Tag Archives: technology

Community Connectedness as a Competitive Advantage

In the last couple weeks I’ve had the opportunity to be in Nigeria (Maker Faire Africa), followed by South Africa (AfricaCom). Along with Kenya, these countries represent the biggest technology countries on the continent. They are the regional tech hub cities at this point in Africa.

In both places I was struck by how different each country is, and the challenges and opportunities that arise due to the tech community’s connectedness, regulatory stance and local entrepreneurship culture.

The Kenyan tech community in the iHub

Some Theories

South Africa has so much infrastructure, you’re immediately struck by how money isn’t an issue there. The lesson I took away from the DEMO Africa conference is that South Africans are far, far ahead of the rest of the continent in enterprise apps and services. They tend to see themselves as “not African”, and try to identify with Americans or Europeans. This comes out in their tech products, they have a more global focus and tend to fill the gaps that are needed by the many multinational corporates that call South Africa their home in Africa.

Nigeria has so many people, it overwhelms in it’s pure mass. It’s a bit cramped, louder, and more energetic than almost any other country in Africa. Nigerians have a long history in entertainment, with their Nollywood films and music spreading across the continent. It wouldn’t be surprising to find a killer entertainment consumer app coming from Nigeria, that can be exported regionally and internationally.

Kenyan tech companies tend to focus on localized consumer needs, and we have a competitive advantage in anything to do with mobile money. Even in the secondary and tertiary uses, I’m always struck by how much more advanced the Kenyan startups are with local eCommerce products and marketplaces than their other African counterparts.

Kenya is smaller than Nigeria and has less infrastructure than South Africa. Why then are there so many more startups per capita, more innovative products coming from Kenya right now?

A History of Community

Kenya’s technology scene is vibrant and there’s a certain connectedness amongst the community that isn’t found in the other two countries, yet.

Having a Ghana programmer talk

I was in Ghana in 2009 for the first Maker Faire Africa. I went around visiting a lot of tech companies and individuals I had gotten to know via blogging over the years. What struck me at the time was that there wasn’t even a tech mailing list that connected the community. We’d had the Skunkworks mailing list in Kenya since 2006. My assumption had been that every country with any type of critical mass in tech had a forum of some sort for connecting tech people to each other.

20+ members in the Ghana tech community came together at Maker Faire Africa and decided to start Ghana tech mailing list. I’m still subscribed to it, and it’s a great resource for both myself and those using it. With that list, and the founding of MEST in 2008 (their tech entrepreneur training center) that Ghana’s tech scene started to get connected and move forward strongly together a couple years ago.

Points of view

Fast forward to Nigeria a couple weeks ago. As far as I can tell, there are some tech-related forums, though not a mailing list. These have been valuable in connecting people, but it seems that the ccHub, founded last year, is the start of a real connectedness between members of the tech community. I got the feeling that all the energy and entrepreneurialism that makes up the Nigerian culture of business now has a tech heart and that we’ll see an acceleration of growth in the coming years that has been missing until now.

For many years, the tech bloggers of South Africa organized and centralized conversations around tech with events like 27Dinner, BarCamps and more. They have long-standing tech hubs, such as Bandwidth Barn, they have a network of angel investors and greater access to VC funding. There wasn’t a centralized mailing list or forum back in the day (before 2008) that I know of. A few years ago we saw the rise of Silicon Cape, an initiative to bring attention to Cape Town’s startup culture.

At AfricaCom an interesting discussion ensued around South Africa’s tech community and questions on why it wasn’t getting as much attention or traction as Kenya. Two points were brought up that I think are incredibly important.

First, while Silicon Cape is focused on branding (and doing a good job of it), what is really needed is someone to bring the new tech hubs, startups, angel investors, media, academia, corporations, and even the government together. There’s a lot of activity, each in it’s own silo. It’s a hard job being the trusted bridge between these different parts of what can be a very opinionated and political community. I’d suggest that Silicon Cape’s mission should be to do just this.

Second, In Kenya and Nigeria the founders of startups tend to look a lot like a cross section of the country’s population. The tech community in South Africa doesn’t look a lot like the racial makeup of the country. to put it bluntly, I rarely see a black South African tech entrepreneur. Not being from there, I’m not sure why this is, so it’s just an observation. It’s hard to build a product for a community that you’re not from, nor understand, so I can’t help but think that the South African tech scene would benefit greatly by having more people building companies to solve problems from all parts of that country’s stratified makeup.

A Connected Community

Sitting at 38,000 feet writing this piece, I keep thinking how there seems to be a link between the connectedness of a tech community in a country and it’s vibrancy as an industry. Though I realize there are other variables, this explanation helps me explain why Kenya is further ahead in some areas than other countries.

As I look to Kenya more deeply I’m struck by how important the egoless actions of individuals like Riyaz Bachani and Josiah Mugambi (Skunkworks), Dr. Bitange Ndemo (Government), Joe Mucheru (Google), and others have been in setting us on a trajectory that we all benefit from as the whole becomes greater than the sum of it’s parts.

This theory of a connected tech community doesn’t mean that the everyone always agrees or walks in lock-step with each other. There’s a healthiness in internal critique and desire to find solutions beyond the status quo of the moment. However, I do think it does provide a foundational element for cities and countries trying to grow a more meaningful and vibrant tech community.

The connectedness can come in two ways, digital and analog, and will have a different flavor in each country that mirrors it’s own culture. It helps to have a centralized digital space to throw out questions, opinions and find answers on efficiently. Equally, I think we’re seeing that analog, physical meeting spaces that are represented by the growing number of tech hubs around the continent are another way to accelerate the connectedness needed to grow.

Africa’s tech hubs are the new centralized meeting spaces, the watering holes, for connectivity and connectedness. However, it’s not enough to have a space, without local champions who are willing to make it their mission to grow, connect and bridge the tech ecosystem (gov’t, corporates, startups, academia, investors), then they won’t work.

The iHub UX Lab and Supercomputer Cluster

When I look at the tech scene in Africa, there is a single question that consistently runs through my mind.

What foundational parts of the technology ecosystem do we own, and what are we reliant on others for?

What I’m talking about here are the items deeper down the stack, the core components that allow a country to own its own technological future. Here are some examples:

  • Do we build our own software, or are we importing it?
  • Can we prototype and build our own hardware, even if not at the scale of China?
  • Are we investing in our own startups, or is that being done by foreigners?
  • Do we have our own researchers, or are we okay with people parachuting in from abroad to do that for us?

It’s quite difficult for me to do much about any of this beyond Kenya, so I focus on what I can do here and hope that it works and the model can transfer elsewhere. The iHub, m:lab, iHub Research and Savannah Fund are examples of this, where our efforts are focused on local software, startups and funding.

The newest additions are the iHub’s UX Lab and a new high performance computer cluster, both filling a void not just in Kenya but in the continent as a whole. Both of which will come online this Summer. Beyond that, we’re looking at hardware, thinking about what it would look like to have our own hackerspace and TechShop, in a model suited for Kenya.

The iHub UX Lab and Supercomputer Cluster

We are fortunate to have excellent corporate partners at the iHub, one of which is Google, who provided some funding to get two initiatives off the ground.

Creating a UX Culture in Kenya
In the software space design is one of our weakest points. This isn’t just web or mobile design, this is product design and it’s rooted in a lack of understanding or desire to provide a better user experience. Core to providing better products is doing research on what users are looking for and how they are using technology in the first place.

Shikoh Gitau has worked closely with the iHub Research team for the past year, in fact the core ideas that presented the challenge for that space to come into existence was from a paper she wrote, where she showed how little of the technology research done in Africa was by African researchers. Shikoh works with the user experience teams at Google, and started talking to us about the UX Labs that they run around the world.

I had also had the chance to do a workshop with Andy Budd at Tech4Africa, and then chat again in the UK later on. First hand, I got to know Gabriel White through some work he did for Ushahidi. Both of them helped me get to a better understanding of the value of UX research in the product design process.

All of this led to us deciding that the iHub should create a UX Lab, a resource that would serve the region. A place where companies and startups learn about and begin thinking about user experience as they develop new products. We’ll do this through masterclass training on skills, partnering with the top UX experts in the world, and by providing the resources for this to happen.

Mark Kamau has joined the team to lead this initiative.

The iHub Cluster

At the end of 2011 I was approached by one of the iHub Green Members, Idd Salim, about an idea of building our own supercomputer. Why?

Outside of South Africa, there is little to no capacity for cloud computing on the continent. This means that few of the programmers in this region have the skill sets necessary to work and build out this infrastructure. We have a severely limited foundation on which to build future services in an increasingly cloud-based computing world.

Some of the use cases where we see the need for this:

  • Research and training opportunities for super computer enthusiasts and university students
  • Training people capable of being SREs (Service Reliability Engineers)
  • Power-Computing service for local content
  • A host for parallel and resource-hungry applications such as weather prediction, draught prediction and real-time information dispatch.

The initial funding for a small HPC deployment has been funded by Google Africa Inc. Intel have further added to the project a Intel MultiFlex® Server for use as the “master” component of the HPC cluster.

Bob Aman works at Google here in Kenya, and has become a staple at the iHub where he runs his office hours twice per week. He, along with Idd Salim and Jimmy Gitonga are building the first 4 nodes of what we hope to be a 24 node cluster. The most I had done before this was build my own gaming rig, so I’ll be honest in saying that I’m the noob in this group, where most of the conversations are beyond me.

As with the UX Lab, the iHub Cluster will be for people to learn what goes on under the hood of HPC’s by building it, and to learn how to use the power in it to solve big data problems. It will also be made available to the animation and ad agencies in town for rendering services.

In Summary

The UX Lab and iHub Cluster will come online this summer. Both projects have the leadership in place to run them and the resources to build them out. They’ll both be located in the same building with the iHub, and both are being built with the greater Kenyan tech community in mind. Like all of the iHub initiatives, they only work when people from the community are a part of them.

If you would like to get involved in either, reach out to the respective leads: Mark Kamau for the UX Lab, and Jimmy Gitonga or Idd Salim for the Cluster.

Skoll: Entrepreneurs in a Time of Flux

“To improve is to change. To be perfect is to change often.” – Winston Churchill

The theme of the 2012 Skoll World Forum is “Flux: seizing momentum, driving change”, which I think is a fantastic one. We’ve never had such upheaval in the way businesses work, in how citizens interact with government, or in how information flows in the world. It’s about change, and survival in a time of flux is best done through agility and creativity.

“As an operating paradigm, it expresses the fluid nature of relationships, policies, institutions and human beings which are ever changing in non-linear ways.”

Thriving on Acceleration

The world we live in today is accelerating, in just about everything we’re seeing disruptive models and changing norms. We’ve always had change in the world, it just hasn’t moved this fast before. Lucas Welch of Soliya put this best when we spoke today, explaining how people tend to meet this accelerating change in two ways; terror with its built in threat response activities, or embrace it as a new norm with the agility needed to move with it.

As Hans Rosling so masterfully showed us yesterday, we’re seeing a population shift, where the majority of the world’s population is in Africa and Asia, and how the West (a term difficult to define) needs to come to grips with the power shift from West to East.

“Strategy is your portfolio of experience” – Bill Brindley

I had an interesting discussion with Bill Brindley, the CEO of NetHope, where we were talking about how leaders of organizations today need to be a lot more fluid with their strategy. It isn’t enough to have a lot of books and an expensive university degree any longer (has it ever?), now, more than ever a leader needs to build on their experience. How those who run organizations need to engage and adjust on the fly when the paradigms shift underfoot.

For the entrepreneurs on the forefront of disruption, the real innovators who are responsible for breaking the status quo, they are able to better sense the change and adjust to it than others. They often fight an uphill battle getting people to understand what’s going on, to understand their business and to fund it. As Gordon Brown reminded us, through a quote by Albert Einstein, “No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it“, which is why so many of the new solutions sound so crazy and struggle so much… until they win.

Technology the Foundational Change Agent

Underlining the changes we see shaking the foundations of the way the world has traditionally worked, is technology. 87% of the world’s population has a mobile phone. The cost of accessing the internet has continued to speed up and decrease in costs across the globe. These basics; devices and data flow, are the foundations upon which ordinary people have built new companies, have leveraged for social and regime change, and are adjusting the dynamics of how communities interact everywhere.

Nigel Snoad of Google’s Crisis Response team talks about the “consumerization of IT”, where devices and data are widespread throughout society and the impact this is having on every sector, not just for disaster relief. Robert Kirkpatrick of the UN’s Global Pulse team talks about “digital exhaust”, all of the data and signals put out by people using mobile phones and the web, and thinks of how it can be captured and used to improve the planning that both UN bodies and governments do.

I can’t help but think that our changing world is driven on technological shifts, and that their solutions will have technology as part of their answer. For instance, with this aforementioned data overload issue, we can’t wish for technology use to decline, instead we need to find ways to harness the same tools to make sense of it.

Entrepreneurs in a time of Flux

When I look at the entrepreneurs in Oxford I’m energized, because what I see is a new generation of leaders who are looking at some of the worlds most difficult problems in new ways. They don’t see problems, they see opportunities and challenges that can be overcome in the midst of the flux that upsets many of their peers. They flip the “known” on its head and they refuse to accept norms as something that applies to them.

When I look at the flux in the world, I’m excited, as it provides room for the misfits – it gives breathing room to the crazy ideas and those that hold them to move, to act and create. While this flux brings down industries and regimes, it also provides a chance to build up new solutions that benefit a greater number of people. If anything, that’s what this Skoll World Forum is about, it’s about giving a space and a chance to the new thinkers to emerge and find the few others that might believe in them enough to support them as they tilt at windmills.

Our Voices Revolutionize the World

[The following is from my Institute of Medicine Talk on communications technologies for violence prevention in Washington DC today. A good background paper to get started on the context of tech in violence prevention is found in this PDF. ]

Something has changed over the last decade.

New technology is lowering barriers. For everyone, and everything. It is disruptive just by existing and by it’s penetration into every corner of the world. We’re talking mobile phones, social media, open data, inexpensive mapping and of course the internet itself.

It can be used just as easily for good as for bad, like any other tool and medium before it. However, the biggest difference in our new technology space, is that what before had at least some gatekeepers, now has few or none.

Inefficiencies in older industries or organizations are areas ripe to be disintermediated in our day of new tools and democratizing of information. Think big media, government, the humanitarian field and even the medical and healthcare industries. Many of these are centralized, top-down information systems which are being forced (or will be forced) to change, or become obsolete and die out in their current form. Not because what they represent is bad, but because how they do it is no longer viable.

Legacy systems and processes were built for a use case that is often decades, if not centuries, old. Internet and mobile phone technology bring new efficiencies and lower barriers. At the very least we can expect new technology to augment what’s there, if it doesn’t displace it entirely.

We’ve see this rippling through the media world for the past few years, large magazines and newspapers are going out of print, major TV networks are struggling. New technology is changing the news paradigm.

We see it in government, from fund raising to how wars are fought, and especially to how a faster moving populace interacts with a slower, archaic and sometimes rotten system that rules them. New technology makes a nimble adversary out of the people that the government is sworn to serve.

We see this in the humanitarian space, where large, slow and ungainly organizations can’t seem to coordinate the resources to meet their mandate, yet raise enough money to keep themselves in business. New technology allows the affected people to self-organize and solve their own problems, and leads us to question why some organizations exist at all.

Let me give you a finite example of this, from my own organization, Ushahidi.

Ushahidi was born out of the post-election violence in 2008. In that first week, a number of us came together as an ad hoc group of volunteers and in 3 days created a website that allowed anyone in the country to send in text messages, emails or web reports on problems happening in their area and we mapped them and put them on a timeline. It was simple, rudimentary even, but it worked.

It worked because people were looking for an outlet, they wanted to let people know what was happening to them.

What we’ve seen since that time is that Ushahidi has proliferated, not because of the technology, but because of the use cases that it makes possible. It is a free and open source platform for gathering and visualizing information and it has been used for everything from disaster response to election monitoring, citizen journalism and community engagement.

There are now over 20,000 deployments of the Ushahidi platform operating in 132 countries. Our goals for Ushahidi are simple; to disrupt the way information flows in the world by providing the best tools for democratizing information with the least barriers to entry.

In the beginning this meant take what took us 3 days to build and make it available to others so they didn’t have to start from scratch. Something that would take them only 3 hours to deploy. Last year we dropped that to 3 minutes with the launch of Crowdmap, our cloud-based version of Ushahidi.

We’ve also created many mobile tools, from an Android-based SMS gateway to customizable iPhone and Android apps.

3 lessons we learned early:

  • We didn’t have the credentials. None of us were humanitarians, we just cared about our home and wanted to do something.
  • We had no funding. It wasn’t until 4 months later that we formed Ushahidi as an organization, and 4 months after that when we received funding. That didn’t stop us from doing something.
  • We had no time. If we had thought long and hard before we built our system, it probably would have been too complicated and wouldn’t have worked. We also might have thought of a more sayable name…

All of the lessons that we’ve learned through our journey are baked into our organizations culture. We question assumptions and we treasure disruption. We’re willing to take risks that leave us open to failure, in our effort to change the way information flows in the world.

There’s a term that I came across last year called “White Space“, and it’s best definition is:

“…where rules are vague, authority is fuzzy, budgets are nonexistent, and strategy is unclear…”

The most innovative ideas come from this white space; internally within organizations, in the startup space and in society in general. At the end of the day, much of the white space definition looks a lot like where I live and work in Africa. And I think it’s why its sometimes easier to come up with innovative solutions there, and why we’re going to see an increasing number of solutions to the problems in the West coming from places that look a lot like Africa.

The best disruptive ideas come from the edge. So, let’s look at the edge, cases from around the globe, for some examples of how technology is being used to make an impact on violence prevention.

  • HarassMap (Ushahidi + FrontlineSMS) – Egypt
  • BullyMapper (FrontlineSMS + Ushahidi) – Australia
  • Human Rights (Ushahidi) – Saudi Arabia by Amnesty Int’l
  • YoungAfrica Live (Internet via mobile) – South Africa
  • YETAM (FrontlineSMS + Ushahidi) – Benin by Plan
  • Apartheid Watch (Ushahidi) – Israel and Palestine
  • Hollaback (Phone cameras and a website) – US, India, Mexico and Argentina
  • PeaceTXT (SMS and trained people) – US
  • Maps4Aid (Ushahidi) – India
  • Take Back the Tech (Ushahidi) – Global

“Across the globe—and without any organizing or mobilization by NGOs or watchdogs—people confronted with threats to their rights are communicating out those experiences, in effect reasserting agency over their own rights protection.” – Amnesty International

Those are all exciting examples, showing what can be done with new technology. Suddenly there are no barriers to entry, anyone can take part, and it doesn’t require that someone have authority to begin. It’s just a matter of figuring out what you want to do and galvanizing a community to take part.

Is technology a panacea? Not at all.

As my friend Clay Shirky says, “The technology only becomes interesting when it is no longer interesting to technologists.”

We use a graphic in Ushahidi to remind users of our tools that the technology is only a small part of any solution. We say that 90% of the work is non-tech related, and can take the form of organizing, outreach, branding, translation, etc.

It’s a reminder to us as well, that we need to focus on creating tools that augment human activity and get out of the way as much as possible. That, in the end, is what makes the earlier examples so interesting; they worked because they used the simple tools available in people’s pockets to interact and bring attention to a much larger population, audience or intermediary.

Just this week a new site was launched, like it’s predecessor in Egypt it’s purpose is to draw attention to the harassment that women get, this time in Ramallah, Palestine. Residents of Ramallah, as well as staff from Palestinian women’s organizations and civil society came together and did something, they built Streetwatch. It was self-organized, it emerged from local needs and tools were found that could suit them.

“They have an opportunity to help themselves and other honest citizens of Ramallah to isolate the problem areas and say no to sexual harassment.”

This is the new story of our time, that:

“Our voices revolutionize the world.” – David Kobia, Ushahidi

Those 5 words. That simple statement.

The revolution is here, you’ve watched it shake industries, rock countries and effect your own community – and what you’re seeing is only the beginning of the massive changes sweeping across the world.

It’s not complicated. It’s the effect of technology democratizing information and changing the way it flows in the world.

It’s simple solutions, by unqualified but driven people, like the communities in Ramallah, Egypt, India and even here in the US, that provide a foundation for the changes that we’re seeing. It’s ordinary people, using simple technology to organize themselves and take care of their own problems.

Your task is to look closely, to understand the basics and then figure out how to use these new tools at your disposal to make a difference. In your case, to specifically prevent violence and help those who have been hurt.

The Subtle Condescension of “ICT4D”

I have cognitive dissonance over the term “ICT4D“. The term “ICT4D” is confusing, hypocritical and has a whiff of condescension that makes me cringe.

As I understand it, it’s what NGO’s do in places like Africa and Asia, but if the same things are done in poor communities in the US or Europe, it’s not called ICT4D, it’s called civil society innovation or a disruptive product.

I’ll be the first to say that I think more communications and technology tools in the hands of ordinary people is good, it’s what we need. For this reason I didn’t come down on the OLPC project, not because I agreed with it’s strategy or reason for existing, but because I simply think that getting more computers in kids hands is good idea.

So, let me be clear: I’m not against the practice of getting more ICT into Africa, I’m just don’t appreciate the condescension and hypocrisy that the term ICT4D comes with, and I’ll bring up the reasons that it actually constrains the technology innovation culture in Africa.

What do we really mean by “ICT4D”?

Ken Banks is doing a fun “ICT4D Postcards Project” where he’s asking people who work in that field to send him a picture with a note of why it matters to them. Though a fun project, I hesitated when asked to participate, because I’m particularly put off by the terminology. But, I did one, and here it is:

A few of the UN cars outside UNMIL in Liberia

“ICT4D” represents a mental roadblock. A term that brings as much baggage with it as a sea of white SUVs, representing the humanitarian industrial complex’s foray into the digital world. It means we’re trying to airlift in an infrastructure instead of investing in local technology solutions. Like the SUVs, it’s currently an import culture that will not last beyond the project’s funding and the personnel who parachuted in to do it.

If an ICT4D-type project is done in a poor part of America, is it still considered ICT4D?

That’s the question that sums up the hypocrisy of this term to me more than anything else. Here’s a an example of what I mean, on a project that I really like and am behind: PeaceTXT. It’s using mobile phones and SMS to help with violence interruption in Chicago.

Is that ICT4D? If it was deployed in Johannesburg or Mogadishu it sure would be labeled as such.

Is ICT4D basically branding for emerging market tech? It seems like it’s a way to name interesting and innovative products from Africa and Asia as something different than their counterparts doing the same thing in the West. In the West they’re called a disruptive initiative or civil society product.

If an African company creates a product that gets millions of Africans using technology to communicate better, which seems to be the very definition of ICT4D, are they automatically that? Mxit does that… What are they?

Let’s say you’re Kilimo Salama, run by my friend Rose Goslinga, which is a micro-insurance program designed for Kenyan farmers, and a partnership between Syngenta Foundation, UAP Insurance, and Safaricom. You charge, make money and yet are helping both small and large farmers alike. Is this ICT4D?

A roadblock to African tech

I was recently discussing this term with one of my Kenyan tech friends, where he stated, “I always picture a team from the UN putting up toilets in Uganda when I hear of ICT4D.”

Uganda: poster about UDD toilets

That’s one of the key problems that the ICT4D space, because to an African it comes with all the baggage of 60+ years of failed aid and development work on the continent. It triggers that begging bowl mentality, instantly stripping the dignity away from the initiative.

It also feels like this is how international NGOs are trying to stay relevant, by creating a new department and new initiatives that the big funders will buy into and support (themselves to stay relevant). Ask yourself, how many ICT4D projects in Africa are more than pilot projects? How many are just Westerner organizations parachuting in, which have no hope of staying alive beyond the time and funds put in by their organization? Sounds like the same old “aid story” to me.

That might be annoying, but the actual problem with this is twofold.

First, the African technology startup scene is young, but it’s ready to be treated as a real industry with real investors looking to make real returns. When the people who are doing business and making money in African tech get a sniff of an “ICT4D” project, they immediately dismiss it – labeling it as a special needs project where the regular rules don’t apply.

A startup company who is trying to create value and make money, but doing so with what outsiders view as poor or disadvantaged communities, is often pigeonholed internationally as ICT4D. For instance, is Esoko the money-making agricultural product from Ghana, which is now in a dozen countries, an ICT4D company? How about if a company started off by being used in Africa, but then their product went global – such as with Ushahidi?

Second, the funds and work put into this space by the NGOs are creating a false floor in the economy. They’re undermining the community of tech entrepreneurs who could be building the same products and services and charging for it, just like we’d expect any company in the West to do if there was a valuable service worth paying for. If it’s a service that should be supplied by the government, then they’re short-circuiting those responsibilities and subsidizing actions that subvert the public offices away from their duty.

Let’s say, for arguments sake, that the only way to get a much needed project going is to get a Western team in-country to start it. Is there a reason why ICT4D projects are slow to get local ownership, management and team members? Is this technology tourism and fabricated externally run projects, created because doing work in Africa is an adventure?

In Closing

What I’m hoping to get across is that we’re doing ourselves a disservice with this terminology and that it has a negative perception in the tech startup culture in Africa. Technology is about overcoming inefficiencies in the system, and products succeed because they solve real needs within communities. In Africa, as in the West, some of these solutions are for-profit and some not-for-profit. It’s important to invest in the local startups involved in trying to solve these problems and come at it from a more objective view, instead of labeling innovative technology solutions from Africa automatically as ICT4D.

We have to thinking less of ICT as something that’s about development, and more of it as a commercial venture. We need more focus on ICT4$ than ICT4D.

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 Afrilabs Association

In 2008 a couple of tech guys sitting around a table after Barcamp Nairobi first discussed the idea that eventually would become the iHub. In January 2010 there was another group, this time of people trying to setup their own labs, hubs and coworking environments in other countries across the continent.

It was there that the idea for Afrilabs was born: an association of these facilities across the continent. The association is for linking the spaces for learning, growth, and to provide greater mass for the entrepreneurs that we work with.

The labs serve as an accessible platform for bringing together technologists, investors, tech companies and hackers in the area. Each lab shares a focus on young entrepreneurs, Web and mobile-phone programmers and designers.

Spaces and Models

The founding 5 member facilities are the iHub in Kenya, ActivSpaces in Cameroon, Hive Colab in Uganda, Nailab in Kenya and Banta Labs in Senegal.

There aren’t many spaces like this across Africa, and there were even fewer a year ago, though we hope that more will quickly be added from many other countries. Already we’re hearing about new spaces popping up in Nigeria and the Ivory Coast, with planned ones in Tanzania and Ghana.

We’re all experimenting with our models. Some are pure coworking, some incubators, others provide freelancers a chance to act as a collective agency, while some serve as a community commons where tech serendipity happens. My take is that we’ll end up having as many models as the unique city cultures that spawn them, mixed in with the ethos of the founders. And there’s room for many more, even in the same city.

Why Afrilabs?

The Afrilabs Association serves a few purposes:

  1. Provide an association that is easily accessible by lab and hub managers, where they can learn from their peers, understand the different models and connect easily.
  2. Provide a bigger target (continent vs country) for attracting outside investors for the entrepreneurs in the labs. Possibly with an Afrilabs fund, accessible only through the filter of an entrepreneur’s local lab.
  3. AfriLabs seeks to build on this common vision and further promote the growth and development of the African technology sector.

I’m excited to see the dawn of this new open and accessible model of coworking, incubation and community spaces for Africa’s tech industry. Not only will the labs receive greater visibility, but businesses and investors now have a channel to more easily source talent and investments within Africa’s tech community.

If you run a tech lab or hub in Africa, or are putting together one, make sure you contact Afrilabs.

The Kenyan Mobile Money Ecosystem

[This is a guest post by Ben Lyon of Kopo Kopo, and recently of FrontlineSMS:Credit, who I consider to be one of the leading experts on mobile money, banking and payments in Africa. Kopo Kopo aims to make the integration of microfinance and mobile money as affordable as possible by offering a software-as-a-service that connects m-money transaction data to customer accounts in a range of common loan management systems. You can follow Kopo Kopo on Facebook and Twitter.]

Mobile Phone with Money in Kenya

Kenya is by far the most exciting, innovative mobile money market on earth. Below is an overview of some of the major and upcoming players.

MAJOR PLAYERS

Safaricom M-Pesa
Launched in March 2007, Safaricom M-Pesa was the first mobile money system in Kenya. It is now the most successful mobile money deployment on earth, boasting use by 51% of the adult population. In addition to person-to-person transfers, you can use M-Pesa to remit funds from the UK to Kenya, pay bills, purchase goods, buy airtime, and, with the launch of M-Kesho, move funds to and from an interest-bearing account with Equity Bank. Fun fact: Safaricom M-Pesa has more agents in Kenya than Wells Fargo and Wachovia have ATMs in the United States.

Airtel Money
Formerly Zain Zap, Airtel Money is the second largest mobile money system in Kenya. Prior to its acquisition, Zain was focused on creating a “cashless society” whereby any number of needs could be met via mobile money. Zain was also committed to its notion of One World, the idea that a Zain customer in Country X should be able to call a Zain customer in Country Y a at local rate. One World was the source of much speculation with regard to international person-to-person mobile money transfer. It will be interesting to see if / how Airtel changes course, especially with regard to pricing.

Orange Money
Orange Money launched in late 2010 in association with Equity Bank. Instead of offering the same features as M-Pesa, Zap, or yuCash, Orange opted to create a de facto front-end for Equity Bank accounts, allowing it to exceed regular transaction and m-wallet balance thresholds.

Essar yuCash
Essar yuCash launched in December 2009 and is powered by Obopay. yuCash offers some standard features such as person-to-person transfer and balance inquiry as well as some unique features like requesting money, adding a short message to a payment, and inviting friends to join. yuCash is also unique insofar as it offers five different front-ends: WAP, SMS, Voice, USSD, and STK.

Equity Bank
Equity Bank is the largest microfinance institution in Kenya and is nothing short of a powerhouse. It has an extensive ATM network throughout Kenya and has integrated with M-Pesa (M-Kesho), Orange Money, and yuCash.

Musoni
Musoni is at the cutting edge of microfinance, enabling loan disbursal and repayment via Safaricom M-Pesa and Airtel Money. Musoni plans to conduct country studies in Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda in the coming years.

Paynet Group
Paynet is responsible for all Visa transactions in Kenya, interchange for 2,000+ ATMs, and PesaPoint. Due to their interaction with Visa, they are PCI DSS compliant, meaning that their system is both redundant and incredibly secure. Paynet aggregates and formats transaction data for several mobile money providers in East Africa.

UPCOMING PLAYERS

iPay
A product of Intrepid Data Systems, iPay enables merchants to accept online payment via Safaricom M-Pesa, Zain Zap, and Essar yuCash. Prominent users include PewaHewa, Fenesi, and Zetu.

PesaPal
PesaPal is a product of Verviant Consulting that, according to CEO Agosta Liko, aims to “make sense of the Kenyan payment landscape”. PesaPal lets online merchants collect payments via M-Pesa, Zap, Google Checkout, and a range of common credit cards. Their latest product, e-Ticketing, allows event organizers to accept online payments for registration via mobile money.

M-Payer
A recent product of Zege Technolgies, M-Payer enables real-time mobile money transaction processing. The CEO of Zege Technologies, Kariuki, played an instrumental role in the M-Pesa / Equity Bank integration that resulted in M-Kesho.

Lipuka
Powered by Cellulant, a company that serves 60M+ subscribers throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, Lipuka integrates bank and payment channels to enable music downloads, bill payments, and information services via WAP.

Moca
Formerly called ZungukaPay, Moca is a product of Symbiotic Media Corsortium. ZungukaPay enabled online merchants to accept payments via M-Pesa, Zap, yuCash, PayPal, Google Checkout, and a range of common credit / debit cards. ZungukaPay also had an open API for integration purposes. The new product, Moca, takes a different turn by enabling customers to buy ‘Moca credits’ via mobile money, which they then use to pay for goods and services on partner websites (e.g. KeleleMobile). Fun fact: selling non-refundable credits precludes Moca from being seen as an e-money issuer by the Central Bank of Kenya.

JamboPay
A product of Web Tribe Limited, JamboPay is an “Online Checkout & Micro-Payment Service” that enables merchants to accept online payments via M-Pesa, Zap, yuCash, and Visa credit/debit cards. JamboPay has a tariff structure similar to PayPal in the US: a commission per transaction + a flat fee for any transactions initiated over the JamboPay web platform.

MobiKash
MobiKash, a third party mobile money provider, is operated by MobiCom Africa Limited in partnership with Sybase 365 and Seal Systems. MobiKash leverages USSD to give Kenyans on any mobile network real-time access to accounts at participating banks, including Post Bank, National Bank of Kenya, and Trans National Bank. MobiKash uses the Sybase 365 Mobiliser Platform.

KrossPAY
Formerly PesaPot Holdings Limited, KrossPAY worked with PAYG Solutions to develop a hosted core banking and financial management platform for microfinance institutions, credit unions, and community benefit organizations. Some PAYG Solutions programmers were involved with the creation of M-Pesa, so there may be a mobile money integration in the works. KrossPAY also offers a “universal mobile money transfer and payment” service called CaribPay.

Jipange KuSave
Jipange KuSave is an initiative of Mobile Ventures Kenya Ltd., a subsidiary of Signal Point Partners. Launched as a pilot in 2010 in partnership with FSD Kenya and CGAP, Jipange KuSave aims to extend affordable micro-savings and micro-credit to the ‘mwanachi’ (Kiswahili for ‘common man’) via mobile phones.

Tangaza Limited
Managed by Mobile Pay Limited and a network of independent trustees, Tangaza enables both local and international money transfer as well as services like utility bill payment and remote airtime purchase. Tangaza is accessible via USSD and the internet and works across multiple mobile networks.

NOTABLE M-MONEY INTEGRATIONS

PewaHewa
PewaHewa is similar to the iTunes Store insofar as you can browse for musical artists, albums, genres, etc. and purchase songs via mobile money. PewaHewa is powered by iPay.

Kalahari
Often referred to as “the Amazon.com of Africa”, Kalahari offers a wide range of online goods and services, which customers can pay for via Safaricom M-Pesa.

Kilimo Salama
Kilimo Salama, Kiswahili for “safe farming”, is a crop insurance product offered by the Sygenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture. Kilimo Salama enables farmers to pay crop insurance premiums and receive payouts via Safaricom M-Pesa.

Finding Africa’s Innovators

[These are my notes from my talk at TEDxAntananarivo in Madagascar today]

There are 2 things I’m going to leave you with today. One is a changing story of Africa, where the West is beginning to see Africa in a different light due to technological innovation. The second is a challenge to you here in Madagascar on how you recognize and promote the successes from your own country.

I’m going to start with a TED story, since this is a TEDx event. In 2007 I, along with Harinjaka who invited me here today, was an inaugural African TED Fellow in Tanzania. That was a life changing event for many of us – it brought together 100 young influencers from across Africa, formed the relational base that allowed Ushahidi to be created, put Harinjaka and myself on the main TED stage for short talks, and it thrust into the limelight a young Malawian who few yet had heard about anywhere in the world.

William Kamkwamba

Another Malawian TED Fellow, Soyapi Mumba, introduced me to someone I had written about but never met: William Kamkwamba. It was a great surprise and an honor to meet William in person, as we had written about him on our blog AfriGadget the year before. As a young schoolboy, he was forced to drop out of school during their big drought, he had checked out a book and hand-fabricated a windmill from old plastic, sheet metal and bicycle parts to help power his home. An amazing story that is now a book, and soon to be a film.

At that time, in 2006, it was a true outlier story. The kind you just didn’t here about that often.

I’m going to propose to you a new story, where we’re not amazed and surprised to hear of ingenuity and innovation springing from African soil. Instead we’re seeking it out and celebrating what we already know is there. Let the people in the West be surprised, but not us, because we know and value our inventors and entrepreneurs already.

I guess, if you were to boil down the last 5 years of my life, you could claim that it has been focused on finding Africa’s innovators, telling their stories, and joining them in my own high tech way.

  • I founded AfriGadget, a group blog, telling the stories of Africans solving their everyday problems with their own ingenuity.
  • My personal blog WhiteAfrican is where I highlight the high tech side of the mobile and web movement across Africa
  • This year we set up the iHub, Nairobi’s tech innovation hub, forming a nexus point in the city for Kenya’ thriving tech community.
  • I’m one of the co-founders of Ushahidi, the open source software for crowd sourcing information that started in Kenya and is now used globally.
  • Last year I co-organized Maker Faire Africa in Ghana, and this year in Kenya, which showcases 100+ inventors, innovators and ingenious solutions from that region.

That sounds like a lot, but if anything, this constant brushing together with Africa’s innovators has taught me that we’re just now scratching the surface of what’s out there. Innovative business practices mixed with a different technology paradigm are shaping a new form of business, products and services across the continent.

Let’s take a speed run through a couple so that you can get a glimpse into this world:

(Note: I won’t put all the images here, as you can find them on AfriGadget and Maker Faire Africa Flickr pools)

It goes on, and on, and it isn’t new.

I was 2 years old when I moved to Sudan, back in 1977. In that time in the South, we had to hunt for our meat. There was this tall elephant grass that grows near the Nile that made it hard to see. I remember going hunting for meat with my dad and his colleagues and having the hunters sit on top of our old Landcruiser in order to see over the tops of this growth. Here’s something that most people don’t know, for hundreds of years the Southern Sudanese have created rafts out this same grass and reeds to move themselves, their animals and goods down the Nile for trade.

It’s an ingenious use of a naturally regrowing part of their environment, from which both people and nature benefit.

My take is this:
innovative individuals are found in the same percentage here in Madagascar as they are in the rest of Africa and the world. That there is an even distribution of innovation globally.

Innovation and other’s success

Now, I know there has been trouble in this country over the last couple years. We in Kenya have our own too, as do other nations across the continent.

This is my challenge to you, despite the turmoil, figure out how you will tell the positive stories of Malagasy innovation. Don’t let the world direct the narrative of poverty, corruption and coups, instead own the narrative, be proactive in showcasing your successes, even when it’s not you that directly benefits. For, until we own this narrative about our continent, we will forever be slaves to those that do.

The organization that I co-founded with 3 other Kenyans, Ushahidi, has had quite a lot of success globally. I remember in the second year one of the other founders saying to me that they were surprised with our success, that they hadn’t believed we could get this far. I was surprised too, since I had never thought there was a limit to how far we could go.

This is about what I’m starting to refer to as the African success complex, where we don’t always believe that we can stand on the global stage toe-to-toe with our global peers. Many times this can take the form of tearing down the people in your own community because their success is somehow seen as your loss. It’s exactly the opposite. The more successes that we have, the more likely we all are to benefit. It’s much like a shopping center, where one store alone is hardly a draw for customers, but many together bring them in hordes.

The stories we tell about ourselves are what define us. They are mirrored back and become reality. When you say, “I’m going to be the best _________ in Madagascar”, you’re limiting yourself. In what we do at Ushahidi, we don’t compare ourselves to anyone in Africa, nor even globally. We choose to compare ourselves against what we expect of ourselves, not what others expect of us, and this gives us the freedom to grow and succeed beyond even our expectations.

I’ve only had one day in Madagascar, and I hope to return again to this beautiful country soon. In that time however, I walked the streets and found a story of home grown Malagasy innovation to share with the world on AfriGadget.

Yesterday I met a lady who takes the bark from a certain type of tree, pulps it and makes paper. I’m sure many of you have seen her family’s work on the way to the airport. This paper is then sold as a specialty gift paper to tourists and others. It’s an example of Malagasy entrepreneurship that has gone far, where the whole family is supported by this business.

There are already a great number of exceptional bloggers and journalists from this country, like Foko, and I look forward to seeing the next stories from you, pushed into the global sphere about the businesses, entrepreneurs, inventors and social success stories.

[The slides]

Quick Hits Around African Tech

Africa’s mobile industry needs to re-invent itself to meet tomorrow’s challenges
Another great zinger from Russell Southwood’s Balancing Act on the state of the mobile industry across Africa and what needs to change.

“Furthermore, although the shift to data puts a spring in the step of most mobile executives, the shift to an interest in services and apps has the potential to marginalise them as “dumb pipe” operators. The new generation of OS operators (Blackberry, iPhone, Android and others) are offering services and apps in a way that the mobile operators failed to do.”

Desert discs: How mobile phones are at the root of Saharan music.
Christopher Kirkley went to Mali to make field recordings, but returned with a mixtape of music taken from Saharan Sim cards.

African Facebook stats, by Country:

“Only 1.7% of Africans are on Facebook, but since there is only 10.9% Internet penetration, we see that 15.9% of African Internet users are on Facebook.”

Kenyan Internet users woo businesses to Twitter and Facebook

“According to the research, Kenya is ahead of its peers in East Africa in social networking with an average consumer spending atleast 6.5 hours per week, followed by Tanzania — 1.6 hours per week — and Uganda 1.5 hours per week.”

Reflections with Michael Joseph in his last week as CEO of Safaricom:
(Video 1, Video 2)

Reflections with Michael Joseph from Al Kags on Vimeo.

Wrong model. Wrong place.
Ken Banks discusses the challenges of normal business models in the ICT4D and M4D space.

The Future of Mobile in Africa:
A great deck by Rudy de Waele, from his talk at Mobile Web Africa 2010.

More Than Just Call Centers: BPO in Kenya

There has been a lot of talk, especially in East Africa, about business process outsourcing (BPO) as a big way to elevate the technology field. The logic is that while many of these jobs might not be super high-tech (ie, programmers), they’re at least in the tech field thereby allowing people to get comfortable with computers and bringing outside investment into the country.

Kenya has a great number of qualified students leaving university each year that. Enrollment in 2008/09 (public, private, part-time) was 122,847, and my friend Bankelele estimates annual graduation at about 30,000.

Kenya’s BPO strategy is best summarized and detailed by Gathara (read more):

“The general thrust of the report is that coming late to the party, Kenya has no chance of becoming a Tier 1 provider; it lacks the scale to become a global player like India or the Philippines. So the suggestion is that she leverages her relatively small pool of cheap, accent-neutral English-speaking graduates, her strong ties to the US and UK (which together account for nearly 60% of the outsourcing market), improving infrastructure and an already thriving business environment, to create a niche for herself in basic sales and customer-care services and attract large international BPO companies.”

(also, read the Kenya ICT Board’s position on BPO)

It’s a sound business area to put resources into, especially if you’re a government entity focused on growing jobs and investing in seeing the technology sector grow. However, I’ve been troubled by the idea that it’s focused mainly on the KenCall-type outfits – basic call centers. It seems that there’s more opportunity here than this. Let’s not sell East Africa short as a low-cost, low-value BPO region, but look more closely at a strategy for attracting higher margin clients for services by highly qualified BPO firms locally.

Shifting the BPO Paradigm

Beyond cloning what India or the Philippines has done, can we rethink the outsourcing paradigm?

Nairobi, due to location, climate and a number of other reasons ends up being the hub of a lot of major corporations (Google, Microsoft, IBM, Nokia, etc), large non-profit organizations (UNEP, CARE, World Vision, Hivos, etc) and a host of medium-sized companies. These represent businesses with large amounts of revenue which is mostly injected from overseas. Why are their business processes being run out of expensive central offices in regions like the US and Europe?

Earlier this week I discussed this with Wiebe Boer of the Rockefeller Foundation in Kenya, who has given the Kenya ICT Board $500k to drive their BPO strategy. He worked on the original McKinsey team to architect the six pillars of economic growth underpinning Vision 2030, of which BOP was one (and the only one being acted upon currently).

He had some good ideas, stretching the understanding of the traditional BPO definition of East Africa, and leveraging bigger organizations to shift their non-core competency work to Kenya. Instead of just outsourcing customer service, think procurement, basic HR functionality, IT, monitoring and evaluation, and accounting.

Last week the NetHope meeting came to Nairobi, their list of member organizations is impressive as far a “big NGOs” go. They represent a lot of money and a lot of potential for business for BPOs here in Kenya. Their supporters are the likes of Cisco, Intel, Microsoft, CDW and Accenture. Together, both supporters and members represent a vast pool of organizations ripe for this expanded type of BPO.

Business opportunities for seasoned entrepreneurs abound. An example would be to build a strong firm that could focus on a couple of the non-traditional outsourcing needs (think M&E and HR). Many corporations and organizations (internationally and locally) need this and don’t have the in-house capabilities to do it right. Groups like the Rockefeller Foundation are poised to pressure the groups that they support financially into using BPO companies in Kenya, so if real viable firm was available, cash flow would be less of a risk than in other enterprises.

An African Tech List on Twitter

A lot of people are on Twitter these days. So many, it seems that you can be overwhelmed by the number of people and it’s hard to find the right people to follow. To help with that, I’ve created a my own Twitter list that follows African Tech twitterers.

My plan is to keep this list pared down to only those who put out a good number of tweets regarding technology in Africa. I’ll be the biased curator, and hopefully it’ll be useful to others. This means that people will get dropped, and others added, from time-to-time. Don’t be offended if you’re not on it, it’s not personal, it’s just that I have to keep it small to be useful to others. Ping me if you think I should add someone.

You can get my curated African Tech Twitter list at http://twitter.com/whiteafrican/african-tech.

Here’s a widget with the list in it. You can get your own here, just enter “whiteafrican” and choose the “African Tech” list.

Other great Twitter lists:

Afritwit’s list of African twitterers (maxed out)
Alisdair’s development list
Sciculturalist’s Techies list
A list of Twitter employees
Tim O’Reilly’s Tech News list

Lastly, Listourious has a huge index of Twitter lists for you to peruse.

(You can always find me on Twitter at @WhiteAfrican)

Is There Technology Arbitrage in Africa?

The term arbitrage traditionally refers to taking advantage of the price differential (the gap) between two or more markets. One example is how search engine marketers use arbitrage to make money off of Google Adwords with keyword buying and landing pages. Another is when traders take advantage of differences in exchange rates on currencies in two separate markets.

Is there technology arbitrage in Africa?

Tucked away in a blog post on Calestous Juma talking about the future of African communications, Ethan Zuckerman states:

“The spread of connection infrastructure into Africa now points to the need for devices that can access the internet, content to be delivered and applications. These, in turn, point to the need for institutions, laws and policies to regulate this space, which are currently lagging far behind the technology.

We all like to discuss the technology gap in Africa, which is this space between those who have access to technology and can use it (the West) and those who do not (Africa). Does this create the environment to take advantage of technology arbitrage?

From a certain perspective that can all seem very bleak and depressing. From another, it smells like opportunity.

This time and knowledge lag between government “institutions, laws and policies” that Calestous Juma and Ethan are discussing is just the sort of gap that allows arbitrage to happen. You should be able to turn the lack of technology in one place, or at least information, compared to the other to your advantage.

Put another way, when a government is too slow, inefficient and technologically incompetent to keep up with the rest of the world, what happens?

I think we see the answer in a number of places already, not all of them savory. We see this in business executives who corner a market, like we’ve seen with Safaricom in Kenya, or the notorious 419 scammers in Nigeria. We read about it when Egyptian youth use Twitter to broadcast police brutality, or when Zimbabweans send MMS images of completed ballot counts from voting precincts in advance of those trying to perpetrate fraud.

Two main groups seem to take advantage of this: businesses and activists.

The natural inclination of the market is to leverage these gaps and inefficiencies, to create opportunities out of the void, that technology can often overcome. The best businesses in our current era are built to do this as are the activist groups with the greatest impact.

[Authors note: I've made up this term "technology arbitrage", but I couldn't think of a better way to describe what I've been thinking about. Speaking of which, I've been muddling this over in my head for a week and just wanted to air it out to hear other's thoughts.]

Lessons from the mLearning Summit in Zambia

There’s an excellent post up on MobileActive about the recent mLearning Summit held in Zambia, titled “Go Mobile: Using Mobile Learning to Teach 21st Century Skills”. Steve Vosloo is a South African who has spent a lot of time researching how mobile phones can be used in education, here’s a video put together by him from this event.

“Steve Vosloo noted that m-learning summits have two main goals: To introduce and popularize the mobile phone as a tool for engaging students, and secondly, to identify local content needs. Examples of this may include applications that support grade submissions and attendance in remote locations or projects that explore how texting can be used in literacy.”