technology

PRESS RELEASE: Self Help Group Platform to be Further Developed as a Digital Financial Resource for the Poor

Self Help Group app in food insecure regions of Tanzania (www.codeinnovation.com) 11 November, 2016 – Code Innovation is pleased to announce that it has received a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to further develop our Self Help Group digital platform. The grant will help to improve the free and open source Self Help Group mobile application while increasing its accessibility and partner ecosystem, with an initial focus in reaching women and girls in South Asia and Africa.

“Self Help Groups have a unique ability to teach business and financial literacy and to seed new ventures while reducing risk to the individual,” says Nathaniel Calhoun, Director of Strategy at Code Innovation. “In the process of improving the platform, we anticipate growing our global coalition of participating organizations from the NGO community, the donor community and also from relevant private and financial sector entities. We aim to build momentum behind this coalition of beneficiaries and benefactors who see value in lowering the barriers to scaling and spreading the Self Help Group model to reach more women and girls. We look forward to developing this into a key platform for the low-risk, scalable and cost-effective delivery of digital and financial services to populations that have not previously benefited from financial services or digital technologies.”

Over the course of the 18-month grant, improvements will focus on building out tools that support Self Help Group processes, as well as incorporating additional thematic content around financial inclusion, women’s and girls’ empowerment, family planning, HIV and other risk reduction behaviors, maternal, newborn and child health, agricultural practices and other areas based on users’ expressed needs. Development priorities will be informed by the Principles for Digital Development and determined by our growing coalition of global partners who are seeding and supporting Self Help and similar groups in an effort to help vulnerable populations lift themselves out of poverty.

The platform, originally built as a simple content app for guiding Self Help Group facilitators through the process of forming new groups, has evolved to support wider facilitation needs. The Self Help Group app is currently reaching over one thousand English, Kiswahili and Amharic-speaking users, and new language versions will be added so that a wider range of communities can access and use the tool.

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To download the app on Android devices, visit: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.self_help_group_code_innovation_one_hen&hl=en

For more updates on the Self Help Group digital platform, visit http://codeinnovation.com/blog/.

About Code Innovation: Code Innovation digitizes and scales programs that help vulnerable populations. We create educational materials and social innovations that strengthen communities and enable them to lift themselves out of poverty. We’ve had projects in more than a dozen countries and specialize in challenging, low-resource environments.

For more information, please contact: Elie Calhoun, Director of Operations, Code Innovation, Tel. +64-27-460-8994, email: elie@codeinnovation.com

The Telegraph Interview on the Future of Food

Earlier this year we were interviewed by The Telegraph UK for a longer feature about the future of food and emergent food technologies. The author focused her interviews on the entrepreneurs making lab grown meats or egg substitutes or meals-in-a-glass. But we appeared on her radar for holding views slightly outside the mainline of Silicon Valley thinking. As the article concludes, the Telegraph spotlights our concern that new food technologies may be brought to market in ways that create dependencies, especially in low-income countries. While we are excited about animal proteins that can be produced without damaging the environment and productive new crop lines, we’re conscious of the delicacy of international supply chains and the tempting nature of monopoly control of something as vital as nourishment.

Our own work in the field of food will continue to build food security in vulnerable communities by raising the sophistication of agro-ecological food production methods.

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.

How Mobile is Disrupting Development

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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.

Why Our Ebola Hackathon Index is Very Sad

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About the Ebola Hackathon Index (www.codeinnovation.com) A few weeks ago, Code Innovation was approached and asked to contribute a short video on content and challenges to an Ebola hackathon.

Hackathons, if you’re not familiar with them, are short, focused events where coders, makers and innovators of all kinds come together to create solutions around a given problem or challenge. In this case, they are a great way for those of us far removed from the Ebola virus outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to imagine ways of contributing to the ongoing response.

We declined this request because we’re too far removed from the emergency response at this point to be able to provide anything but the most basic of context. We sent them this article on Tech Crunch, “How the Tech Sector Can Help Stop Ebola,” and told them to read every story that Buzzfeed’s Jina Moore has filed from Liberia.

But we reached out to a few of our friends in Monrovia to see if they’d be keen to contribute. “How many Ebola hackathons are there?” one asked. We wondered too.

A quick Google search lead to 10 Ebola hackathons that had happened or were planned for the imminent future, and we started to get curious. Were these groups aware of and coordinating with each other? Were they sharing valuable resources from the field, so that people on the ground weren’t besieged with constant requests for videos and other material?

Two weeks ago, we cataloged the list and wrote to each and every one of them. We sent them this:

"We are a West Africa-based technology company that works in countries now facing the Ebola virus outbreak. We are working on mobile behavior change communications and other responses, and in the last few weeks we have been approached by different ‘Ebola Hackathons’ and asked to share information about context and challenges.

"After consultation with our colleagues who are working directly on the Ebola response in the field, we learned that many of us have been approached by many different Hackathons, and as a group we wondered if the Hackathons were sharing information with each other, both in terms of information they were getting from the field and in terms of outcomes.

"So, at Code, since we’re not as busy as our colleagues who are in Monrovia right now, we thought we’d ask on behalf of our colleagues and friends. And, to make things easier on everyone, we thought we’d create a place where different Ebola Hackathons can learn about other Ebola Hackathons and post outcomes of their work. Even better, maybe some of the groups will find others interested by the same outcomes and start to work together, making their efforts that much more effective and likely to impact the situation on the ground.

"We made this: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1K1E-82Fy5k9jbI_2FfRnIDjK7knUqXvM6s53TvMbTn0/edit?usp=sharing

"Please feel free to create yourself a worksheet and add outcomes, contact details, and whatever else you would like to share about the process. We will be sharing this document with our colleagues in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

"Thanks in advance for the collaboration and cooperation."

Two weeks ago, we got a handful of replies. “We’ll use the spreadsheet — great idea!” one group responded. Another asked us if we could make them a video and we told them to ask other Hackathons for materials they could share and use.

Since then, not one of the hackathons have posted in the spreadsheet. No one has posted materials to share amongst the group. No one has shared outcomes or listed a point of contact where other hackathon hosts — or people wanting to support and work on solutions together — can learn more.

I don’t know what to tell myself about why this is. I work in international development and I’ve lived in Liberia. I care intensely about the place and am deeply proud of my friends and colleagues who are working on the response. I know they’ve been inundated with “please send our hackathon a video” requests, and I know from experience that many of them wanted to respond. Unfortunately, whatever responses were offered to these different events have not been shared in the way that we in the open source community like to see.

I’m sharing this here in a hope that other Hackathons take the document and use it to coordinate amongst themselves—or replace it with a collaborative environment of their own creation that we can promote on their behalf. I don’t see the ones on the list paying any attention to the basic tenants of collaborative cooperation and open source. But here’s hoping this changes their minds and that we can actually work together — instead of just saying we are.

Here is our open Ebola Hackathon Index: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1K1E-82Fy5k9jbI_2FfRnIDjK7knUqXvM6s53TvMbTn0/edit#gid=0

Near and Medium Term Unemployment Stresses

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Unemployment because of technology and the future stresses of economic recession (www.codeinnovation.com)Global trends for youth employment look worrying. We already have 1 billion working age young people classified as unemployed or underemployed. We know that 48% of all working people are in vulnerable employment and recent research suggests that nearly half of the careers that exist today are threatened by robots and automation. This situation is not a modern parallel to what we saw at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution when the Luddites were making a name for themselves. Data-driven analysis and a close look at the global economy make it clear that income earning opportunities are disappearing faster than they are being created. Watch this if you need convincing:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Pq-S557XQU

The end of jobs could turn out to be a wonderful thing. Many of us find labor tedious and limiting. Many people dream of spending their time however they see fit. But we cannot transition magically from an earnings-based economy to an abundance or gift-based economy.

Huge portions of society are vulnerable now. Large numbers of people are joining their ranks every year. (Check out Guy Standing’s thought-provoking books about the “precariat” to understand these trends better.) For them, difficulty finding work means difficulty providing for their basic needs and perhaps the needs of their family.

With optimism about the medium term future, Code focuses on the immediate and urgent need to build self-sufficiency in vulnerable communities. When we cannot identify job opportunities for certain populations, we can still take a look at their expenses and spending habits and systematically eliminate their dependence on food, water and energy that they do not produce and control.

How Senegalese Agricultural NGOs Are Adapting Mobile Technologies: Part 1

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This is the first post in a two-part series: “How Senegalese Agricultural NGOs Are Adapting Mobile Technologies,” based on a follow up of over 50 Senegalese agricultural NGOs who attended the U.S. Embassy’s TechCamp Dakar. Here, we provide background and context on mobile technology and agricultural NGOs working in Senegal. In Part 2, we will explore the results of our follow-up survey to find out how NGOs are using mobile technology in their agricultural programming. TechCamp Dakar was a great entry point for Senegalese NGOs to capitalize on one of the major development paradoxes of rural Africa—while many people do not have regular access to electricity or running water, the vast majority has access to mobile phones.

I spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer working on agricultural projects in a small village of 300 people in a remote area of Senegal, with no electricity or running water. However, I rarely lacked access to communication via my mobile phone.

The villagers around me, like the majority of Senegalese citizens, rely on mobile phones as a main mode of communication. While not all individuals own phones, there is always the ability to borrow one from a family member or friend.

In Senegal, where over 75% of the workforce is dedicated to agriculture, and over 50% of the population lives in rural areas, TechCamp Dakar demonstrated the great potential for NGOs to use mobile technologies in agriculture projects to increase their impact and presence in remote communities.

Most Senegalese farmers work at the subsistence level—they eat most of what they grow—but some grains and garden crops are sold at local markets. Products are transported from rural areas to more urban centers and sold at open air stalls. Prices vary depending on season and supply.

Some farmers do currently use mobile technology to determine current market prices and when to sell crops, but in my experience, this is limited and takes the form of informal networks in which farmers call acquaintances in larger towns and cities to check current prices and decide when to sell crops. This is sporadic and often occurs within days of crops spoiling, thus there is no real option to delay sales for better profit, and most current farming practices do not incorporate informed harvest planning for maximizing profit.

Many of the technologies presented at TechCamp Dakar may offer opportunities for NGOs to address these issues by leveraging mobile technologies in order to tailor agricultural programming to the communities in which they work. By taking advantage of the more efficient and timely means of reaching beneficiaries in remote areas that mobile technology offers, the information gap that farmers, like those in my Peace Corps village, face could be mediated.

How connected are Senegalese NGOs to Internet and mobile technology?

As in much of the developing world, Senegal’s technical know-how is concentrated in the capital city, outside of which there is limited (and expensive) access to the Internet, with most people relying on basic mobile phone services to communicate.

Capital city offices have reasonably reliable access to electricity and the Internet, but as you move farther from the capital to regional and department-level offices, organizations face many challenges when relying on technology to implement work. In cities and towns where local offices are based, there may be frequent electricity blackouts, so a lot of professional communication that NGOs have with their beneficiaries relies on face-to-face contact.

Most attendees at TechCamp were from main offices either based in Dakar or other regional capitals, which oversee operations at more local level offices. The majority of these NGO offices already use technology to some extent in the workplace, although some respondents reported that they did not feel entirely confident using mobile phones and computers during their workdays.

We were interested to learn whether and how the NGO participants choose to apply mobile innovations to their agricultural programming, now and in the future.

LOOKING FOR PARTICIPANT RESOURCES? CLICK HERE.

3 Steps to Surviving Slow Internet

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dolapo via Compfight cc When I first became a professional writer, I lived thirty kilometers outside Arusha, in northern Tanzania.

I had a DSL dial-up Internet connection at the time and the number would constantly drop because I was too far in the bush. Regular outages made responding to deadlines and time-sensitive emails so stressful that I contracted a local ISP to build me my own Internet tower in the back garden.

Yes, you read that correctly. I built my own Internet tower -- and then I sold my neighbors bandwidth on my tower, like a true African entrepreneur. What can I say? It was a big tower.

After almost five years of working location independently, I've come to value speedy Internet as more important to my quality of life than regular electricity and running water.

I can handle long power outages, no hot water, no running water, spiders, less-than-optimal squat toilets, and long bus rides.

Give me Internet fast enough to stream the Pipeline Masters Surf Contest, do my tech4dev work online, and talk to my mum and dad face-to-face on Skype, and I'm a happy woman.

I bring this up because, having returned to Senegal from a few weeks of travel, I arrived back at the home office to find the quality of our Internet greatly compromised.

Emails and exchanges with my Dakar-based colleagues went something like this, (and I quote anonymously), " Internet is sooo slow, though, it's ridiculous, … it felt like I spent most of the day waiting for pages to load."

I became so impatient at the slow connection (Skype would not even acknowledge I was online!) that I lost my temper, threw the toys out of my pram and threatened to leave the country. Yes, how embarrassing. When I calmed down, I decided on a better solution.

I'm not yet convinced that the worldwide web is a human right, but it's certainly up there on my quality of life priorities.

So, in the interest of your own health and happiness, here's what I've learned about how to optimize and thrive with really slow Internet. Here you have it:

3 Steps to Survive Slow Internet

1. Define Your Limit

Very simply, how slow is slow? Do you need to torrent two movies a day, stream music and keep your files on the Cloud? Or are you happy with fast Gmail and less-than-5-minute downloads from iTunes? Even if you're just Skyping with your mum, where do you draw the line?

I know I need to take action to improve my slow Internet when:

  • I find myself multitasking because the page I'm working on won't load.
  • I find myself staring at a screen that has trouble loading email.
  • My voice Skype calls are inaudible.

That's where I draw the line. Your line is up to you.

2. Research the Market

This turns out to be crucial, since the Internet you want is often elusive and requires you to understand basic concepts about mobile technology in developing countries.

Quite simply, it's on the way up. A lot.

So, there are basically two reasons behind Internet suddenly getting slow:

1. Physical interferences like storms, floods, earthquakes, bad wires, bad signal, and so on.

2. Rapid scale-up by an Internet Service Provider (ISP) that means that more people are trying to get a piece of a limited amount of bandwidth available from a tower.

Now that most ISPs are also Mobile Network Operators, and that smart phones are replacing laptops as our preferred way to get online, you see the infrastructure challenge signaled by your bandwidth grinding to a halt.

I have recently come to accept that having a part-time assistant is a fantastic lifestyle hack for expats living in developing countries. I've had a local personal assistant since 2009, and it has given me up to 30% more free time and freedom from monotonous and time-consuming errands.

You can do this market research yourself or (and this would be my choice) have your assistant do it for you. Either way, you want to know:

  • The top five ISPs, and the type of Internet connections they offer. Prioritize USB key connections, as these are mobile and much cheaper than fixed routers -- they're also easier to bring into the office to fix.
  • How much their biggest, fastest, most unlimited Internet package is per month. Ideally, your ISP will offer you a VIP package that gets you additional bandwidth at a fixed monthly rate. If there are tiers of service offered, learn about them and pick what's right for you.
  • What kind of customer support do these ISPs offer? Is there a helpline? Often there will be a phone number to call, but no one will answer. Test the customer support out to see how helpful and proactive they are at problem-solving. I like to select ISPs who have a cheerful staff focused on solving my problems. Ideally, this is easy to find.

3. Cover Your Bases

At this point, go out and purchase the hardware that the top two or three ISPs offer and that meets your needs. You want options here. You want to be able to switch between different networks operated by the ISPs whenever one gets too slow.

A word of warning: now that Huawei seems to make most USB Internet keys, the software that will operate one network's key will likely interfere with your Internet alternative until you uninstall the old ISP's program.

In other words, if I'm using a Vodafone USB key for an MTN USB key, I'll probably have to uninstall the Vodafone Internet software before the MTN USB key will work on my computer.

Another thing: If you have a Mac (and in that case, you probably know this already), you might need to physically take your computer to the ISP to get them to install the software that allows your USB key to connect to the Internet. I've not yet found a way around this, but I'm trying.

One thing that can help as you're covering your bases is to cultivate a personal contact at your preferred ISP. You want to be able to pick up the phone and call someone when $20 of credit disappears off of your account and have someone tell you "problem solved." This might take time, but it's worth it.

There you have it: the "3 Steps to Surviving Slow Internet."

Use them to optimize your time online so you can get things done faster and use that extra time to relax and enjoy.

May you never have to suffer slow connection speed again.

Got a secret quick-fix to improve your Internet connection? Let us know in the comments!