What can Africa teach the World about Technology?

After attending Africa Gathering this weekend, the central key words and phrases I gained were:

  • Relevance
  • Solution based approach
  • Context
  • Understanding your stakeholders.
  • Sustainable (All four cornerstones)


In the West, particularly the US, the most publicised and most visible business model for the development of collaborative and people-connecting technologies have been the social network models.

There is a perception (right or wrong) that the model to replicate is the one that is built on ‘the great idea that takes off’.

  • Have a great idea
  • Obtain funding
  • Build it using smart technology
  • Gain user buy in and critical mass
  • Figure out the business models later
  • New, unexpected business models will appear as you go along.

What these models have proved to us is that there is power in connecting people, in collaboration and allowing people to add value and perspectives. Some amazing technologies have resulted from this and new ways of looking at how we can use these tools have been unexpected by products. There is no denying that these have changed the way we do things, and have a huge capacity to ensure the way we do business changes for the better.

These models came about in a time of comparative wealth and excess. As resources become increasingly scarce, people are looking towards business models based upon relevance and context.

It has always been the case within Africa that development resources have been scarce. One thing the people of Africa understand is how to make the most of their limited resources. AfriGadget, a blog that explores the way in which the people of Africa solve everyday problems with ingenuity illustrates this very well.

In the West there is a tendency to try and replicated what is out there. There is a preoccupation on talking about the various ways in which existing platforms or networks can be best “leveraged”. Hands up those who have not written or read numerous blogs on how to get the most out of twitter?

Technology solutions coming out of Africa are built with purpose, against objectives and within the boundaries of their resources. It is a solutions based approach. It is also a stripped down approach where only the relevant resources and tools are used. Simple works because less can go wrong and if it does go wrong, simple is easier to fix. There is a shift in the way tools and technologies are looked at.

A good example of this is what Ushahidi did in Kenya. Ushahidi is an opensource platform that crowdsources crisis information. They took a widely used and available piece of technology, texting on mobile phones and applied it to a Google Maps mashup. This was built in Kenya using local knowledge and technologists in response to post election violence. This provided a real time map of violence hotspots with an understanding of the types of violence in those areas. The interesting part is they quickly recognised that citizen reporting leads to an overload of incoming information. Using social media tools most people take for granted, or seldom consider outside the context of specific social networks, they are creating a crowdsource filter. Using tools such as rating, both content and people and word, language and phrase filters, for example, sense can be made out of this overload. Considering profiles to have a deeper significance than a means to tell people who you are, real value can be added to content. Check out Erik Hersman’s TED talk here.

As the West, and the developed world continue to struggle against scarcity of resources, they can learn from Africa’s approach. Shifting the way resources are looked at and challenging old business models are essential. Context and relevance are no longer just buzz words.

I have just found these links to blogs on Africa Gathering thanks to Juergen Eichholz