheryl Heller and Heather Fleming talking about "Brand Promises"

I try to pay attention to the Ushahidi brand, but I got a rude awakening as Cheryl asked us to each stand up and give an elevator pitch on our organization. Embarrassingly, I had to stand up and stutter through some half-baked pitch on Ushahidi. Needless to say, I’m already working hard at getting this whole brand a lot tighter – all the more important as we have a growing community that needs to easily speak about the brand as well.

Brand Promise

It’s what you promise to deliver. It’s not your mission, vision and values. It is the commitment that the business makes to each of the people who interact with it. It works two-ways – they first capture what is unique and valuable about an organization, and then inform the actions necessary to make it true. An Example:

“Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”
– Ritz-Carleton Hotels

Erik working on branding at Pop!Tech

Ushahidi’s Elevator Pitch and Brand Promise

I was paired with Heather Fleming, of Catapult Design, to help each other figure out our brand promise. Cheryl came by to help us boil down some of these thoughts and channel them towards what it should really be.

When I boiled down the Ushahidi elevator pitch (and I’m still working on it), I came up with this:

In a crisis or disaster, ordinary people have deeper insight into what’s going on around them than either the government or the news media. When you gather that information in aggregate, you start to see the bigger picture much more clearly.

Ushahidi is a platform that allows you to crowdsource crisis information by SMS, email and the web. We believe that gathering that information is key to saving lives and speeding recovery during an emergency.

It’s free and open source software, which means that anyone, anywhere in the world can use this platform.

After much iteration, and something I’m still working on, is the following for Ushahidi’s brand promise:

“We open a window to the world. Making the invisible visible by providing simple tools, used by ordinary people in extraordinary times so that others can act on it.”


An invaluable exercise is to really learn to listen to others talk about your organization and brand. Hearing Heather and Cheryl talk about what their perceptions of Ushahidi is was more valuable that me endlessly talking about what I think it is.

What is Ushahidi to you? How do you see it, and what’s the promise that you hear/see in us?

WhiteAfrican and Kiwanja at PopTech 2008

Having a tourist picture moment with Ken Banks of Kiwanja in Camden, Maine right before the Pop!Tech conference begins next week. We’re both Pop!Tech Fellows this year, which is turning out to be way more fun than we ever imagined.

(Note Ken Banks goofing off as usual…)

This reflection is in the door to the Camden Opera House, where the event will take place next week.


Here I am hanging out with Andrew Zolli, the curator of Pop!Tech, at the Zoot coffee shop. We spent way to much time talking camera lenses and then running around the area taking pictures. Fun times!

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