Open Collaboration for African Techies
AfriLabs, the African tech hub association, gathers for first annual meeting at re:publica
AfriLabs (afrilabs.com), a pan-African network of 19 technology and innovation hubs in 13 African countries, is convening for its first annual meeting on Saturday, May 4thin the lead up to re:publica. At this event— Europe’s largest conference on internet and society in Berlin— AfriLabs and GIZ are hosting a global gathering of hubs to stimulate networking, knowledge exchange and collaboration. AfriLabs’ pre-re:publica meeting will provide a unique opportunity for the network to chart the way forward as a community.
“The AfriLabs community is excited to convene for the first time as a network in Berlin, and participate in re:publica,” says Director Tayo Akinyemi. “This is an unprecedented opportunity for us to connect with one another and with a global community of innovators. All are welcome to join us at the Global Innovation Lounge—“hub central” for re:publica—to meet AfriLabs, engage with hubs across the globe, and contribute to the dialogue.”
Africa has witnessed a growing number of tech hubs, each of which serves as a physical nexus for developers, entrepreneurs, and investors, emerge across the continent. In response to this trend, AfriLabs was founded in 2010 by five entrepreneurs active in the hub space —Bart Lacroix, Co-Founder of NaiLab and the 1%CLUB, Ben White, Co-Founder of VC4Africa and Board Member of ActivSpaces, Bill Zimmerman, Co-Founder of ActivSpaces and VC4Africa, Erik Hersman, Co-Founder of iHub and Ushahidi, and Jon Gosier, Founder of Appfrica and Hive Colab—who believed that bringing African hubs together to learn and collaborate would enable them to maximize impact within their local ecosystems and affect change at a regional and pan-African level.
With initial support from Hivos, AfriLabs is working to facilitate knowledge-sharing and collaboration inside the network and beyond. AfriLabs is also partnering with infoDev and four East African tech hubsto pilot virtual incubation in the region. In addition to consolidating the network, AfriLabs seeks to expand. With over 90 hubs on the African continent, there is significant scope for growing the community. In t hat spirit, AfriLabs welcomes six new members to the network: CTIC Dakar (Senegal), The District (Egypt), kLab (Rwanda), icecairo (Egypt), iLab Nairobi (Kenya), and m:lab (Kenya), and hopes to invite many more in the coming months.
The AfriLabs looks forward to engaging with the global community of innovators in Berlin @re:publica from May 5th-8th. Please visit the re:publica website to learn more.
Geraldine de Bastion
M: +49 1799975766
About the Partners:
AfriLabs is a pan-African network of technology and innovation hubs. Each hub serves as a nexus for technologists, investors, tech companies and web/mobile engineers in its community. AfriLabs was formed to support these hubs and bolster technology as a platform for entrepreneurship and innovation. afrilabs.com
What started as a “class reunion” of bloggers, Internet activists, and researchers has become Germany’s and Europe’s largest and most prominent conference on the future of our society and all things digital. Unlike other conferences which focus on marketing and the usual “show and tell”, re:publica brings together communities, leading thinkers of our time with activists and engaged organizations to share experiences. re:publica attracts over 4,000 participants but has preserved an open and familiar atmosphere. re:publica works with national and international cooperation partners and attracts renowned speakers such as Lawrence Lessig and Jeff Jarvis. As Berlin is currently the hot spot for creative Internet industries in Europe, re:publica also offers an ideal floor to meet with start-ups, IT and creative industry representatives and funders. www.re-publica.de
About GIZ -An innovative partner for the global challenges of tomorrow
The wide range of services offered by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für InternationaleZusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH are based on a wealth of regional and technical expertise and on tried and tested management know-how. GIZ is a German federal enterprise and offers workable, sustainable and effective solutions in political, economic and social change processes. GIZ operates throughout Germany and in more than 130 countries worldwide and has than 17,000 staff members around the globe, some 70% of whom are employed locally as national personnel. GIZ’s business volume was about EUR 2 billion as at 31 December 2011. www.giz.de
Google I/O – an annual developer-focused conference – has been organized by Google for every year since 2008 in San Francisco gathering over 5,000 participants. This year, ActivSpaces and GDG Douala are bringing it to Cameroon with Google I/O Extended at AppsTech from May 15th – 17th. That’s the good news. The great news is that you are all invited to participate!
Google I/O features highly technical, in-depth sessions focused on building web, mobile and enterprise applications with Google tools and open web technologies such as Android, Chrome, Chrome OS, Google APIs, Google Web Toolkit, App Engine, and more.
Below is an outline of some of the event’s interesting sessions.
I/O Round Table
Join the round table discussion to learn the meaning behind “I/O” and how this applies to Cameroon in answering some of the grand questions of the day. This is going to be a progressive discussion aimed at generating pragmatic solutions and fostering collaboration in Cameroon’s tech community.
Are you new to coding or eager to try out alternative platforms? Throughout the event there will be more than 4 different Code Lab tutorials ranging from topics like SEO to video game programming. If you’re a programmer in or around the area, you don’t want to miss out on these Code Lab sessions.
There’s going to be a competitive hackathon session at Google I/O ACTIV Extension. The details are a secret… All you need to know for now is that we’re going to be building a fun, interactive web app and the teams or individuals that perform the best will be rewarded with cool Google schwag!
Some of you heard about this event last weekend at GDG BarCamp, but we hope the rest of the community will help us in getting the word out and bringing their energy to make this an awesome event.
To visualize this event more clearly and find out the intriguing little tidbits not mentioned in this blog, you can download the agenda for Google I/O Activ Extension here. Feel free to contact us for more details or if you have an innovation that you would like to present during Demo Time. G+ users can register for the event here.
Our journey with WakaWaka Light started months ago when we came across the innovative solar lamp by serendipity in the small mountain town of Buea. It was immediately clear how much this device could impact our community socially, economically and environmentally. Thus the campaign to bring in a clean, sustainable domestic lighting solution to Cameroon began. We met with challenges right off the bat: coming up with finances to acquire and distribute our first order; a miscalculated delivery that set us back several months — you name it. But through the support of some silent heroes and the goodwill of the community, we managed to successfully run a pilot market.
Old habits die hard. As amazing as clean energy is, it was no easy task convincing some of the rural people of Lysoka to put aside their kerosene lanterns and take up a solar lamp. From their perspective, kerosene lanterns have withstood the test of time; something they are not sure these feeble-looking, plastic solar lamps will.
But the facts are clear: kerosene lanterns are not environmentally friendly, their toxic fumes are personally unhealthy, they present physical danger, and they are uneconomical. Villagers spend on average $48 per annum refueling their lanterns with kerosene. This alone is more than twice the price of one of WakaWaka Light’s solar lamps.
Painting a Revenue Model
During our pilot, solar lamps were sold at the cheapest possible — $20. However, when 25% of the pilot market cried out that units were too expensive, we decided to test how eager they really were for a clean technology solution. We told the people of Lysoka that we would agree to a 50% reduction in price if they threw in their “bush lamps” as well. To our surprise, our pilot came to an end and the (red) balance sheet had a dozen old kerosene lanterns on it.
We took a little background information on the people that gave us their old kerosene lanterns, trying to keep a picture of how that lantern had influenced their lives. A few days later, by serendipity again, we stumbled upon a young artist who had grown up at an orphanage a few miles away from Lysoka. We decided to give the old “bush lamps” to him, trusting his appreciation of a kerosene lantern, and hoping he could help us make a statement about clean technology.
Factoring in Key Partners
Several weeks later, the first pieces in the “Ornament of Darkness” art collection were ready. We’re now hoping to identify our key partners interested in this story; in not only bringing clean technology to the world, but taking toxic technology out; in owning contemporary art made out of old technology from the heart of Africa. In our interactions with a variety of partners during the 48 Lamps campaign, we realized that we could do more than sell solar lamps. We could recycle what was once a toxic instrument into a work of art, capturing its essence while destroying its former vices.
The Next Iteration
On May 10th we’ll be launching the short e-book “Bush Lamp: Ornament of Darkness” that documents many of our discoveries during the 48 Lamps campaign and catalogs Silas Tabi’s latest pieces of art. We’re also preparing for a larger order of WakaWaka solar lamps that will impact several more regions and hopefully produce more art. We’re inviting you to join us on this journey.
Contact us concerning inquiries about how you can support us with the solar lamp distribution or about Silas Tabi’s “Ornament of Darkness” collection.
The time has finally come for us to expand our ActivSpaces team! After searching the world far and wide, the African Center for Technology, Innovation & Ventures (ActivSpaces) core team is very pleased to introduce our newest addition. Hussein Shariff has moved from the frozen mass of land that they call Canada to beautiful Buea, Cameroon. As of February of this year, he has been working to establish work plans for each venture of ActivSpaces, monitor milestones and assist in their successful execution, and engage possible partners, donors and assist in overall program support.
In order to introduce Hussein to the ActivSpaces community, we have asked him a few questions:
How did you first come in contact with ActivSpaces, and what made you decide to get involved?
I had initially come to Cameroon to visit my brother in Yaoundé, and to escape the brutal Canadian winter. While I was here, I was interested to see if there were any technology related communities involved in building interesting applications that solved local problems here in Central Africa.
As most people do, I referred to my good friend Google. I typed in “technology organizations Cameroon”, and from there I found the ActivSpaces website. It was exactly what I was looking for. An open collaborative space that gathered the best and brightest technologists from around Cameroon and helped them to establish and build their businesses from concept to launch. I knew that I had to get involved. I contacted the Community Manager, Al Banda, and met with him the following week in Douala. It was scheduled to be a one-hour meeting that turned into a three hour-long discussion. I could not contain how much potential I felt that the ventures currently being incubated had and the excitement of what ActivSpaces could become in the future.
From that point until now it has been a great experience getting to know the team and meeting everyone involved in the space. It is truly a great accomplishment to see what the ActivSpaces community has achieved so far and I feel very fortunate and humbled to be chosen to be apart of this organization. I hope that I can help to share whatever knowledge I have gained over the years and to learn from the community to be able to contribute to it in a positive manner.
What is your background/field of expertise/interests, and how does it relate to the ActivSpaces community?
Marketing and entrepreneurship are my primary interests. I have always had an interest in mass communication in any form. I enjoy communicating with people, the creative process of developing marketing materials, and broadcasting that message over any medium. In school I had completed a Bachelor’s of Commerce and Finance at the University of Toronto, covering all of the basic business courses such as accounting, finance, economics, etc. But I always found myself obsessing over the marketing courses.
Also, growing up in Nairobi, Kenya, I had an inclination towards the international development field, but I often found myself disillusioned with the large amount of wastage that I saw within many of the organizations that I came into contact with. I saw that entrepreneurship was a key factor in the sustainable development of a nation. The pride of ownership that it brings and the efficiency that comes with a constant obsession with eliminating wastage was something that I felt made investing in businesses of all sizes a key factor in the successful development of a country.
After graduating, I spent several years working in the telecommunications field in Central Asia. Working in the marketing departments of the largest telecommunications operators in Tajikistan and Afghanistan gave me a front row seat to the way that the introduction of a new technology can fundamentally change the economic well-being of a country. I witnessed thousands of individuals that could now make a living selling SIM cards and top-up cards on the corners of the streets, and I saw the liberating effect and real economic impact that communication can bring to land-locked mountainous countries like Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Particularly in a country like Afghanistan, to see a country go from 10,000 fixed phone lines in the year 2000 to over 10 million wireless subscribers by 2012 was truly fascinating and I felt very fortunate to be involved in the development of that industry.
I later returned to Canada and found that there was an opportunity in the ever-evolving search engine optimization and online marketing field. I founded a company that specialized in assisting clients to garner more traffic to their website by ensuring that their websites could be found on major search engines for key phrases relating to their industries, as well as developing various types of online marketing campaigns.
After helping clients across North America to increase their sales through their websites, I felt that there must be other ways to apply my experience in a more meaningful manner where it was truly needed. That is where I believe that ActivSpaces and my interests and passions align in a beautiful manner.
ActivSpaces is promoting entrepreneurship as a tool for the development of the individuals involved and the country as a whole, while incorporating technology to help facilitate that change. This is exactly how I believe that countries can develop rapidly, by using technology to ‘leap-frog’ antiquated ways of doing things in favor of more efficient means of achieving the same goals. I have seen this in action in Tajikistan and Afghanistan, and with the help of ActivSpaces, I expect to see the same effect here in Cameroon.
Can you give one ‘fun-fact’ about yourself?
I can juggle 30 balls at the same time while riding a unicycle down Mount Cameroon. Don’t believe me? Come to Buea and visit us to find out!
Recipe for a MapUp
Throw together two handfuls of students, a couple of Android devices equipped with GPS, sprinkle a little Google swag, leave all that to cook for 3 hours under the afternoon sun at the University of Buea and if you got it all right: voilà, a mapped campus.
On Saturday, November 24th, ActivSpaces hosted its first Google geo event, the UB Campus MapUp, with 10 student participants, support from Google and a lot of legwork to make it work.
Why Map The Campus?
The UB Campus MapUp event provided a unique opportunity to the community to learn the use of Map Maker and contribute their knowledge by organizing local geographical information. The event was sponsored by Google as part of a program to promote awareness and utility of Google geo products.
At ActivSpaces we wanted to do something practical that would have a lasting learning impact on our student participants. We chose the mapping of their university campus as an activity that they could easily relate to and with a lot of potential for follow up.
Mapping The Campus
Our day started in ActivSpaces at 11:00am with a one hour planning and preparation session. For lack of enough GPS devices, we downloaded the application MyTracks onto a few Android devices (cell phones & tablets) and our designated GSA (Google Student Ambassador) drilled the squad on its use. We then divided ourselves into teams of two, and spent close to 3 hours walking through the UB campus and pinpointing buildings and tracing paths. In each team one individual was responsible for handling the gadget while the other was in charge of jotting notes.
After gathering sufficient data (and getting something to eat!) we returned to ActivSpaces and uploaded the work from our Android/GPS devices to Map Maker. The student participants will use the next few weeks to polish the map, ensure that all the data is accurate and set up collaboration protocols for future development of the initiative.
Students who participated in the UB Campus MapUp event have pledged to do three things:
Stay tuned to find out how successful the students are in hitting these targets. We believe that a lot more mapping activity is going to grow out of this small one. For students that would like to get involved in this initiative and further projects, please contact us or get in touch with Tah Teche with the Google Students Club at the University of Buea. We look forward to connecting with you at our next mapping event!
This blog is a resource for news, project updates, member profiles and community events at ActivSpaces, an open collaboration space, innovation hub and startup incubator for African techies. Based in Buea, Cameroon.