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Getting Kenya Connected

In a modest building of less than 400 square feet known as the Blossom World cybercafé in Kangundo, a small town of 10,000 in Kenya, a non commercial,  public-private collaboration between the Kenya ICT Board and Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG) launched the Pasha centres.   The center is designed to model a community-focused format that will be self-sufficient by using technology in the form of a Web 2.0 collaborative online platform for the Digital Village Pasha Program led by the board.

This initiative falls under the Kenya ICT Board's Digital Villages Project (DVP) also known as "Pasha Centres."  The overall goal is to enhance the livelihoods of local citizens and encourage new micro-enterprises by providing access to information, education and new markets. 

Pasha Centre

When Blossom World officially opened on July 28, 2009, and a thousand people from Kangundo turned out en masse to get a closer look, no one could have been prouder than Jim Wynn, Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG) director in the area of emerging markets and the public sector.

The word "pasha" means "to inform" in Swahili, and the goal of the centres, explains Wynn, is to provide a ready source of vital information to Kenyans in the areas of basic education, vocational training, health knowledge, and government services.  The connected communities will create a platform to facilitate collaboration and innovation, as well as provide valuable lessons in understanding Internet usage at a local level. 

In emerging countries, ensuring people have access to technology that allows them to address their own issues is key to creating innovative solutions that work locally.   What we are learning is that people need to help themselves in advancing economically and socially.  We need to go beyond providing technology products and invest in ensuring citizens are able to make informed decisions that improve their lives. 

I recently participated on a panel at MIT on Internet Innovations in the Developing World and heard from Bola Olabisi, Founder and CEO, Global Women Inventors and Innovators Network, say: "Give us something small, something fast, something affordable, and listen to what we want, not what you want to design and put up..."

I would add to that we have to look at the bottom-up.  We can't change other people.  Nobody can change you.  But people can change themselves if you give them the tools and ability to change.

What has your experience been?

Conducting research

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8 Comments.


  1. RE: Bottom-up -- User-driven approaches are an essential companion to top-down efforts in order to creating LASTING impact. To date, much of technology for the disadvantaged as been driven by good intentions and what could"" be possible. My experience in emerging contexts is it's imperative to ""create want"". Reference Feb 12th Wall Street Journal article: What Newspapers Can Learn From Craigslist; Craig Newmark did one simple thing: He thought about what his users truly wanted. We may believe people ""need"" technology, but the key to driving change is creating ""want"". With the awareness of the benefits technology can bring, the disadvantaged are ""pulling"". Then the resources of public/private sector and more top-down support can be more wisely brought to bear to help people be empowered... to be able to make informed choices about their lives."

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  2. Bola Olabisi's advice to listen to what we want"" seems to be the key. Real solutions to poverty are going to fit into the culture of that area. When I consider what might be small, fast, and affordable, I think of William Kamkwamba's windmills and Playpumps.org's merry-go-round generators.Accessibility to the internet would of course be huge. I can see Pasha Centres making a big difference, especially when the creators, like Jim Wynn, are sitting down with the center's potential users to discover their needs.The challenge will probably be in getting people to incorporate this kind of learning into their lives. One company, txteagle, is providing micro-jobs via cell phone to people in Kenya. This is catching on well because cell phone technology is already there. And people chose cell phones. I wonder if there's a way to incorporate that already-present technology...Great thoughts on tools too. As long as we're not too careful to define how tools can be used, they are more readily adopted. It will be interesting to see how Pasha Centres will be used down the road.ChipTelesaur"

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  3. Jim Wynn

    Our baseline survey of 600+ citizens shows clearly that many people in the communities do not know what they want until they are able to orientate their thinking into the new positbilities. It is amazing how quickly they start to see the possible however and there have been requestes from some businesses for webex connect spaces already. the sustainable model for the managers is also uncovering some surprises with income being doubled by halving the charges (I can explain further if any one is interested).BUT the crucial thing is that the centres were driven from the heart of Government and the citizens are now reaping the rewards of that decision.Our weekly call with the managers is a crucial linking communication not just between the top and the bottom but between every part of the community. learning from each other being a crucial part of the process Pasha is predicated on listening to what people want and helping them get to achieve their own personal potential and the signs are very encouraging so far.

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  4. Cisco is taking great initiatives in area of CSR and emerging countries! It´s up to IBM and Microsoft to follow. Red more about this at ullmark.wordpress.com

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  5. Cisco is taking great initiatives in area of CSR and emerging countries!

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  6. This is catching on well because cell phone technology is already there. And people chose cell phones. I wonder if there’s a way to incorporate that already-present technology…

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  7. Due to East Africa by-passing the landline phase and going straight to mobile phones, there is great 3G cell phone technology already in Kenya.The internet in mass is still to follow and I suspect it will be largely used on the phones due to the existing technology and popularity.

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  8. Technology advancement in Kenya is growing very first. As we approach vision 2030,more home based application will grow. With the support of our partners,the Country will soon be a hub of technology in East Africa.

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