I start a new job next week, so more riveting (I hope) field experiences to come. For now, I wanted to introduce a few projects, most “new” in the field, that have caught my eye.
1. iHub: iHub is a new tech incubator initiative in Nairobi from the same people behind Ushahidi. Basically, fledging Kenyan programers can apply to work in the iHub space while they develop new web/mobile software. They are given free working space, business contacts and advice, fast wireless and a group of like-minded people to support their work.
2. Voices of Africa & Rural Internet Kiosks: I met Crystal in Nairobi a few weeks ago. On top of being a ridiculously interesting woman, she's running a fantastic initiative in Coastal Kenya. A rural internet kiosk (RIK) is “an independent self contained 100% solar powered kiosk featuring three industrial design computer terminals a manned administrator terminal, and broadband wireless Internet connectivity.” On top of using genius technology, RIKs empower local populations by giving a youth group and a community based organization ownership over the RIK. Profit pays salaries and surplus is invested in community development projects. One of Crystal's ambitions is to give youth an alternative to violence through employment.
3. Battery Operated Systems for Community Outreach (BOSCO) Uganda: A bit of bias here as I will be working with them in Northern Uganda these coming months. However, BOSCO is a fascinating project that I have been following and writing about since 2008. As I have an anthropology background, I am particularly interested in their Web 2.0 training (email me if you want a copy) and how they teach users to actively contribute information to the Internet sphere. Inveneo's Intranet system also connects former IDP camps and enables easy communication. They currently run 22 internet and/or VoIP centers and will be doubling their scope through a UNICEF grant from June and on.
4. Open Action: Open Action helps inexperienced non-governmental organizations harness social media and Web 2.0 to share ideas both between organization and with the public. It supports project transparency by offering NGOs an easy way to track their projects publicly by offering a range of monitoring and evaluation tools with a web-based platform that can be embedded anywhere. I registered it for an NGO I'm working with and am trying to figure out the ins and outs. Please let me know about your experience if you sign up for it!
5. Digital Hero Book: This project is helping integrate IT-skills while giving youth a “safe space” to tell their story. Having seen how art can be used to generate self-confidence in former child soldiers in Northern Uganda through Fred Mutebi, it makes perfect sense to help kids write about themselves through a means that gives them self-confidence and initiative. Making it digital means easy sharing and better access to IT for youth. There are a few stories up already and they are incredible.
All these projects have one key similarity: flexibility. While most operate as traditional non-governmental organizations with donors to report back to, there is breathing room for change. When you work with technology, this is expected. Every individual and community has a different interpretation of what they can do with technology.
For example, some of BOSCO's beneficiaries have used the Internet to write proposals for solar panels. Others use it for blogging. The Digital Hero Book did not so much give kids a platform to transform themselves into fire-yielding superstars, but rather tell their personal story to a wide audience.
I hope that traditional development donors and evaluation systems can learn from these models and afford themselves the time and finances to go with ideas offered by the grassroots reacting to their projects.