A project of the World Affairs Council of Northern California, the Global Philanthropy Forum aims to build a community of donors and social investors committed to international causes, and to inform, enable and enhance the strategic nature of their work.

Through an annual conference, a summer seminar, special events and conference call programs, the GPF connects donors to issues; to effective strategies; to potential co-funding partners; and to emblematic agents of change from around the world. By building, and continually refreshing a lasting learning community, the GPF seeks to expand the number of philanthropists who will be strategic in pursuit of international causes.

President and co-founder Jane Wales launched this effort in 2001 in partnership with leading Silicon Valley philanthropists who shared a conviction that individuals are not only capable of advancing human security, environmental stewardship, and improved quality of life, but that they must.

Business Focus, Feature Articles, ICT, Kenya | BY Jonathan Kalan | November 6, 2012 at 14:50
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It’s raining in the Silicon Savannah, and unlike Nairobi’s unbearable traffic problem, no app has emerged promising to stop it.

Paul Kukubo, CEO of Kenya’s ICT Board, says the current debate about the state of Silicon Savannah is “not discouraging people, it’s making them think again”.

Inside the colourful and buzzing tech corridors of Africa’s first technology boom town, whispered conversations between investors are becoming amplified. Criticism, candid commentary and a dose of reality are dropping in from bloggers and pundits, challenging Kenya’s image as a place where African technology magic happens, where successful startups, apps, and entrepreneurs flow like water.

Over the past two years, media and the startups they cover have shared the responsibility of painting a glorified picture of Nairobi’s startup scene. They have built a collective hype that’s attracted investors, entrepreneurs and even journalists.

Yet for those who have arrived and stayed, what they have found is neither a vast oasis of untapped innovation, nor a dry and dusty savannah filled with empty promises. The reality lies somewhere in between – essentially a very young ecosystem with great potential, but one that also needs to mature and grow up.

As the choir gets louder, one thing is becoming apparent – a little rain on Kenya’s technology parade might actually be a good thing. It’s time for companies to sink or swim, for the good seeds to grow and the bad to be washed away.

Software and app startups are a dime a dozen here. Yet few are finding funding, and even fewer are actually making money. Entrepreneurialism has become a profession itself, and many young entrepreneurs are lacking the experience, training, and business acumen to make companies grow. This is something investors notice quite quickly.

“High expectations, big disappointment,” is how Kenyan blogger Kachwanya described Kenya’s current tech landscape, in a blog post that received 27 heated comments. Continue Reading…

Pictures from tech

August 31, 2012

“Nokia Open Innovation Africa Summit May 2012, Team Building” before the session starts

“On the Panel at Pivot East, June 2012[/caption]

http://instagr.am/p/O-_k5NPviZ/

Innovation, entrepreneurship, culture, and exposure my observations from interaction with the university student developer community

 

Over the past two years the execution of bandwidth subsidy to universities under KENET, the Wezesha laptop subsidy project, the Tandaa grant project and the Pasha project has allowed us to meet with many Kenyans across the country.

 

What we are learning about product innovation from interacting with the developer community and in particular those in universities is very interesting. Please note that these are not the only groups we have met, but I single them out for purposes of this article.

 

I conclude that in order for us to develop the Triple Helix approach to innovation that involves involvement of Academia, Business and Government, more is required from all the partners in this process.

 

My thoughts are not empirically backed, but nevertheless may provide a basis for discussion.

 

  1. There is a strong predisposition towards developing applications for the mobile phone platform. This is not surprising as most connections are connected to the Internet

 

  1. Sometimes the product development team is really just one individual doing the architecting, software development testing and deployment. This same individual must struggle with dealing with business issues beyond the actual product development; things like getting and setting up a host environment for their product development.

 

  1. In 2008 – 2009, when we visited the various universities around the country on the laptop subsidy project, it was clear that except for those studying technology subjects specifically, ICT based product development was generally not a student wide pre-occupation.

 

  1. Many students were concerned that what they were being taught at university was not generally keeping with the latest advances in their chosen fields. When the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) Dean of Computer Studies visited and gave an open lecture on the current practices in the teaching of computer science, it was amazing to observe the passion of the students who attended. This passion was evidenced from the questions they posed. It was also heartening to note the interest by faculty members as well. After all, CMU is indisputably one of the world leaders in the subject.

 

  1. There are some important skills sets that are not adequately taught in Kenya yet. This conclusion came out of general observation and is backed by two reports commissioned and released by the Kenya ICT Board i.e. the IBM Skills Audit Study and the Julisha study carried out by IDC.

 

As an example, the Kenya ICT Board is working with SAS the global business analytics multinational to commence training at the University of Nairobi and Strathmore University in Analytics. The skills issue is a tricky one in my view because developing specific skills can box the sector into a specific orientation.

 

My view has been that industry must work with academia on developing their specific needs, while universities deepen their research and development investment to develop leading edge students who can engineer design and create.

 

  1. During the various boot camps that I have attended, I and the team from the Kenya ICT have observed one other significant thing. The solutions and ideas have become more and more sophisticated over the boast three years. Initially students in universities would develop solutions mainly for dining hall and library management.  This was perhaps a reflection of the students’ exposure levels. The typical highs school experience does not give much exposure except through what people read.

 

After all how would one know that you can develop a better system for scheduling transportation if all we have observed is matatus racing to pick up passengers; without any sense of collective schedule. But interestingly, we see product development feed off a wide pallet now. The Open Data website has provided more data sets that give students more to work with. Data sets such as government’s fiscal allocation by county should get good product development teams excited. This will only get better.

 

  1. Kenyan students still draw a lot of their inspiration and cues from what their leaders indicate as priorities. This is a great thing, but places a special burden of responsibility on leadership to signal correctly. Fortunately in the ICT sector, we observe that the efforts seem to be understood. Recently I was invited by the African Leadership Academy team to speak to high school students who were undertaking interviews to join this prestigious academy based in South Africa.

 

The interviews took place in Nairobi and brought together what would be arguably Kenya’s brightest high school students from all over Kenya. The questions posed to me were about the ICT Board projects and Konza. I however discerned that those who were from certain schools and more well off backgrounds tended to express a more engaged view of the opportunity. In fact this student from Strathmore came to me afterwards with very specific questions on ICT and finance. He indicated his ambition was to get into University of Pennsylvania.

 

These random observations, some of which require greater empirical validation (good subject for someone’s MBA research paper) have led me to the following simple conclusions.

 

  1. Exposure is a source of capital. Bandwidth availability and constant browsing is greatly benefiting the more knowledge hungry among our university students. This will only get better.

 

  1. The business community should open up its doors to internships and holiday work to enable students to gain exposure, which is priceless. Because of the constrains within the commercial workspace of head-count and finances, a discussion between government and the private sector about this would help so that the right incentives are created to allow this to foster.

 

  1. Business people as mentors. University students should not leave university without having had time with a senior corporate and business person. A product innovator will then develop greater understanding about how business runs from first-hand experience.

 

One observation from the nationwide Pasha training was that those who received training and applied for the grants and received the grant generally tend to do better than those who applied but had not gone through our training. In fact we now feel that training provided is of great value as an end in itself by developing capacity.

 

A detailed discussion on Pasha will be coming soon.

 

  1. I have tended to believe that our best students should be taken to the best schools and have their fees paid. The best schools should focus on more than just academics and act as centres of moulding future leaders.

 

These students should come out these schools completely exposed to academics, theatre, the arts, sports, and the world—Custodians of our cultural aspirations. This exposure is the basis for tomorrow’s businesses and management of the country’s affairs.