…just time for a quick update!

The Maker Faire starts tomorrow and since my last ‘blogging’, I have been busy preparing for the ‘bloc’ stand at Maker Faire Africa.  The DIY Kenya project will  presented via a large TV screen showcasing the project and the design process in a very visual way.  It incorporates video, some lovely photos and those lovely icons which the girls designed to embody the design challenges:


That said, it has been far too long since my last post so here’s a brief update on what’s been going on:


I have spent a lot of my time in Nairobi ‘networking’ (urgh, I prefer to say making friends!) with potential Kenya-based partners, or otherwise trying to generate interest in the DIY Kenya project so that we might instigate a follow-up exercise in the near future.  Much of this, I have attempted to do via email but I have come to appreciate that email correspondence in Kenya doesn’t command quite the same urgency as is my experience in the UK.  In fact, sending an email is tantamount to creating a sort of digital time capsule – something which may be opened long into the future whereby only a one-way dialogue is possible.  No, mobile telephoning is the only way to go if you need a prompt reply!

Kenya Today

Whilst in Kwale, I met a writer for the Kenya Today newspaper; a weekly paper with a focus on development. http://www.kenyatoday.co.ke/.  I told her about the DIY Kenya project and we agreed it would make a great story and fit very much within the remit of her paper.  We have been in regular contact and I have been working on a few drafts for a story and so hopefully, DIY Kenya will have a piece in the Kenya Today newspaper very soon! 

I am really happy about this because the Kenya Today story will potentially generate a lot of interest for DIY Kenya across the country and, due to the nature of it’s readership, may even draw some potential follow-up partners or inspire similar collaborative activity for development projects.

IHub: Apps 4 Africa

Last week, I attended a 24_hour design challenge called ‘Apps4Africa’ http://www.apps4africa.org/ which was held at the *iHub_ where I also got to meet with Erik Hershman, and Henry Barnor – two of the main protagonists of both IHub and the Maker Faire.

IHub is Nairobi’s Innovation Hub for the technology community; an open space for the technologists, investors, tech companies and hackers in the area. This space is a tech community facility with a focus on young entrepreneurs, web and mobile phone programmers, designers and researchers. 

Sited on the top floor of the Bishop Magua  building, the I hub space boasts some of the best views over the city, the fastest internet connection in all of Nairobi, fast data transfer, good coffee (courtesy of Pete, the resident barista champion) and is a wholly lovely place for people to meet amongst the soft, inviting sofas and bean-bags – or the distinctly serious-looking data chairs – and do great things. In fact, Ihub as been my ‘home away from home’ during much of this week!  A great place to work, connect – and chill!


Apps 4 Africa was a contest to highlight the talent of local developers in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania and to leverage the power of digital technology to make a better world. The challenge was to build the best digital tools to address community challenges in areas ranging from healthcare to education and government transparency to election monitoring.

Through my preparatory research for DIY Kenya I had a vague knowledge regarding the massive uptake – and importance thereof – of mobile communication and information systems across the African continent.  I had heard of how ‘apps’ could bring about profound social change and empowerment by simply ‘connecting’ people – connecting people with other people (networks); connecting people to information sources; connecting people with functionality – and so, I was especially curious to see what the design process of an ‘App’ might be and how this might run parallel to, or differ from the Product Design process.

Everyone in attendance at Apps4Africa was very attuned to a technical language that was quite alien to me (coding, php, j2me, software architecture etc etc.) and I found it quite difficult to engage.  Like the 24-hour Product Design Challenges I have previously attended, I was hoping that Apps4Africa might start with the attendants being arranged into teams and then each team being assigned a previously unseen design challenge.  In fact, the attendants were already familiar with the open brief which had been active for a few weeks and many had pre-conceived ideas of what their app might be.  Therefore the 24-hour ‘Apps4Africa’ challenge did not present a total-design-project within a tight deadline but rather provided an allotted time – a catalyst – for those in attendance to build their pre-conceived idea in the company of their peers.  Consequently, the conversations the attendants had at the ‘brainstorming’ stage of the challenge were less about human-centered design questions – those things I felt I could engage with – (“Who will benefit; How might people use this; What are the incentives) but more about software platforms, coding languages and stuff like that.

Nevertheless, it was a fascinating and educational experience for me.  Everybody there was lovely and they were all willing to describe their apps to me in ‘layman’s’ terms; highlighting the real-world benefits of their app, how one might interact with it and through what means (e.g. mobile text, wap, internet).  There were apps to provide expectant mothers with regular health information and a saving-plan toward the cost of hospital care; apps to help find a (reliable) taxi in busy Nairobi; apps to match people’s needs with people’s wants and apps to inform and map how Community Development Funds are being spent.

Design Kenya

I had heard about ‘Design Kenya’ through the SEE Project http://www.seeproject.org/map – a global Policy, Innovation & Design network sharing knowledge and experience in order to develop new thinking, disseminate good practices and influence local, regional and national policies for design and innovation in their countries.

Design Kenya are based at the School of Art & Design, University of Nairobi.  They are working to promote the role of Design in a policy framework that supports Kenya’s plan for development ‘Vision 2030’.  Design Kenya also recognize the importance of engaging with the ‘Jua Kali’ small scale manufacturing industries that account for over 70% of Kenya’s working population.  I have been in contact with Lilac Osanjo, Chairperson for Design Kenya, who was very interested in the DIY Kenya project and we have arranged to meet on Monday.  She also said that she may rope me in on some of their activities too!

Mike Wamama

Mike lives and works in Nairobi.  He works predominantly with youth groups living in slum areas of the city, running workshops to promote personal development and education through the arts.  He was interested in hearing about DIY Kenya project and we have been speaking about the possibility of a future collaboration, delivering design-led youth-group workshops in Kibera.  We were due to meet yesterday morning (Wednesday 25t Aug), incorporating a tour of the workshop centers in Kibera but I had to cancel due to a pretty violent a very sudden stomach bug.  I’m feeling much better today though and Mike and I have arranged to meet either at the Maker Faire or early next week.

United Nations

During my brief interim stay in Diani, I was given a handy lead to two UN organisations with offices in Naiobi, UNEP – United Nations Environmental Programme and UNV -United Nations Volunteers.

UNEP work to provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.  I thought they might be interested in the DIY Kenya project and the environmental credentials of each of the projects which make use of sustainable, locally-soured materials.  They have graciously allowed some time for me to meet with them on Tuesday 31st August – my last day in Nairobi!

The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme is the UN organization that contributes to peace and development through volunteerism worldwide. The UNV have a broad remit and a wealth of experience and case studies in tackling development challenges through volunerism and so again, I thought they’d like to know what DIY Kenya have been doing!  Anyone over 25 can register as a UN Volunteer and contribute their professional skills to transform the pace and nature of development.

The UNV are based in Bonn, Germany but have operations here in Kenya.  I have tried email contact but an Out Of Office reply informs that the representative is on holiday and won’t be back ‘til Sept.  In the meantime, I have registered as a potential UNV Volunteer via this web-link: http://www.unv.org/en/how-to-volunteer.html

Practical Action

Practical Action first came onto my radar thanks to a forwarded P.A. newsletter from Dr. Noel Thomas who was on the advisory/selection panel for DIY Kenya.

From the Practical Action website:

“Practical Action has a unique approach to development – we don’t start with technology, but with people. The tools may be simple or sophisticated – but to provide long-term, appropriate and practical answers, they must be firmly in the hands of local people: people who shape technology and control it for themselves.”

The DIY Kenya projects seemed to echo the ideals of Practical Action, particularly with regard to the collaborative design process we followed and the human-centered solutions we developed.  I figured they’d be interested in seeing what we achieved and I was keen to get their feedback.  Not least, Practical Action would make great partners for potential collaboration in the future.

Practical Action have branches in East Africa and I had managed to arrange a meeting with Margaret Rukwaro at the regional office which was scheduled for yesterday afternoon which, due to my aforementioned sickness, has now been moved to Monday (30th Aug) morning.



Finally, my searches for NGOs and Non-profit organizations working out of Nairobi led me to ‘Kickstart’ “- a non-profit organization that develops and markets new technologies in Africa. These low-cost technologies are bought by local entrepreneurs and used to establish highly profitable new small businesses. They create new jobs and wealth, enabling the poor to climb out of their poverty forever.”

The DIY Kenya project generated product concepts which could potentially be used to help generate small businesses, such as the ‘Kwale Fuel Press’.  Again, keen to get Kickstart’s feedback on the DIY Kenya projects – and to build links for potential future collaboration – we have a meeting set for Monday afternoon.




It hasn’t all been hard work though.  I have managed to fit in the odd excursion, the most wonderful being my visit to the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphange during their daily lunchtime visitor sessions.

The David Sheldrick charity do a fantastic job caring for these orphaned elephants and work painstakingly hard to rehabilitate them for a life in the wild – one where the elephants can care for themselves and enjoy ‘normal’ social relationships with other elephants.


Thank you

As a ‘thank you’ to Erik and all at the IHub for letting me hang out all this week, I gave a small cash donation and have just handed around a box of Cadbury’s ‘Heroes’ and Mars ‘Celebrations to all the tech-heads! They really did make me feel right at home and the hub has been something of a salvation to one so sensitive to surroundings and dependant on internet access!

Huh, all rather long and verbose for a ‘quick update’!  Still, that always has been my style!  Catch you soon!


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1 Response to …just time for a quick update!

  1. Amelia says:

    Well done indeed on the newspaper article, sounds thrilling, you have been very busy and it is great to read such in depth and passionate accounts of all your work, experiences and efforts, wizard! (as my father would say) Enjoy yourself old thing.

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