Africa

Design for Scale vs. Bootstrapping: Reflections on Digital Development Principal #3 (Design for Scale)

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Tanzanian villagers with Self-Help Group facilitator and our savings and credit group Android mobile app (www.codeinnovation.com) We are eagerly anticipating the first time that Code Innovation receives the funding to design a technological tool that is optimized for scale from the moment of its official launch. Building for scale, as a fantasy, in my head, sounds something like this: We could incorporate a customized content management system that enables us to add new activities and modify our material painlessly in real time across a variety of languages. We could incorporate an unobtrusive yet unavoidable monitoring and evaluation protocol that feeds data into a back end that is easy to sort and clean, one that produces donor and media-relevant reports at the click of a button. We could bake in critical APKs for our social media strategy and optimize our design for the ten most common screen dimensions and the thirty most used Android devices—incorporating modular design elements to enable seamless re-branding that sweetens the deal for donors and partners hungry for visibility. We could have a big team, content gardeners, bug support in local languages . . .

Most of the innovations that we hear about in the ICT4D space do not enjoy circumstances like this. Instead, we are often bootstrapping minimum viable products through multiple too-brief program cycles each called a “pilot” phase—kicking down the road the choices about when to spend real money and hoping to transform our hacked together little tool into something robust and versatile enough to be picked up and used by the development community at large . . . and hoping, lastly, that this makes our code stylish and widespread enough to be maintained by the open source community out of love.

The Constraints of Scale with Limited Resources

Code Innovation is hitting an inflection point with one of our favorite projects that is forcing us to consider how to optimize our code for scale, but with highly limited resources. The project: an Android application that supports the facilitation of small groups that come together on a weekly basis, saving tiny sums of money, learning about businesses, starting businesses and then loaning to one another, thereby lifting one another out of poverty (take a peek at our free and open source Self-Help Group app here. Early versions of this application needed to function in Amharic and English. They needed to digitize about 70 pages of existing facilitator guides and meeting curricula and they needed to present these materials in an orderly, device-optimized way that technological novices could grasp after, at most, one quick training. Other requests piled on: social media component (sigh), interoperability with a pre-existing, ODK-based M&E app (gulp), report generating back end for funders and partners and so on and so forth.

But, at the beginning we had at most 30% of the money that it would cost to build a sufficiently rugged content app and it would mean contributing weeks of pro bono time to get our alpha version into the hands of vulnerable populations in Ethiopia. It didn’t feel like building for scale. It felt like proof of concept.

Then the usual thing happened: new partners came along with just enough money to add exactly what they want the most (a new language, perhaps, or some modules about disaster risk reduction); but not enough money to conduct a proper build. Not enough for us to build for scale. And sure, we apply a few times for large pots of Gates Foundation-type money, hoping to up-level our technology, to bring on new countries and hit our stride; but our reality continues to be bootstrapping from one version to the next, giving exceptional weight to the feature and content requests that come from whichever funder is willing to support our development next. There’s often a gentle tension between the requests of a short-term donor and the interests of our imagined, global, future customer base.

But suppose we have some promising leads? Suppose we allow ourselves to imagine building for scale just as a thought experiment? What would that look like? Or, more interestingly, what it would it look like if it were done in hefty stages rather than all at once? What if we had to prioritize the that would bring us to scale and scalability?

We admire all of the RapidSMS-based systems that our colleagues and friends have built and rolled-out through national ministries or with the paid-support of well-distributed program officers and we’re entirely aware of the benefits of short codes, dumb phones and standards. But our content and use case has driven us onto a more troublesome format (smartphones) and into an arena that is not as cut and dry or hierarchical and organized as Ministries of Health. In fact, the different partners who are most likely to adopt and scale our product do not agree about content or program models—quite apart from the fact that they often speak different languages.

So how do we articulate and prioritize the different investments into our content and technology that would help transform a narrow, bespoke application into a robust open source tool that is best in class?

Tanzanian women with Self-Help Group facilitator and our savings and credit group Android mobile app (www.codeinnovation.com)

Our primary considerations for taking an open source Android app to scale:

* Connectivity Management:

This isn’t a feature. It’s a constant high level development consideration until free Internet rains down from the heavens. Whenever we forget this variable, we open ourselves up to unnecessary failure. We need to ensure that our app respects the hyper-low and infrequent connectivity of our users by refusing to incorporate any commands or experiences that rely upon wifi or data signals. We must also anticipate database-device conflicts that result from infrequent connectivity, for instance groups naming themselves identically when offline that might become confused when they first connect. Building for low to zero connectivity is our primary constraint; it means we can’t rely on user logins or passwords, it complicates things and it makes it harder to use out-of-the-box chunks of open source code.

* Inbuilt Monitoring and Evaluation with administrative back end:

In early phases, it’s feasible to conduct monitoring and evaluation personally and to rely on Skype calls or emails as a fallback in case user information from the App is sparse or unreliable. But as we scale, our technology must gather and sort this information for us more dependably and we need to ensure that this information is visible and actionable for backend administrators who are not also our coders and developers.

* Support more Devices:

We will need to optimize our code for a growing number of devices and screen sizes. At first we could control what hardware was used with our product. But going to scale will mean the loss of this control and a bunch of design work will be required to keep content legible and navigation pathways obvious. We also have to set funds aside for keeping up with changes to the Android operating system. (For others operating in Africa, we’ve found that Tecno tablets are good for our purposes. They are widely available, robust and not big targets for theft. There are some quirks that make them a bit difficult to code for; but they’ve been hassle free in the field.) Sometimes affluent allies to our project bemoan the unavailability of our app on the Apple Store. The only justification we can see for coding this for iOS is that it might be useful for fundraising and visibility at some point when money is not an object.

* Social & Sharing:

Because we have partners who are committed to creating a social media component: we need to build out a way for groups to “share stories.” This will ultimately require an interface for reviewing, moderating and even editing the content that is uploaded to our system. (We also need to build out trainings for our end-users about the privacy considerations of sharing stories about themselves and their businesses.) We anticipate eventual requests for APKs with locally relevant social networks for cross-promoting stories and insights and can see the utility of this when begin to pursue unstructured growth amongst individual users.

* Solid Content Management System:

We will need a better content management system. Our current system was the cheapest and most familiar thing our developers could find; but it isn’t suitable for the use of our program officers because the interface requires use of html and is tiny and hard to search. Adding new languages and changing content should be easy enough in the future that relatively low-skilled, non-technical team members can do it. Our future CMS should also make it easy to change pop-ups, buttons and navigation prompts.

* Inbuilt bug Tracking:

Crash reports are great; but we need to adopt and move onto a formal issue-tracking system like Redmine and incorporate into the app some way for our users to let this system know when they encounter inclarities with content or problems with usability.

* Branching Curriculum:

Because we want to create one application that is sufficiently useful for a number of similar but different program models, we need to invest considerable time (and consensus building) into the maintenance of a one-size-fits all curriculum that will probably soon require a new user interface feature for when content branches. So, for example, the activities about supplying loans would have to branch to accommodate Islam’s prohibition of interest-charging or an activity about group milestones would have to split to address Volunteer Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) program models that pay-out from the communal kitty. The Self-Help Group model that inspired our work seems the most impactful of these initiatives and has drawn the attention and support of Melinda Gates. But it isn’t the most widespread model—in order to increase its reach, we’ll want to accommodate the needs and interests of closely aligned programs.

* New Content & Content Architecture:

We need to expand the scope and functionalities of our resources and supplementary materials. At the beginning it was fine to create a little directory of hard-to-see pdfs to satisfy an unanticipated partner request. But the quantity of high-quality material that we are now hosting deserves a whole ecosystem, complete with loads of new instructional language and the option for users to email themselves forms and templates that they find helpful.

* Finance Tracking:

Hovering in the future is the expectation that the app itself start to track the savings and money-usage of the groups, perhaps synching up with mobile money or sources of external capital. We’ve had good reason to postpone this so far; but it will be requested or required of us sooner or later. Here also we anticipate some healthy tension between a digital development principle six, which encourages us to use Open Data and principle eight which reminds us to address privacy and security concerns.

* Inbuilt Trainings:

To move away from conducting trainings during field visits, we should create some digital tutorials that help tech novices understand how to use the app—and these will have to be in a variety of languages, with a directory of audio files (optimally). From our point of view, the chief rationale for digitizing a successful development work initiative is to remove the cost of scale created by field visits, workshops and trainings. Where these Self-Help Groups are growing traditionally, organizations strain to raise funds for facilitators who require transport, accommodation, connectivity, benefits and so forth. So even though building dynamic trainings into an app can feel like an extravagance, it pales in comparison to the cost of field visits—especially from senior staff who command hefty day rates.

What We Have So Far

There’s more. But these represent some considerable investments of time and money. In an ideal scenario, we get a war chest and we build the seventh wonder of ICT4D in the next three months, our product wows our implementing partners who want it in the hands of ten thousand facilitators ASAP and program officers around the world begin inviting us to collaborate with their field workers.

But I suspect we’ll be juggling this list of priorities and I suspect we’ll be juggling them along with heavily-weighted surprise requests from partners that we can’t anticipate. For example, we’ll probably have to persuade a new partner that instead of paying us to adapt and incorporate new modules about their favorite Sustainable Development Goal, they should pay us to update our content management system. Or we’ll learn that they’re only interested in the possibility of upgrading our underlying code after they field-test a version of that has been slightly modified to include their urgent priorities. In such cases, the implementing organization may be building our app for scale within their ecosystem, even as, from a technical standpoint, they are encouraging us to make it less appropriate or robust for a wider, general scale up.

There are heuristics to help us make sensible decisions about what to develop when funds for tech improvement are scarce. Investing in structural or systemic modifications that facilitate additions of content and upgrades is better than making ad hoc additions and upgrades. From a programmatic standpoint, we need to prioritize helping our users with their primary duties before we create new ones for them (such as becoming story-tellers or youth journalists). We also must do what we can to assist with data gathering and monitoring and evaluation so as to capture, quantitatively, the results of our tinkering.

There’s often a slight tension with the Digital Development Principles, too, in the area of being collaborative. Because making the decisions that truly build a technology for scale can mean behaving inflexibly in the face of stakeholder and beneficiary requests. If we figure out any magic tricks, we’ll definitely let you know. Stay-tuned to our blog at Codeinnovation.com to follow the noble struggle between bootstrapping and building for scale!

Scaling Up our DIY Self-Help Group App with Partners in East Africa

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Community-savings-and-credit-group-rural-Tanzania-East-Africa-open-source-mobile-app-code-innovation In early 2015, Code Innovation and our partners at One Hen Inc. visited the implementing partners for our Self-Help Group app in Ethiopia and Tanzania. After a successful pilot in 2014, our plan was to scale up the use of the app by 1000% focusing on new users in food insecure areas of both countries.

We met with partners at Tearfund Ethiopia and with Tearfund Tanzania's local NGO implementers, the Christian Council of Tanzania (CCT) to decide on a viable plan for multiplying our impact and rolling out a new-and-improved iteration with content that we estimated would last for about six months worth of weekly Selp-Help Group meetings. According to our previous coordinator, during our 2014 pilot in Ethiopia this was about the time it took for new groups to raise enough capital and develop enough business acumen and group momentum to begin to give their first loans.

This is a write-up of how Phase 2 of the project went, in terms of fidelity to our plan and also around ICT4D best practices and lessons learned. Wherever possible, we'll tie what we're doing and learning into the Digital Principles because we're proud to be one of the endorsing organizations contributing to this emerging field of practice.

 

An Overview of our DIY Self-Help Group App

(If you're already familiar with our project, feel free to skip this section. You can also read more background here and here.)

For those of you new to the project, in 2013 we began working with the US non-profit One Hen Inc. to digitize and scale Tearfund Ethiopia's successful Self-Help Group model of savings and credit groups, themselves adapted from the model pioneered by Myrada in India. The groups have shown a cost-benefit ratio of approximately 1:100* with long-term and far-reaching social and economic impacts on members and their communities, lifting people out of poverty over time with very little outside support.

Working closely with Tearfund Ethopia, we adapted their Self-Help Group modular curriculum to a mobile interface on a free and open source Android app you can download from the Google Play store here -- although it's very much still in Beta for now. Over a 12-week pilot, we found that the facilitators thought the app was a useful professional tool and facilitation guide and that they'd already begun using it to start new Self-Help Groups not officially involved in our pilot.

 

Our Plan for Phase 2, a.k.a. How to Scale 1,000% in Six Months

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Based on the positive feedback we got from Self-Help Group facilitators, we sought to expand our reach in Ethiopia and begin working in a new country, Tanzania, with the same organizational partners. With DfID funding, we were able to focus on food insecure regions facing hunger because of the failure of the previous year's rains. Due to a poor harvest because of the drought, families and communities in these regions were considered particularly at risk for hazards related to food insecurity. Our partners selected the Humbo and Angacha regions in Ethiopia and Kongwa in the Dodoma region of Tanzania to scale-up our pilot with 25 new Savings and Credit Groups to be created in each country over six months of field implementation.

Because we were working in two districts in Ethiopia, and also to see if closer supervisory support would yield better weekly reporting data, we tried a new approach to coordination, appointing one District Coordinator for each area, supervised by a single Project Coordinator based in Addis Ababa. In addition to regular check-ins by email and phone, the Coordinator visited every other month in person to ensure the District Coordinators were feeling supported with the technology and the savings and credit group formation process.

In Ethiopia, we worked with experienced Self-Help Group facilitators working in new parts of the country starting groups of primarily young people out of school and over age 18. The focus on youth created some challenges because there was an assumption that young people did not have any source of income, although Tearfund's program model specifically addresses this assumption with a reframe of available local resources and close-to-home economic activities. Nonetheless, we did see below average group retention rates in Ethiopia because the SHG system itself was not established in the communities we selected and was, instead, fairly unknown. Accordingly, parents and youth members were quick to get discouraged and to discourage others from attending the groups. In the Nazaret region, where we first piloted, SHGs had been established for over a decade and belonging was considered to be admirable and beneficial, so this was our first time as a partnership facing a situation where people did not show up with motivation because of a favorable context. Also, in some cases youth decided to enroll in school or move to urban areas to look for work during the pilot program period, so SHG membership was more variable than is usual for Tearfund Ethiopia programs.

In Tanzania, our partners at CCT decided to work with entirely new and inexperienced facilitators in regions where Pamoja groups ("Pamoja" means "together" in Kiswahili and is CCT's name for our Savings and Credit Groups) had not yet been established. This created a number of early challenges that were evaluated to be worth the extra effort because of the acute community need for this kind of support system, given the hazards and risks members were facing around food insecurity and with the drought. It meant that our Coordinator spent half of his time directly working with and training facilitators on the mobile technology, app functionality and reporting protocols, but also that the gains that we saw over time there showed that the program can work in a new and extremely challenging use case.

Because we're still early in the app development and digitization process, we continued our system of weekly feedback from facilitators to get specific inputs on areas of the curriculum that worked well and that need expansion. This system continued to give us the real-time, actionable data that we need to make strong iterations between phases, and we anticipate continuing it in the future until we move out of Phase 2 (testing with new countries, partners and in new world regions). Phase 3 will happen when the app can be used by a new, inexperienced facilitator to successfully learn facilitation skills, recruit and start a group, and save and lend while building group ties over time. We have a ways to go, but we'll get there!

 

What Went Well in our Rapid Scale-Up

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We are happy to report that a number of key areas went extremely well. We're going to summarize them here, but do get in touch (info@codeinnovation.com) if you'd like to hear more details as we're keen to share what we know with our ICT4D community.

  • App Functionality and Usability: The app did not require repeated training for new facilitators to use, especially around the key curricular areas of meeting content.
  • Expanded Content around Case Studies, Games and Stories: We hoped to include content in the app that would take group members well into six months of weekly meetings, and we succeeded in doing that with our expanded curriculum around social business skills development, conflict resolution and disaster risk management/disaster risk reduction. Facilitators and group members enjoyed the illustrative content in particular, and over the course of Phase 2 we've collected a wealth of additional content to help us build out the curriculum further.
  • Facilitator Training: Our new module created a step-by-step training guide for new facilitators to learn basic skills, recruit group members and develop self-organized learning for their own professional development. We heard from facilitators throughout field implementation that it was an appreciated part of the content.
  • Facilitator Preparation: Before each module throughout the content, we expanded the information needed to prepare facilitators for their weekly meeting. We heard that this was an extensively used part of the app this time around and were requested to continue building it out as a resource for planning meetings.
  • Hardware: We selected locally-purchased Tecno tablets available for about $200 in Ethiopia per device and about $100 in Tanzania per device. The higher cost in Ethiopia is due to national taxes on ICT, as the tablets themselves were almost identical. Every device continues to function without damage at the time of writing, a testament to the care with which our facilitators treated them and also to the durability and appropriateness of the tablets themselves in rural East Africa.
  • Reporting and Supportive Supervision: Weekly reporting kept facilitators, coordinators and us in close contact to problem-solve proactively and ensure that our content and UI/UX was meeting their needs in running groups and also in their own professional support and development. In Tanzania, reports were sent via facilitators' Gmail accounts and our users created a What's App group on their own initiative to share success stories, keep in touch and help each other resolve group, tablet or meeting challenges.
  • Secondary Benefits of Accessible Mobile Technology: In most cases, facilitators used their tablets for professional and personal development, including engagement with LinkedIn, online news and Facebook social networking. In many cases, facilitators began to pass around the tablet during meetings so that members took turns facilitating the key discussion points during group meetings. In a few cases, facilitators made their tablets available to community and group members to access the internet, creating strong secondary benefits in areas that did not previously have easy access to mobile technology.

What We Learned for Future Partnerships

There were some key areas for lessons learned as well, detailed in brief here. Again, please do get in touch (info@codeinnovation.com) if you're keen to hear more about these, as we'd love it if no one in ICT4D ever made these same mistakes again!

  • Solar Chargers: In all cases where hardware is provided, we will be advising partners to purchase locally sourced solar chargers to enable the tablets to be charged directly by the facilitators whenever needed. Relying on local charging stations is both time-consuming and expensive, and could in the future be a source of low motivation to use the app.
  • App Updates: Because access to mobile data is so slow and wifi is often completely unavailable, we needed a new system to update new app versions so that facilitators would be sure to be using the latest app version. We are using our Coordinator's laptop and installing APKs directly onto tablets during field visits in the future. But this is a function of our beneficiaries being in unusually remote areas underserved by electric infrastructure. If we were targeting robust growth in an urban area, this recommendation would likely not apply.
  • New Group Formation: We had anticipated that 25 groups would be fairly easy to form over six months in each country, but in fact we will only reach our target in late 2015/early 2016. In Ethiopia, working in a region where SHGs were not known by the community made their establishment slower than anticipated. In Tanzania, new facilitators were only ready to create new groups after their existing ones had been established for about three months, so relying on facilitators to create multiple groups should anticipate some phasing delays. At the moment in Tanzania, new group creation is on hold because members would not have the income needed to contribute to savings, since it is the very end of the dry season and family resources are very scarce. A few weeks after the short rains begin (in December or January, we hope), members will once again have the financial resources and be able to begin group savings.
  • UI/UX and Usability Testing: Secondary app functionalities were not as easy for new users to navigate as the curricular modules, namely our Community (or social media) section and our group login system. Based on usability testing directly with facilitators in Tanzania, we have a great list of priority fixes in this area.
  • Multimedia When Possible: Adding photos and illustrations, especially for case studies, will help to make the content more personal and come alive for members and facilitators. It was a repeated ask from our group interviews and something we're looking into while keeping in mind that we don't want the app (already around 10MB) to become too heavy to download in low-bandwidth areas.

 

What our Self-Help Group App Group Members Had to Say about the Project and our Process

During a recent field visit to CCT's Pamoja Groups in Kongwa, Dodoma region in Tanzania, we were able to interview nine groups in four village areas.

In our Self-Help Group model, each group member contributes weekly through buying two types of shares, social shares and savings shares. Each week, each member contributes one share to the social fund, for use by group members in emergencies. In addition, they can buy savings shares at a minimum and maximum set by the group.

In all Pamoja groups, the social fund is repaid without interest and had minimum 1 share @ 500 Tsh contribution per week, slightly less than $0.25 at the time of our visit.

In Mautya Village in Kongwa District, Dodoma Region, participants reported:

  • "We are facing hunger in our families and communities because we are primarily agricultural and because of the lack of rains last year and the failure of our crops."
  • "We are using the social fund to buy food."
  • "Group social ties give us strength to face the challenges of the drought together. We do not feel alone."

In Nguji Village in Kongwa District, Dodoma Region, participants reported:

  • “We are facing hunger in our families and communities because we are agricultural and because of the lack of rains and the failure of crops.
  • "We are using the social fund to buy food and pay school fees."
  • "Because of the group, we are not facing too much hunger at the end of the dry season and we feel supported by each other."
  • "Belonging to the group helped to improve my existing business and my profits have increased."

One-third of the participants in Nguji owned their own mobile phones and 80% had their own businesses.

In Machenje Village in Kongwa District, Dodoma Region, participants reported:

  • "There is no rain, and everyone here are farmers. Bad harvest means hunger. Lack of rain increases the price of food."
  • "If I don’t have money, I can take a loan to invest in a business and use the profit to pay back the loan and buy food for my family."
  • "Our economy is so much affected by the drought because we depend on agriculture and there is no rain or harvest. It is difficult."
  • "Because I now have a small business, I can buy food and eat with my family."
  • "If someone is sick, a loan [from the social fund] can take them to hospital and pay for their immediate needs."
  • "If a group member has any emergency, anything in life, we can support them."
  • "These groups are good. We encourage anyone to join. However, know that if you take a loan, it can be challenging to pay it back so that another person is able to take a new loan."
  • "The community originally thought that these groups were a trick, but now that they've seen our success and the capital we've raised, they themselves want to join."
  • "I had a business before, but I was inexperienced. Belonging to the group helped to improve my business skills and share with others. Now, I am helping my family to have a good life."
  • "Belonging to the group has really helped my family. With a loan, I have been able to expand my tomato selling business."
  • "This is a bad year because of the lack of rain, so buying shares every week is difficult, especially now that it is dry season. My savings come from collecting firewood in the bush and selling it in the village."

30% of the group members had businesses before joining and 46% do now. 58% own their own mobile phones.

In Laikala Village in Kongwa District, Dodoma Region, participants reported:

  • "Life is difficult. I joined this group to get out of poverty."
  • "In most cases, we struggle to pay for school fees and because of the group, we make sure that we pay for all the school expenses."
  • "Using the tablet has introduced me to new things and ideas, and it is good for me."
  • "The social fund is for problems or unexpected disasters."
  • "Our group made an IGA whose profit goes back into the social fund, because we depend on it so heavily now. The IGA involves buying sugar and rice wholesale and each members sells some and returns with the profit."
  • "People should join groups because they are sustainable. Members are there for each other and will continue to be there to help each other."
  • "This community depends on agriculture. Without rain there is no food. We have hunger and no money to buy commodities. We are all affected."
  • "Without a good harvest, there is no money and without money, you cannot buy anything. There is no water for gardening."
  • "Without food at home, after a poor harvest, loans help our families to eat."
  • "With the problem of the lack of rain, most people are bankrupt so others can’t help, but the group can help, especially with a small business."
  • "I didn't have a business, but then I took a loan and now I have a profitable small restaurant."

13% of the group members had businesses before joining and 52% do now. 55% own their own mobile phones.

Next Steps for our DIY Self-Help Group App

We are in discussion with CCT, Tearfund Tanzania and Tearfund Ethiopia to continue to scale up with their new and existing Pamoja and SHG facilitators in the coming months and into 2016. In addition, we have a new partnership with World Vision Tanzania working with their Volunteer Savings and Loan Associations with groups in the Babati regional cluster (of Tanzania). Stay tuned for more developments early in the new year, when we'll be releasing a new-and-improved iteration based on what we learned during this Phase 2.

Our own goal at Code is to scale the Self-Help Group App impact to 1 million direct beneficiaries within three years. Because of the economic and social need, we hope to concentrate mostly in sub-Saharan Africa but it will depend where we find implementing partners and funding. Of course, as we iterate closer to a stand-alone app with full functionalities, , our own inputs for consecutive iterations will become less necessary.

We hope to find partners in all parts of the world, but in Africa in particular, who are interested in using our Self-Help Group app to train and support facilitators starting their own groups in their own communities, helping to empower people to create social and economic support systems that reduce their vulnerability to stresses, shocks and poverty.

Want to partner with us on this or other projects? Get in touch (info@codeinnovation.com)!

* Cabot Venton, C et al (2013). “Partnerships for Change: a cost benefit analysis of Self Help Groups in Ethiopia.” Tearfund, Teddington, UK.

African Tech Hubs: iLab Liberia

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Technology and innovation hubs in Africa interview series: iLab in Monrovia, Liberia (www.codeinnovation.com) As part of our ongoing African Tech Hub interview series, we sat down with Carter Draper, Interim Country Director of iLab Liberia to ask him what it’s like to work in ICT4D in Monrovia and be bringing exponential technologies to help solve the country’s challenges.

Code Innovation: Hi Carter. Thanks for sitting down with us. Tell us a bit about your background and how you got started in technology.

Carter Draper: I currently serve as Interim Country Director at iLab Liberia. My passion for computing goes as far back as to high school in 2000. Upon graduation, I enrolled at several local computer institutions – and opposed my father’s desire for me to study forestry and agriculture at the state university. I now hold a BSc in Electronics Engineering and a Microsoft Information Technology Professional certification from Koenig Solutions in New Delhi, India, in additional to several certifications for web development, coding, networking and hardware.

During the civil crisis of 2001-2003, I co-operated several Internet cafes, which then served as the major gateway to connecting families and relatives abroad. Immediately after the war, I was employed with the National Legislature – a post I merited as a result of my professional ethics and services rendered my nation while operating Internet cafes during the heat of the civil crisis.

African women and girls learn technology skills for workforce development at iLab Liberia in Monrovia (www.codeinnovation.com)

I served for five unbroken years as Computer Technician at the Legislature, providing tech support to both the Senate wing as well as the House wing. While serving with the Government, I was also teaching Electronic Data Processing at the Stella Maris Polytechnic in Monrovia. In 2010, I got a scholarship to earn my MCTS and MCITP in New Delhi. Seven months after my return, I was employed by Ushahidi Liberia, a non-profit technology initiative that monitored the Liberian 2011 elections using technology.

Code: How did iLab Liberia get started? How are operations being run now?

Carter: iLab Liberia came into existence through Ushahidi Liberia operations. We realized the need for an open space for information sharing, access to Internet and incubating innovation, which Liberia was in dire need of then. It was with enthusiasm for technology, access and innovation for all. iLab is a technology hub that continues to narrow the technology divide in Liberia. Over our four years of operations, we have impacted doctors, teachers, students, the Government of Liberia, INGOs, NGOs, civil society organizations and grassroots intellectual groups, by providing them not only a space where they access the Internet for free, but take free courses and events as well as developing technology solutions to leverage the traditional ways of doing things here on the ground. iLab is a US 501c3, a non-for-profit organization that depends on donor funding for its operations. We’re a small organization with a staff of ten, including me, our Country Director.

Graduating in a technology course for workforce development at iLab Liberia in Monrovia (www.codeinnovation.com)

Code: What is iLab Liberia’s business model?

Carter: To avoid depending on our donors to fund our entire annual budget, starting in 2013 we began charging INGOs minimal funds to collaborate with us. This is intended to allow us to generate 25% of our annual budget. However, due to the Ebola virus, there has been a huge drop in paid services, taking us back to depending fully on donor funding this 2015.

Code: Does iLab Liberia work in open source? What is your experience with the open source community?

Carter: Among the many things we do, open source platforms and applications are at the center. We’ve trained entrepreneurs, MSMEs, and startups in GNUCash, an open source version of QuickBooks, Scribus, for desktop publishing, Audacity for audio editing, Cinderella for video, as well as many other open platforms. All our systems run FOSS operating systems (Ubuntu, Linux) and we’ve encouraged institutions to take that direction by training them in Ubuntu, in addition to sharing copies of the OS to nearly everyone that visits our hub.

Code: What has been most challenging?

Carter: Unlike other tech hubs, iLab operates in an environment with no stable electricity, limited and very costly Internet connectivity, and very poor technology infrastructure. In fact, there is only one  institution of higher learning in information technology or its related courses in Liberia. This has caused a very slow emerging technology community.

Code: What are your organization’s specific areas of expertise?

Technology for workforce development at iLab Liberia in Monrovia (www.codeinnovation.com)

Carter: We specialize in promoting open source systems and applications, web technologies, mobile technologies, trainings and organizing tech events.

Code: What are the issues or problems that you care most about?

Carter: Liberia being a developing country, using technology to develop my nation is my highest dream.

Code: What projects are you most excited to be working on?

Carter: Innovative projects that tackle and contextualize real problems. Helping nearly every sector improve their service delivery through technology.

Code: What are your plans for the next few years and what sort of help do you need to achieve them?

Carter: My plan is to improve the skills of staff at iLab and to expand our mission and activities actively in rural Liberia. I will appreciate anyone who’s willing to help in the improvement of our staff abilities to continue and expand the work we are doing here with new expertise.

Code: What companies or organizations would do you most like to be connected to and why?

Carter: Companies that believe technology can improve the lives of people and processes in Africa as well as institutions that are willing to come to Liberia to share their expertise to help make this country a better place.

African Tech Hubs: eMobilis in Nairobi, Kenya

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computer teaching training a young woman at eMobilis technology institute in Nairobi, Kenya African tech hubs and innovations labs train the next generation of African leaders and entrepreneurs who will use technology to solve challenges faced by their countries and communities.

In order to help bridge their work and make connections between African tech leaders and Silicon Valley, where we spend the summer teaching at Singularity University’s Graduate Studies Program, we’re profiling a handful of African tech hubs and innovations labs.

In this ongoing series at Code Innovation, we’ll be asking tech leaders from across Africa how they work, what their business model looks like, what challenges they face and how those with capital and resources can support them.

Our intention is to encourage connections and collaboration between the African tech scene and Silicon Valley.

In our first interview in the African Tech Hubs series, we’re profiling Ken Mwenda, co-founder and Managing Director of eMobilis Technology Institute, based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Code: Hi Ken. Welcome to our interview series! Would you share a little bit about who you are and how you got started in technology?

Ken Mwenda: Hi. I’d be happy to. eMobilis is a software development training institution and incubation hub based in Nairobi, Kenya that has been in operation for the past five years.

We train youth and develop custom mobile applications for organizations both locally and globally – everything from e-learning mobile apps to business apps designed to streamline operations.

Our organization was founded at a time when Safaricom, the creator of Mpesa, overtook East African Breweries as the most profitable company in East Africa. That, and the entry of four new telecom companies into Kenya, marked the advent of a boom in the telecommunications sector and the dire need for more talent to avoid the rampant poaching of network engineers and mobile product developers.

When we opened our doors to students, we were the first of our kind in sub-Saharan Africa. It was necessary to pioneer this kind of training to respond to digital opportunities in a focused way, as no other colleges or universities were doing so at the time. From courses on network infrastructure, GSM, the evolution of 3G and radio propagation, we then progressed to launch programs on Java, PHP, mySQL, HTML5, Android and Windows Phone. As the industry evolved, it become clear that there were also phenomenal freelance and entrepreneurship opportunities presented in the exploding mobile software development space, as a result of global app stores and the low barriers of entry for developers with a globally appealing software product.

eMobilis is accredited through the Government of Kenya and has trained over 2,200 students to date, 65% of these on scholarships funded through industry collaborations.

Our vision is to empower local youth to tap into the myriad opportunities that the mobile and software development industry offers so that they can innovate, create and improve their situation in life through use of digital tools.

student learning mobile programming at emobilis mobie technology institute in Nairobi, Kenya

Code: How did your organization get founded and how is it being run now?

Ken: eMobilis was founded by 3 directors who pooled together capital and resources from personal savings. We set up in an area known as Westlands within Nairobi’s core and now have 3 fully-equipped labs and an incubation room. Each of the three labs has a capacity of 30 students at any given time and part of our commitment to students is to offer high-speed internet, high performance PC’s and a conducive environment for learning that includes test devices and a test server.

It took us one and a half years to get government accreditation through the local Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. This rigorous process vetted our teaching staff, and included inspecting our premises and also scrutinizing the curriculum.

Typical courses run between 1 month and 3 months and all require creation of a mobile app as part of the hands-on methodology. We expose students to the publishing process and give them some ideas on how to monetize their skills.

We also offer off-site Boot Camps and have partnered with top universities in Kenya to conduct certain trainings at their campuses. Over the years, we have worked with the University of Nairobi, JKUAT and Africa Nazarene to train their students in mobile programming.

eMobilis has been engaged by both Google and Microsoft (Nokia) to conduct specialized training programs. In the case of Google, it involved a series of workshops to assist small and medium sized businesses to set up their own websites using the GKBO (Getting Kenyan Businesses Online) tool.

Our software development division is 2 years old and sprung from the numerous requests we were getting from companies that wanted a specific, custom mobile app created and the whole project managed by a vendor. Having expertise and a reasonable amount of experience and accumulated research on mobile apps, we ventured into creating apps for companies on contract.

Code: What is your business model?

Ken: Our business model is multi-pronged. We run some programs where students pay full tuition while other programs are on full scholarship.

For instance, in the mlab East Africa program, where the mandate was to grow and develop the mobile technology ecosystem, the best and brightest students were shortlisted competitively and given full scholarships for a 4-month training program. Many have gone on to form start-ups, some work on a freelance basis and another 60% have been absorbed into employment by banks, IT companies, small businesses and multinationals, typically in their IT departments. Funding from Infodev, a division of the World Bank, enabled us to offer full, merit based scholarships at the mlab facility with our lecturers and curriculum.

eMobilis is also a co-founder of mlab East Africa, a World Bank initiative consisting of 5 regional mobile laboratories around the world tasked with incubating start-ups, hosting a major developer pitching conference, training, mentoring start-ups and supporting the growth of the mobile tech ecosystem. The consortium hosting the lab consists of iHub, University of Nairobi and eMobilis.

We seek out partnerships with corporations to offer custom tailored programs. One such partnership was with Nokia before they were bought out by Microsoft. Their goal was to promote local content on their devices through relevant and exciting mobile applications that helped them sell more phones. Nokia would fully fund a program for students that helped up-skill and expose strong developers who create useful and appealing mobile applications.

We have partnered with organizations such as Google, Microsoft, Safaricom, Salesforce and KEMRI to offer youth trainings on Android, website development through HTML5, Windows Phone and USSD mobile software development programs.

On the software development division, we have worked with different international organizations including Code Innovation and One Hen Inc. to develop a ground-breaking, multilingual mobile app that enables facilitators of Self Help Groups in Ethiopia and Tanzania to effectively learn and manage groups through mobile tools, resources and the app’s user-friendly interface.

Our model is also to seek out partnerships to create amazing apps for private as well as for non-profit organizations that want to leverage the power of mobile and to extend their reach and effectiveness with their customers or constituents.

computer lab at emobilis mobie technology institute in Nairobi, Kenya

Code: Do you work in open source? What is your experience with the open source community?

Ken: We do. When we run programs on Android, HTML5, and others we build on curriculum and resources openly available through the open source community. We also direct our students to developer forums and communities so that they can contribute and also further their research as they code.

We consider the open source community an amazing place to share ideas and learn best practices from each other.

Code: What has been most challenging?

Ken: There are numerous challenges, many of them that come with the territory when you decide to pioneer a concept as novel as mobile software development training in Africa. Code schools and academies are still fairly uncommon. In the early days there was very low awareness on this area of training. Traditional education and institutions did not teach mobile software development and so we had to spend heavily on marketing and awareness building so that potential students could get excited about the opportunities afforded by the mobile space and how they could learn through us.

As a start-up, we had cash flow issues and lack of bank financing as software related businesses in Kenya typically do not qualify for bank loans and are considered high risk. Expenses spanning rent, salaries, quality equipment and marketing proved quite high as we raced to ramp up and attract solid student numbers to cover operating costs.

Being in the Education sector, we also needed to get accredited by the Government and that took a great deal of time and effort to help the Quality Assurance department at the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology understand our curriculum, process and the outcomes of the training. This was long and rigorous but important to us since as an organization, we wanted to be compliant and to be able to assure parents and students about the quality and value of what we offer.

Additionally, there was the challenge of both finding highly qualified and passionate lecturers who understood this relatively new field, had developed their own apps and could communicate effectively to train students and motivate them as developers.

Another challenge to contend with is adapting to the rapidly changing technology landscape where technology companies fold, new programming languages emerge, standards compete, equipment becomes obsolete and staying on top of all this to remain relevant is not entirely painless.

graduating students at emobilis mobie technology institute in Nairobi, Kenya

Code: What are your organization’s specific areas of expertise?

Ken: Software development training – Android, Salesforce, HTML5 and so forth, youth capacity building, and mobile software development for private firms and non-profits.

Code: What are the issues or problems that you care most about?

Ken: Solving the unacceptably high rate of unemployment in Kenya, which stands at 40%; ensuring that globalization does not leave our youth behind as the world rapidly goes digital and we lose out on opportunities for work; facilitating creativity and unleashing the potential of our youth to innovate; establishing Kenya as a hub of excellence for software development globally and to ensure we train top-notch talent; building the tech ecosystem, including attracting venture capitalists to invest in African start-ups to solve the funding issue and to provide mentorship; and growing as an organization and escalating our impact.

Code: What projects are you most excited to be working on?

Ken: Mobile software development projects with partners who can pilot, who have the reach and ability to roll out our mobile apps across Africa and have the desire to collaborate with us to iterate and grow together on various projects with proven social impact potential.

Code: What are your plans for the next few years and what sort of help do you need to achieve them?

Ken: To open 4 more centers with fully equipped labs across Kenya, form 10 key partnerships with mobile value added services companies, hire 2 dedicated staff for business development and to secure software projects, expand the range of programs and courses that we offer as technology evolves, work on 8 innovative and meaningful mobile app projects by Dec 2016, secure a $70,000 grant to allow us to offer scholarships to approximately 100 bright youth from East Africa over the next 12 months, and hire for an Alumni and Jobs Manager to strengthen our job placement office.

Code: What companies or organizations would do you most like to be connected to and why?

Ken: We would like to be connected to organizations that fund scholarships and those that want to outsource software development work and are willing to form a partnership either for knowledge transfer or collaborative social impact projects. We would also like to connect to Singularity, Stanford and MIT for exchange programs and teaching partnerships.

Code: This has been great, Ken. Thanks for the interview! How can people get in touch with you?

Ken: Karibu! They can visit our website, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or get in touch with me directly by email at ken@emobilis.org.

Our HuffPo article on Technology for Development: Shifting the Status Quo in Africa

Our article over at The Huffington Post's Impact's B-Team section is up, co-authored with One Hen partner Courtenay Cabot Venton. We share how our open source Self-Help Group mobile app is helping to scale a successful program model and bring collaborative and participatory development, including microcredit, financial literacy and business education, to the poorest of the poor. Check it out here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/courtenay-cabot-venton/technology-for-developmen_b_6581786.html

 

 

How Mobile is Disrupting Development

charging-mobile-phones-in-southern-sudan-codeinnovation.com-why-mobile-is-eating-development.jpg

mobile-is-disrupting-international-development-and-humanitarian-aid-code-innovation-codeinnovation.com A few weeks ago, best-selling author and Singularity University co-founder, Peter Diamandis, sent out an email newsletter titled, “Mobile is eating the world,” where he calculated that an estimated three to five billion people will connect to the Internet via smartphones in the next five years, effectively democratizing access to the Internet. (You can see the presentation by venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz that inspired the post here.)

What does this mean for international development and humanitarian aid? Well, for starters, it means that projects can now be designed with the direct input of beneficiaries. Real-time monitoring will let us adjust approaches when things aren’t working and open source standards will lead to more people creating more solutions, solving what have seemed like intractable problems in record time.

At the end of 2014, it was estimated that there was one mobile connection for every person on the planet. In June 2014, mobile Internet penetration in sub-Saharan Africa was at 38% and growing at 7% a year. By 2020, half of all mobile connections in the region will be using data; mobile traffic in sub-Saharan Africa is increasing at double the global rate.

This means that development, like mobile, is democratizing – a shift that will disrupt the organizations that are heavy on international staff and a shift that will favor smaller non-profit and social business start-ups that respond to people’s changing needs more quickly. So get ready for the status quo of foreign experts to shift towards DIY development – and it’s going to happen fast.

For the last year and half, in anticipation of this trend, we’ve been working on how to take a very successful analog development onto a mobile platform. It started with a conversation with a friend, development economist, Courtenay Cabot Venton who is the International Director at a US non-profit called One Hen. She’d just finished evaluating a microcredit program run by Tearfund in Ethiopia and was deeply impressed by the results, which showed benefits worth over $100 to the community for every $1 spent running the program. We started talking together about how to take the approach to scale using mobile and put a proposal together that quickly got support to pilot the idea.

The idea of taking a successful program and adapting it to mobile is one way to answer the persistent challenge of scaling in development projects. What if we could create a version of the program that could be run entirely by smartphones? What if facilitators could be trained on their mobile devices and assisted in running meetings and collecting data for monitoring and evaluation? Easier said than done, of course – but that’s the point of the ICT4D principles: build with your users, test, get feedback, improve and repeat. Soon, we’ll have a tool to seed microsavings groups from scratch anywhere in the world – no outside support, capital or programming required.

This is what is so powerful about mobile: it puts the tools of development directly into the hands of the people who need them, allowing them to decide their own priorities and make their own choices about the kind of community they want to build and the kind of local improvements and initiatives they want to undertake. It’s not about creating new technologies, but about giving people free and open access to what we already have – and what we already know works. This is the potential of mobile, as we see it – to reach where traditional projects have not been able to go, easier, quicker and for a fraction of the cost. With mobile, development finally has a chance to scale where it’s needed most.

Thanks for reading! For more information about our work with mobile education, ICT4D and the Self-Help Group app, email info@codeinnovation.com. You can subscribe to future updates from Code Innovation here.

Our Free "About Ebola" App is Featured on Sky News's "Digital Views" Program

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On Saturday, 4 October, Sky News's Martin Stanford presented "Digital Views" and interviewed Code Innovation's Elie Calhoun about the place of our "About Ebola" app in the outbreak response alongside more traditional communications via radio, print media and television. You can watch the segment here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=P0bvQjufrp4

You can read more about the UNICEF mHero program that Elie mentions in the video here.

In a supplementary video, Elie Calhoun shares more context on why we created the app for Android and Apple smart phones, even though smart phone owners are the minority in West Africa, where the outbreak has its epicenter. She explains that smart phone owners are often important influencers with social capital in their communities, and that people who would otherwise mistrust government and foreign health care workers may trust them, providing us with an important avenue for behavior change communication.

You can watch her more detailed explanation about the "About Ebola" app here:

http://youtu.be/ikKuqV3d3eU

We are releasing Elie's in-depth video under a free culture Creative Commons Attributions 4.0 International license, so please feel free to use the above video in your own outreach and communication efforts.

The "About Ebola" app, which is now in Liberian English, Sierra Leonian Krio, Jola, Wolof and Swahili, in addition to French and English, can be downloaded for free here:

Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=cc.snapp.aboutebola

about-ebola-app-public-health-information-codeinnovation.com-android

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/about-ebola/id891004317?mt=8

about-ebola-app-public-health-information-codeinnovation.com-itunes-appleAnd once again, thanks to our international volunteers, without whom this project would not have been possible:

The app was created using the Snapp mobile application building platform, where you can create a free app on your mobile phone. Learn more here.

And once again, thanks to our international volunteers, without whom this project would not have been possible:

Illustration of the virus: Fouad Mezher

Translations:

French: Beatrice Clerc Liberian English and Krio: Dr. Bartum Kulah Swahili: eMobilis Mobile Technology Academy Wolof and Jola: Fatima Jobe and Lamin Goudiaby

Google doesn’t really care about African language content.

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We created an "About Ebola" app in African languages.

Ebola virus graphic designed by artist Fouad Mezher for our free About Ebola informational mobile app

Rumor and misinformation are helping Ebola virus to decimate the already weak health systems of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Fearful communities react with panic and mistrust when plastic wrapped health-workers attempt to isolate their loved ones or to control the circumstances of their burial. Health workers are dying in large numbers and infected people are hidden and circulated through healthy communities.

With the help of many African volunteers and Snapp.cc, Code Innovation created a free, informational app “About Ebola” to help with the public health messaging around the worst outbreak in the history of this particular viral hemorrhagic fever.

Our volunteers translated this app into some of the most widely spoken languages in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Senegal and the Gambia in the hopes that smart phone users in impacted areas could share vital messages with vulnerable people in their native languages.

Smartphones are associated with authority and financial success and our hope is that the people who use them to access public health messaging in local languages will enjoy greater social capital and hold more sway in impacted communities.

But we’ve encountered great stubbornness at Google when it comes to acknowledging these West African languages on the Google Play store. Ironically, there’s a Google initiative for saving obscure and dying languages. Google’s Play Store policies are sabotaging this initiative. We know that the spread of mobile phones is outpacing the distribution of computers in Africa; but while Google created a Wolof version of their search engine, they won’t recognize Wolof on the play store, or Jola, or Krio or Liberian English.

When we first tried to let the Play Store know about the existence of Wolof and Jola (primary languages in two robust African economies), we thought the process would take a day or two and we put our faith in the Google support forums. Our posts were removed within an hour as “irrelevant” and we never found an email address or contact form where we could send our request. The lack of any contact for customer service made Google seem like an anonymous futuristic behemoth with no care for the public. Nonetheless, we were undeterred.

Unlike most content creators in Africa who experience this problem, we have several personal friends who work at Google, an advantage that we thought would help to clear things up. But our friends came up blank after several weeks of asking around.

When we arrived at Singularity University in June, we figured our troubles were over because of the close relationship between Google and the university’s founders and various faculty. We explained our problem to insiders who expressed confidence that the situation could be quickly resolved.

But even here, we gained no access. Instead, we began to see the inflexible, colonial attitudes that were standing in our way. After a couple weeks of needling, we received word that Google’s Senegal office doesn’t consider Wolof a written language and that this was one

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of the reasons that it wasn’t to be found in the Google Play Store. Instead, French is the only language from Senegal authorized to appear on that list—same for Guinea and the rest of Francophone West Africa. Similarly, English is representing Gambia, Sierra Leone, Ghana and more.

Language is gendered.

Take a look at the official languages of Senegal

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(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_Senegal) and you’ll notice an alarming statistic. As of 2010, the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie estimated that only 1-2% of Senegalese women speak and understand French.

Let’s allow that to sink in for a minute. It’s a trend that you’ll notice throughout the Sub-Continent: women who access education less regularly are much less likely to speak colonial languages. They live their lives speaking their own, indigenous, African languages. So when Google makes it harder for Africans to find local language content on the Play Store, they are putting women at a particular disadvantage.

As a last effort, we recruited a world expert in public health and a frequent guest of Google—someone with the clout and situational knowledge to light a fire under the bureaucratic obstructionism that we’d so far encountered. Two weeks later he acknowledged that he’d gained no traction—and wished us luck.

Categorizing languages as written or not-written and basing company policy on these categories is old-fashioned and out-of-touch with reality. All around Senegal and, indeed Sub-Saharan Africa, many “spoken” languages are transliterated into whatever alphabets are most familiar. Popular websites are written in Wolof, text messages are sent in Wolof, advertisements are published in Wolof and, yes, mobile apps that deal with nearby disease outbreaks are also published in Wolof.

Beyond the fact that this grey area of spoken/written will continue to exist for decades to come, there is the fact that our app could have (and will eventually) include all of its public health information in audio files. Audio content in African languages—matched to clear icons and graphics—will likely be the backbone of many useful and entertaining apps that spring up in the next several years. Why would Google want to behave like a colonial gatekeeper, brushing off the languages of people just now joining the information economy?

(In the interest of being even-handed, the Apple Store doesn’t even recognize the existence of Swahili. We won't even bother blogging about the blind eye that Apple turns towards Africa.)

The fact that we’ve chosen to bring this to Google’s attention is an acknowledgment that we believe their broader mission and intention is not in line with their current policies and processes. Somebody inside the behemoth, please help it to recalibrate.

Workforce Development and Mobile Learning: Our Dakar Survey

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Reports about global poverty often start with grim statistics about youth unemployment. While such statistics routinely fail to capture the mitigating influence of the informal economy, the fact remains that young people in developing countries struggle to find stable employment—let alone employment that actually interests them personally.

For decades, educational institutions have shown themselves rather unimaginative when it comes to workforce development and career education: Career Day, anyone? Most people learn about jobs from their friends, their family members and, if they’re lucky, from their employers. In developing countries, where many young people work (if at all) as petty merchants or manual laborers, the particular culture of the office workplace—as dominated by western-educated management level employees—can seem completely inscrutable, if not downright unwelcoming.

Code Innovation is committed to decoding the norms and expectations of the workplace for the aspiring young would-be-professionals who currently fill the ranks of the world’s unemployed. We are keen to leverage mobile technologies to help prepare young people to surmount the barriers to entry level positions in organizations and enterprises that will allow them to grow and become more prosperous.

For years now, we've been thinking about and working on workforce development with at-risk and low-income youth. A few years ago, we started a youth workforce survey in and around Dakar, Senegal. We had the guidance of a Peace Corps Volunteer who was working with us for the year, and the almost full-time attention of our young Senegalese assistant. From the survey, we learned a great deal about youth, mobile education and workforce development and we are excited to inform our new projects with the perspective that these findings gave us (more on that in the future).

We found that doing firsthand market research in our African, urban context provided rich data for decision-making around our innovations and education work. We hope that others can use this write-up of how we put together our survey useful in their own technology for education work.

About the Survey

We sought to interview 2,000 young people in and around Dakar about their use of technology in preparing for and finding a job. Because of confusion about interview responses that could've been solved with closer supervision, we ended up with 500 interviews in French from university and vocational students, out-of-work youth and entry-level professionals. We surveyed both men and women from around West Africa who are living, working or studying in and around the greater Dakar metropolitan area.

Our research assistant asked each survey respondent 35 questions. Some of the questions were open-ended, but the majority were yes/no answers. Because we hadn't codified "prefer not to answer" and "don't know/haven't thought about it," we found our data wasn't as rich as we had wanted it to be.

All the same, we shared our data sets with our research partners at a U.S. business university in the northeast of the country, where PhD students are running independent analysis. We'll publish what we found in the future, but for now, we want to tell the story of the survey. We hope that others hear our story and decide to use this stakeholder analysis method too.

How We Did Our Youth Workforce Development and Mobile Learning Survey in Senegal:

1. We had a compelling reason for young people to participate.

When our research assistant was still very new to his job, he felt shy approaching and interviewing respondents because he was not telling them what we were doing and why it was important to them.

This is a classic case of the "features vs. benefits" sales mistake that goes something like this. Our research assistant would approach a young person in the late afternoon outside the university and tell them about our survey. "It was 35 questions and I'm from Code Innovation, a local tech company," he would say. "Can I interview you?" Most people would look at him blankly and, when learning that they weren't going to be compensated directly in any way, say no. This happened a lot and he began to get discouraged. Our assistant was focused on the "features" of the thing he was doing, in other words, what it was and how it worked.

When we began to work with him on the "why" of the story, people started to respond. By focusing on the benefits to them, people had a clear reason to say "yes" and get involved.

"Hi," our assistant would say, usually in Wolof, before asking the questions in French, "I'm working with a company that is building a free mobile app to help young people get a job. Would you answer some questions to help us with our project?"

The clearer our assistant was about communicating that benefit to respondents, the better things went.

2. What kind of data did we need to build our product?

Our idea for this survey was based on an observable and measurable need. As African economies and African cities grow over the next decades, young people need to know how to identify jobs that suit them and get the skills they need to negotiate their careers.

In our other start-up businesses, we'd seen the skill gap between where we wanted our new hires to be and where they actually were. The first few months of any new project would involve extensive step-by-step training and norming around professional and organization culture. This isn't something that's taught in career workshops, university or secondary school, but as an employer in Africa, it's a big 'X' factor in building a team and hiring.

We wanted to solve for it with an app that taught young African professionals how to enter the workplace and negotiate their careers.

3. What were we trying to build in the first place?

When we started the survey in 2012, most of Code's experience was in computer and Internet projects around e-mentoring and e-learning with at-risk and low-income secondary students around the world. We did not have experience building mobile apps, but we saw their potential for our demographic of young, urban, educated Africans.

We wanted to get enough data to know the following:

1) How were young people already using technology in their searches and along their career paths?

2) Were their strategies working or not working in terms of moving them towards their career goals?

4. What did the survey look like?

You can see a copy of the survey we used here in English and here in French. We had our Peace Corps Volunteer with a background in social science develop the questions with us, and train our research assistant in his first round of interviews.

What We Learned from Doing the Survey on Youth and Mobile Workforce Development:

1. This was easier to do than we thought and provided a good way of getting data for decision-making before we developed our project.

2. We didn't need as many respondents as we thought. Even though we only surveyed a quarter of the people we initially thought we would, we still had more than enough data for our analysis. In retrospect, we could've stopped at around 100, as long as those respondents were exactly within the required demographic and gender-balanced.

3. Inviting U.S. research universities to do our data analysis took the work off our hands and made our analysis verifiably independent. Also, we like to think that it was interesting for the students involved to learn a bit about African research contexts. We found the partnership to be very rewarding and highly recommend that other teams like us reach out to and work more closely with universities.

Thanks for reading this far! If you're interested in learning more about this, please feel free to get in touch (info@codeinnovation.com). We love to have conversations about technology for education and with others building in the African tech space.