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Here at GPP, we love seeing examples of individuals pushing forward to make a difference in their society. So when we heard about an innovative gaming company in Kenya, we felt we had to share their story.
University of Games is made up of an extraordinary group of people – Brian "Binary" Kinyua the programmer, Herbert Mbuthi the artist, Joseph Kariuki the project manager and Blaise "ST€@LT#" Kinyua the marketer.
“We started as hobbyists developing games, wallpapers, and themes for Nokia in 2010. At that time we were still at university. It made sense to us to combine a passion that we have had since we were little kids-games- and the skills we had acquired from education- business, technology and art. As we continued with our new found love we inevitably gained a lot of experience and in 2012, we decided we should formalise it by registering the company.”
In 2011, the Kenya government together with the World Bank came up with a facility known as the "Tandaa" Grant to support young "techpreneurs" across the country. University of Games successfully became a recipient of the the grant and their journey set off. They have recently been able to release 'Election Thief', their first game. It's not only a game, but serves to reinforce the importance of a fair voting process- and it addresses many of the sensitive issues surrounding the idea of democracy in developing countries. University of Games seek to engage with such sensitive issues from a new angle – using games – to raise the profile of the issues amongst their own society. The success they have achieved is resultant from their combined effort as a team and also support from families and friends.
How did the Tandaa Grant help you to get where you are today?
Young companies need capital and advice when starting and that is what we got from the Tandaa Grant - capital and entrepreneurship training. The grant helped us acquire most of the hardware and software we have at the moment. It has also been fundamental to our success because it gave us confirmation that someone else, especially the older folk, believed in our ideas and this has pushed us to work even harder.
What are the problems that you've faced in getting where you are today and how have you overcome them?
It has been difficult to create a game development company in Kenya, as game development is still a new idea and is not considered as anything worth doing- for any reason. We usually get shocked reactions whenever we tell people that we make games and there are no local sources of information on the art of game development. At this point we give thanks to God for the Internet.
Life is full of challenges and that will never change. Once you are aware of what you want and you decide to focus all your energies towards achieving those goals the challenges all of a sudden start to seem do-able. And even if they are really hard, you will forget all the hardships once the job is done. At the University of Games, we take games very seriously!
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
First find what you love and what you would want to do with your life.
One quality of such a thing is that you would be willing to do it for free! It’s not about the money when it comes to that!
Once you have established what you want, you should work hard (really hard) at attaining the goal of excellence in that field. This requires learning a lot about everything relevant in that field.
The people that make a mark in society are usually those that follow their dreams.
One thing to note though is that your dream has to have a business model to it at some point so as to sustain your activities.
Lastly, the most important advice we can offer is that greatness cannot be achieved by only one person. Working together is necessary. There is no way around this because we can only live for so long, and if we try to do anything on our own, we will take too long.
Wait, what's an Armchair Advocate? Okay, I know what you are thinking. And the answer is "no," an Armchair Advocate is not someone who advocates for the rights of armchairs and sofas [although, I'm sure, an important cause].
I am talking about someone who uses the power of social media to advocate on behalf of the causes that matter most. Someone who uses everyday online tools like Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Pinterest and the bazillion other social media sites to promote social good among their spheres of influence. Someone who manages to drive their peers to invest their time and talents to solve global problems, all with the click of a mouse.
Why does this matter?
It matters because it means that anyone - an individual, company, government or organization - can be a change agent using social media to create social good. Nonprofits and governments are no longer the sole drivers of a cause. Anyone with access to a mobile device or a mouse can organize an impactful campaign.
So you're telling me all I have to do is click "Like" or "Re-Tweet" to be an advocate?
While the jury may still be out on this question, let me break it down for you. It is true that we can often become Facebook-trigger-happy and 'Like' just about anything under the sun in the matter of seconds upon logging on. The fact that we can 'Like' a political meme about Big Bird as fast as we can 'Like' to #EndPolio doesn't seem to lend much credibility to the act.
But take young Boy Scout Nate Stafford, for example. At the age of 12, he rallied followers online to support his 8-day walk offline. He raised enough money for the United Nations Foundation's Nothing But Nets campaign to purchase 1,000 life-saving insecticide-treated nets needed to prevent malaria deaths in Africa.
Or Shawn Ahmed, who over the past few years has posted YouTube videos about poverty in Bangladesh, sparking an online movement through his "Uncultured Project".
Or Jennifer James and her "Mom Bloggers for Social Good" - a coalition of over one-thousand mom bloggers who currently span seventeen countries to help spread the good news about the amazing work non-profit organization are doing around the world.
All of these Armchair Advocates have done what they can with what they have, in an effort to drive interest and influence in social good. They have moved people to do something - whether in the form of a donation or a blog post or a small signature on an online petition. Although small acts, collectively they create something great. The truth is with social media we can reach more people, more swiftly, and with more efficiency.
The real challenge now is getting online participants to go from "armchair to action," or from the backseat as a passive campaign participant to the front-seat driving the online vehicle of change. So how can we use the tools of social media to go beyond the 'Like' to successfully educate, advocate and fund raise for a cause?
We stumbled upon this fantastic blog written by Charles Bentley, the Founder and Editor of Armchair Advocates, over at the Gates Foundation's Impatient Optimists blog and thought we'd share it with you. Check out the original post here.
This is an exclusive interview with the World Wide Web (WWW) Foundation by See Africa Differently. With their permission we have republished the interview below. You can read the original post here.
Over the last 15 years the rate and continued pace of innovations in web and mobile technology has been amazing across Africa. With creativity, social good and entrepreneurship at the core, we have seen the rapid uptake in mobile and internet change lives.
We have been fortunate enough to interview to Steve Bratt Chief Exec of the World Wide Web foundation on what he believes have been the major changes over the last 15 years and the exciting potential innovation and creativity will bring in the future.
The WWW foundation has a vision that all people should have the ability – and even the right – to use a free, open and increasingly-powerful Web to improve their world. Founded by World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, the Foundation is a non-profit organization that explores and scales innovative approaches that aim to make the Web accessible and valuable to everyone on the planet.
How would you describe the spread of mobile and internet technology across Africa over the last 15 years?
15 years ago, both mobile telephony and Internet usage were luxuries in Africa. Both communication technologies have spread across the continent, but the use of mobile phones is most dominant. Even in 2005, there were about 12 mobile subscriptions and 2 Internet users per 100 Africans. By 2010 the numbers were close to 50 mobile subscribers and 11 Internet users per 100.
And in that time what do you think has been the real turning point in Africa’s mobile and internet story?
I'm not sure this story has reached the real turning point yet. The power that the Web can provide to people to address challenges in their communities is so vast, yet so few in Africa have this power. What if every person with a mobile phone (in Africa or elsewhere) could browse the Web, create content and access services using just their voice. The Web Foundation and our partners are working on testing technology for "voice browsing". This would open the power that the Web provides to people with even the simplest phones, no data plans, low literacy and disabilities (such as vision impairment).
Social networks proved a pivotal platform in getting 1st hand accounts out of Africa in 2011. From elections in Nigeria to the Arab spring in North Africa. How do you think social networks will help Africa create its own narrative?
Services like Twitter, Facebook and Youtube played critical roles both in helping people to organize and in communicating the situations on the ground in real time. These were Africa narratives being played-out over technology built primarily in the North. I'm excited about the potential explosion of applications built by native African geniuses that address challenges including jobs, healthcare, education, nutrition, access to finance, security, etc.
Can you tell us about entrepreneurship labs in Accra, Nairobi and Senegal?
The Web Foundation, with funding from Vodafone, the European Commission and the World Bank/InfoDev, established these labs in 2011 and 2012 in order to give brilliant Africa developers and business people the tools to create enterprises valued Web applications that work on mobile devices. Such tools include training on technologies such as HTML, SMS, and user interface design. But more is needed to maximize the entrepreneur's probability of sustained success. Business training is critical, as is access to capital to get businesses started. We also provide a supportive community for entrepreneurs as well as businesses (such as telecommunications operators). Long-term mentoring to help address problems that arise on the technical and business side is also an important part of the labs. Out of our first graduating classes have come mobile applications that provide agricultural advice, tourism information, domestic abuse reporting, digital business card sharing, and tens of additional services. Which of these will be the next Facebook or eBay? We'll need to wait and see.
What 3 words sum up a modern, progressive Africa to you?
For thousands of people, technology represents the power behind modern toys. Our cars tell us where to go from outer space; laptops remember our favourite actions and mobile phones tell you when you need to visit the bank – but what about a smart phone for monitoring election fraud, or discussing better foreign aid across different continents with Skype?
The fact is that technology is advancing faster than we are - and innovations in computing and online communication have almost infinite possibilities for the fight against extreme poverty.
“The moment we are living through, the moment our historical generation is living through, is the largest increase in expressive capability in Human history” – Clay Shirky. Interactive Telecommunications expert Clay Shirky explains that the promise of this new technology is bottom up. As technology online and in portable media like phones evolves, so the world's poor and some innovative charities are adapting these tools to fight poverty.
The use of modern technology has become decentralised, delineated and easily translatable – key factors in mass participation of an entire generation in the collaborative development of ideas and popular movements, states Shirky. These ‘movements’ can exist entirely outside the physical limitations of governments, institutions or other traditional forms of top-down communication.
The all-access model of online communication allows anyone to search for and distribute data that has often been internally focussed, such as government debates or reports. Increased transparency is one benefit of this trend, as companies and institutions are forced to ‘keep up’ with an assertion that communication in today’s world is global, and can be shared or ‘tweeted’ instantly.
But what about more practical applications? In Hubli, India, NextDrop provides a text message service alerting residents of the city when pipes in their neighbourhood are being turned on by the local authority – avoiding the significant effect of poor water reliability on livelihoods in areas where coverage is unpredictable. The process combines the sms service with google maps to track when each part of the city receives water and is currently in trial.
Mobile phones are being used where development organisations, educational establishments and government clinics are under-funded or over burdened. Bridging this gap, AppLab provides rural communities in Uganda with an online information service that includes tips for farming, health and critical market data to maximise the potential farmers and families can get from their livelihoods - by increasing awareness, being able to track the market and using shared knowledge to increase efficiency.
In Senegal, fishermen and farmers are using a similar scheme - telecommunications group Manobi collate the latest prices for goods at markets around Dakar, providing sellers with the information they need to get the best rates for their products, helping them know when to fish and where to go with the goods.
We have previously posted about M-Pesa - a mobile technology service that allows micro finance borrowers to make and receive payments without the need for visiting a bank. Users can use the service to manage and receive remittances, a vital part of the framework for combating poverty, and M-Pesa now operate in Kenya, Tanzania, Afghanistan and South Africa. The service is key to fighting poverty as it allows rural families and Microfinance institutions to easily manage finances in a way that minimises cost and promotes efficiency.
In India, health workers can even use a portable digital pad to test for HIV, thanks to pioneering medical technology group Nanobiosym. The possibilities are endless – and endlessly exciting. What is needed is funding to allow these technologies to become reproducible in a more practical sense, before we can realise their full potential and make fighting poverty truly fit the technologically engaged generation.
In this guest post, Daniel Choudhury from e.quinox outlines the importance of electricity in fighting poverty - and innovative student-developed solution to help give some of the world's poorest greatest access. We met Daniel and his team at a 1.4 Billion Reasons presentation in London - and were inspired by he and his group's commitment as everyday people, to doing what they could.
You will probably agree that turning on a light is no big deal. A simple flick of a switch, one most unconscious movement of the hand, and the darkness of the night is effectively eliminated.
For a staggering 1.4 billion people across the globe, however, this simple equation does not apply. The reason: No access to electricity, and therefore no means to produce light other than by open fire, oil, gas or kerosene. On top of commonly unaffordable prices, these light sources bear a variety of health impacts that can range from simple burns to chronic diseases.
The non-profit, humanitarian organization e.quinox endeavors to solve the challenge of rural electrification in developing countries. By developing a solution that is technically viable, financially sustainable and replicable on a large scale, the entirely student-run team from Imperial College London hopes to be able to spread their idea in as many countries as possible. Their vision is to give a large number of remote communities access to electricity, by having other organizations, governments and charities take up their “blue-print” and tailor it to their own respective needs, whilst calling upon the expertise of e.quinox and like-minded organizations.
e.quinox’s model to provide affordable and safe electricity is simple, yet unique. It relies on a centralized power generation hub, the so-called “Energy Kiosk”, and decentralized distribution via battery boxes. The Energy Kiosks are flexible in the sense that they can be powered in a multitude of ways. Current installations include Solar Power or Hydro Power, and one Kiosk is even grid-connected – the use of appropriate technology is key. The battery boxes, supplied each with an LED light and a light holder, also contain the same 230V AC output as any ordinary socket and can be recharged after depletion. Benefiters of e.quinox’s solution can therefore not only use the battery for lighting, but are also able to charge their mobile phones and shavers or power small radios. This allows e.quinox’s current 400 customers in three different Rwandan villages to set up or expand their own businesses. e.quinox strongly believes that the empowerment of the local economy and the instigation of entrepreneurial spirit are key elements to effectively reduce poverty.
Roger Liew, Chairman of e.quinox, illustrates: “Even when a national electric grid is nearby, people in developing countries often can’t gain any access to it, simply because of the high initial and running costs that a connection typically entails. Our system, however, is made economically affordable by undermining the price that our customers would have to pay for alternative, more hazardous lighting solutions. This payment can be made either on a monthly basis or for every single recharge, allowing customers to choose the best suitable model for their own demand.”
Once an individual kiosk’s financial sustainability has been proven, it will be handed over to the local community or government, creating a situation whereby the supported communities no longer have to rely on external support. This financial independence is often overlooked by humanitarian aid ventures, but vital to any community’s long-term development. In essence, this idea of a ‘social business’ allows this form of humanitarian work not to be simple short-term assistance, but to have a prolonged effect and to allow communities to help themselves.
e.quinox is currently competing in the JP Morgan Give-It-Away contest to secure $50,000 for future projects. The competition can only be won through votes from the public, so give e.quinox your support by going to http://www.e.quinox.org/vote and selecting e.quinox as the organization of your choice! Don’t keep this link to yourself either, share it with your friends, families and colleagues! The e.quinox team is grateful for every bit of support and affirms to make every single penny count.