Blazing Trails in Africa

January 4th, 2012

Accra, Ghana

In reflecting on the year ending, my thoughts turn again to Africa, home of six of the world’s top 10 fastest growing economies. Africa’s mobile revolution is spawning exciting, new opportunities for entrepreneurs and engineers. For practitioners eager to experience the impact of their work, there’s no more dynamic and interesting place to be than Africa today.

With that in mind, I’d like to share three short but inspiring talks given in 2011 by three of Africa’s best and brightest pioneers. These trailblazers all began their careers in technology, but now they’re developing “platforms” in the broader sense, enabling a new generation of Africans to reshape their future.

Each speaker offers their unique perspective, but a common theme from all of the talks is that Africa is rising rapidly. Through their courage and determination, Africa’s trailblazers can inspire us all to persevere, whether we work on the continent or not.

Brief bios and video clips:

Patrick Awuah lived in the United States for two decades where he worked at Microsoft before returning to his native Ghana in 2002 to establish Ashesi University.

Ashesi’s mission is “to educate African leaders of exceptional integrity and professional ability”. ’Ashesi’ means “beginnings” in Akan, a language of the region.

With a focus on liberal arts, Ashesi offers courses in computer sceince, management information systems, and business administration.  Since its inception, the university has grown in size and stature. In 2011, Ashesi inaugurated its new campus in Berekuso near Ghana’s capital, Accra.

> His moving talk, The Spirit of the Time, was delivered at Zeitgeist Americas. “Education is about developing character,” he says of Ashesi’s approach to building the next generation of Africa’s leaders.

Erik Hersman lives in Kenya where he writes two influential technology blogs, White African and Afrigadget. He’s a Senior TED Fellow, a PopTech Fellow and an organizer of Maker Faire Africa.

During Kenya’s post-election crisis of 2007 – 2008, he helped to create Ushahidi, an open-source platform that tracked eyewitnesses reports of violence occurring in the country. Today, Ushahidi operates as a non-profit company which develops software for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping.

In 2010, Hersman co-founded iHub, an innovative “open space” for Nairobi’s technologists, tech firms and investors with over 6,000 members. In 2011 he co-founded m:lab, a regional mobile incubation lab.

> In his TechPop 2011 talk, Africa on the Risehe asks, “If you’re an entrepreneur, why would you want to be anywhere else?” He added, “The sun isn’t rising on Africa, it’s risen on Africa.”

Juliana Rotich is another co-founder of Ushahidi where she serves as the organization’s executive director. She is the author of the Afromusing blog, a Senior TED Fellow, and a contributor to and editor of Global Voices Online.

She co-founded Mobisoko, a mobile marketplace for language and location-relevant apps in Africa. She was also an analyst with Hewitt Associates in Chicago.

> In her Wired 2011 talk, Rotich tells the story of Ushihidi’s launch and describes how the company’s crowdsourcing platform has been used to track crisis information around the world. ”We started in one country in Africa,” she says, “and now the platform is used in 132 countries.”

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Image courtesy of Dave Ley.

Related resources:

This NYT piece (1/11), “Transforming Africa through Higher Education” discusses Mr. Awuah’s vision and challenges in maintaining Ashesi University.

Here’s a clip featuring Ms. Rotich addressing the UN about Huduma, a Ushahidi pilot initiative launched in 2011 in which citizen reports about government services are collected and mashed up with census and healthcare institution data. More info on Huduma is found in this Guardian article.

Here are two previous posts (2010) on Ushahidi: Out of Africa, Help for Haiti and Kenya’s Tech Helps Chile, too.  And, Ingenuity Born of Necessity in Kenya (2011) featuring Mr. Hersman.

Add: Mr. Erik Hersman’s post (1/4/12), What’s on Tap for 2012?

More info on this subject?

Check out Vijay Mahajan’s ’09 book, Africa Rising.

For up-to-date info on Africa’s high-growth economies, visit the blog by the World Bank’s chief economist on Africa, and the superb, resource-rich Centre for African Economics.

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