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Where Africa and Technology Collide!

Tag: TED Fellows

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]

TED 2010 – Fellows Program

TED 2010 Fellows

I’m in Long Beach, California for the annual TED conference. This year I’m a Senior Fellow, which means that I get to see and spend time with old friends like Jon Gosier and Juliana Rotich, other Fellows from year’s past and enjoy some first class discussions and mentoring from groups like McKinsey and Duarte Design.

I’ve been taking pictures of the TED Fellows, you can find them on my Flickr set. The really great shots are by the TED photographers, and you can find those here and the TED Blog. More on the amazing and eclectic group that is this years TED Fellows.

Some TED Fellows Talks highlights:

I met Hugo Van Vuuren, a fellow white African, at PopTech last year. He’s doing some amazing work in Africa around creating energy with off-grid technologies. Figuring out how to use simple things like dirt to create power at Lebone. Hugo says that they’ll be ready to sell this type of product by summer 2010.

I was mesmerized by Angelo Vermeulen‘s talk on “Biomodd“, which is a riff off of the gaming communities case modding trend.

Nigerian Ndubuisi Ekekwe, an engineer, inventor, author and founder of the African Institution of Technology, an organization seeking to develop microelectronics in Africa.

TED 2010 Fellows - Talks

Kellee Santiago is a gamer and creates games based on emotions. She gave a great talk on what her company “That Game Company” does, with games like Flower.

Ben Gulak is a 20 year old inventor. He’s created the UNO, an electronic motorized unicycle and the DTV (Dual Tracked Vehicle), taking the best characteristics of a snow mobile, a skateboard and motorcross bike.

This new TED Fellows class is an eclectic group of polymaths. People who have expertise and interest in multiple areas. What sets them apart though is the fact that they actually “DO” things, not just talk about them. Seeing their work, talking to them about their projects and realizing just how special it is to be able to do that is what makes being a TED Fellow an amazing experience.

Announcing the TED Senior Fellowships

It all started with a TED Fellowship to Arusha, Tanzania in 2007, and today it’s a great honor to be selected as one of the inaugural 20 TED Senior Fellows, especially as it’s in the company of people that I know and respect greatly. It’s also neat to see that 25% of us represent Africa (in bold below), no doubt a nod to the African roots of the TED Fellowship program.

Joshua Wanyama, Sheila Ochugboju and myself at the TED Talks viewing in Nairobi earlier this year.

Joshua Wanyama, Sheila Ochugboju and myself at the TED Talks viewing in Nairobi earlier this year.

The TED Fellows program brings together extraordinary individuals who are working on an eclectic group of projects and programs, or are building organizations and companies that are changing the world. Our role as TED Senior Fellows will be to mentor the newer Fellows, help with TEDx events in our communities, post on the TED Fellows blog, and continued year-round participation in the TED community.

The greatest benefit to being a TED Senior Fellow is being able to attend five additional TED conferences (TED and TEDGlobal), participating in five Senior Fellows pre-conferences, the potential to deliver a full-length talk on the TED University or main TED stage, and the possibility to have that talk posted on TED.com.

That’s a lot, but maybe the greatest advantage this type of opportunity provides is the chance to be part of the TED community on a long-term basis. Something that’s hard for those of us who are doing interesting things, but don’t necessarily have the resources to spend on getting to multiple TED conferences.

Check out the TED Fellows site if you’re interested in becoming a Fellow, or want to know more about the program. The TED Fellows blog is also a good source of eclectic information from people doing amazing things around the world.

My TED Senior Fellow colleagues:

  • Taghi Amirani (Iran/UK) – Documentary filmmaker, Amirani Films
  • Rachel Armstrong (UK) – Teaching fellow, The Bartlett School of Architecture; physician; science-fiction author
  • Frederick Balagadde (Uganda/US) – Research scientist, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; co-inventor of the microchemostat, a medical diagnostic chip
  • April Karen Baptiste (Trinidad) – Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, Colgate University
  • Faisal Chohan (Pakistan) – CEO, Cogilent Solutions; founder, Brightspyre, Pakistan’s largest online job portal
  • Colleen Flanigan (US) – Fine artist; stop-motion armaturist, coral reef restoration expert
  • Gabriella Gómez-Mont (Mexico) – Founder, Tóxico Cultura, a Mexico City-based artistic think tank
  • Jonathan Gosier (US/Uganda) – Founder, Appfrica, a business incubator in Kampala
  • Peter Haas (US/Haiti/Guatemala) – Founder, Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group (AIDG)
  • Erik Hersman(Kenya) – Co-founder, Ushahidi; blogger, AfriGadget and White African
  • Adrian Hong (US/North Korea/South Korea) – Director, The Pegasus Project; former director, Liberty in North Korea
  • Juliette LaMontagne (US) – Education consultant; innovation facilitator
  • Alexander MacDonald (US) – Economist, NASA Ames Research Center
  • Juliana Machado-Ferreira (Brazil) – Biologist, SOS FAUNA; PhD candidate, Sao Paulo University
  • VK Madhavan (India) – Executive Director, Central Himalayan Rural Action Group (Chirag)
  • Naomi Natale (Italy/US) – Founder, One Million Bones, a large-scale social activism art installation
  • Bola Olabisi (Nigeria/UK) – Founder, Global Women Inventors and Innovators Network (GWIIN)
  • Alexander Petroff (US/Democratic Republic of the Congo) – Founder, Working Villages International
  • Juliana Rotich (Kenya/US) – Co-founder, Ushahidi; blogger, Afromusing and Global Voices
  • Mohammad Tauheed (Bangladesh) – Architect; founder, ArchSociety

The 2009 TED Fellows Video

I’ve been fortunate to be part of the TED Fellows program, starting in Tanzania and then this year in California. It is definitely worth applying for, and I know there are going to be quite a few openings for TED India later this year.

(Watch the high-res version here)

Some Schooling on Slide:ology from Duarte Designs

Eric Albertson from Duarte Design, the firm behind the excellent book Slide:ology, is here to tell us how to creat more effective presentations. I’m a HUGE fan of these guys, so this is very exciting for me. (One other great resource for presentations is the Presentation Zen blog.)

Erik from Duarte Designs (Slide:ology)

He starts off by telling us not to start a presentation by opening up presentation software to begin. “That’s not a presentation”.

“Step away from your computer, grab a paper and pen, and that’s how you begin to create a great presentation.”

The most important thing to know and understand before a presentation is the audience. Eric recommends creating an outline of just who is in the audience and creating a profile for who that really is, what he calls this an “audience map”.

Slideology - audience needs map
(download link)

He’s talking a lot about process of how you go about ideation of the presentation, not about how to really create the slides themselves to be compelling. So far, it’s been about how you understand the presentation arc, the audience and the logic and/or emotion that goes into the way you communicate.

S.T.A.R. Moments


To really nail a talk, you need to find a STAR moment, one that’s repeated at the watercooler the next day. It’s the way that people remember your talk, that phrase or visual that resonates well after the presentation is over.


We finally, after all the other parts of the process have been done, start to put together the actual slides and lay out our story and data.

“Minimize the unimportant, maximize the important visually.”

3D charts are really hard to work with, be careful with them, and also be careful with choosing the right type of chart.

Nokia and TED: Spreading Worthy Ideas

Afdhel Aziz from Nokia is here to talk to us about what’s been happening at Nokia and why they’re so excited about TED. Their partnership first started with the extraordinary Pangea Day project. Nokia is going to be TED’s Global Communications Partner, sponsoring TED Fellows, TED Translated and future TED conferences.

If TED is about “ideas worth spreading“, then Nokia’s role is “spreading worthy ideas

Nokia gave us all an E71, which really is one of the best phones on the market for doing a lot of work anywhere you go in the world. It’s a smart phone without all the difficult settings and small keyboard of some of the other higher end smart phone. Best of all, the one they gave us is unlocked, which means it’s very easy to travel and use it with local SIM cards (Plus, we’re getting 8Gb memory cards for them and 1000 minutes/month).

Afdhel then showed us the “6 billion people, 6 billion connections” video:

Nokia E71 launch / 6 Billion People, 6 Billion Colours from Universal Everything on Vimeo.

TED 2009 – Fellows Talks

[TED 2009 Fellows pictures on Flickr.]
Flickr Set of TED Fellows 2009

Even better pictures by Josh Wanyama in this Flickr set.

This morning is a whirlwind of TED Fellows giving short, 3-minute TED Talks to each other. Each of them is being recorded, and it looks like many will make it to the TED.com site one of these days. The best part about these sessions are that it’s an incredibly eclectic group, mixing environmental engineers with musicians and anthropologists.

A small taste

(These are 3-minute lightning talks, so I can only get a couple of the fabulous speakers in here.)

Pragnya has told us that, generally, the poorer we are the happier we are. That’s the reverse of the correlation that most of us think about regarding wealth. Being an engineer, she gives us a great graph to illustrate it.

Pragnya at TED 2009

Sean Gourley talks about how we can use math to predict and understand violence in the world around us. He came up with equations that helped describe what was happening – scanning the news and using an algorithm to better see the future. He asked a hard question of himself at one stage: “how can I describe this human suffering with numbers?”

Sean talks of meeting the real-life people who were part of his algorithm in Iraq. How it shook him, realizing that there were people behind the numbers.

Sean Gorley - TED 2009

“If you want to change the world, you need to begin at your home.” – Yatin Sethi

Darius, from “Darius Goes West“, comes on stage with Logan to give us a small taste of their amazing story of how they are raising money to fight Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

Logan and Darius from "Darius Goes West"

Daniela Candillari and opera coach, sings a haunting song dedicated to the rest of the TED Fellows.

Daniela Candillari plays at TED 2009

Dr. Awa Marie Coll Seck, Professor and Doctor at the University of Dakar in Senegal, is taking the fight against Malaria to a new level. After being the Minister of Health in Senegal, she decided to start an awareness and fund raising campaign against Malaria. “We can be in a poor country, and we can do a lot of things by ourselves.

Film maker, Taghi Amirani, tells a funny, captivating, and ultimately heartbreaking story of his grandmother finding love in Iran. And tragically, how the husband was swapped out at the last minute…

Taghi Amirani - TED Fellows Talk

(sidenote: GAH, running out of power and no extension cords…!)

Kyra Gaunt, the captivating and energetic anthropologist/musician talks to us about race, prejudice and the brand that has been created around racism. “It takes a lot to change something that doesn’t actually exist in the physical universe.

Kyra Gaunt - TED Fellows Talk

“Racism as a resource… think opposable thumbs. What if we need to embrace racism to reach the next level of our humanity? It’s what I call, ‘agreeing to be offended’.”

Joshua Wanyama of Pamoja Media and African Path, gives a talk on how accessing the internet for the first time back in 1998 completely changed his life and set his path for the future. Now he thinks of how the internet frees communication, and people, away from a government controlled monopoly all over Africa.

Joshua Wanyama - TED 2009 Fellows Talk

Sara Mayhew talks about her new Manga book: Ztarr

Sara Mayhew - TED Fellows Talk

Bright Simons of Mpedigree reminds us that solutions for Africa are complicated, it’s not just bad governance, that most of Africa isn’t resource rich, and that cultural legacies aren’t always the problem.

Bright Simons - TED Fellows Talk

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