Building a Tech Industry

When we sit back and think about all the various organizations, projects, and companies we have been a part of over the past six years, at first glance they are seemingly quite different. But the reality is that we have simply aimed to solve our problems from internet connectivity to gathering meaningful information. There are many ways that the organizations and initiatives we’ve been a part of connect to one another, even if at first they’re not obvious. The first is that we’re always solving for a need that we have. The second is that we’re trying to do our part within a greater ecosystem to help it grow, and many times this is related to the tech industry in East Africa.
As technologists, entrepreneurs, and makers we have built what we needed to fix the problems that we live with every day. And there are a lot of problems to fix – from more reliable Internet, to crisis mapping, to sharing prototyping tools, to creating a community for technologists to learn from each other. And through the process of fixing these problems for ourselves, we try to be a part of, and give back to, the tech community in the various parts of the world where we work.
To explain our philosophy of building an ecosystem to support an entrepreneurial technology community, try on this metaphor of building a house in the physical world.

  1. First you start with a problem, you need somewhere to live; as a tech entrepreneur you have a problem that you need to fix.
  2. To build a house you first need land; to build technology you first need access to the web, so we created BRCK.
  3. After you have land you need the knowledge of how to build a house; to build technology you need a community and access to the knowledge to help teach you to code, make, create, so our team members have created communities like the iHub, the Ushahidi community, and AkiraChix.
  4. After you know how to build a house, you need the tools to build it, hammers and saws. To build technology you need tools too, like Ushahidi, Crowdmap, or shared services like the iHub, the UXlab, and Gearbox. And when these tools are open source, or open to a broader community, the barrier to accessing them is lower.
  5. After you have the tools you need the raw materials to build your house, the stone and wood. Similarly, once you have the tools to start a tech company, you need the raw material, the data, so we built things like our open data tools and the ability to link sensors to your BRCK or the Ushahidi platform

The group of companies and organizations that have come from Ushahidi and the Ushahidi team members have each played a role in furthering the tech industry in East Africa over the past six years. From incubating software entrepreneurs, to training young girls how to code, to creating access to information through better Internet connectivity. One outcome of this has been the increase in technology jobs; the companies spawned at the iHub have created over 1,000 jobs in the past four years. This is huge and represents both growth and progress.
As we continue our work, we take our role as a catalyst in our environment seriously, and while we’re always first focused on building things that solve our own problems, we think of how they’re platforms for others to solve theirs too. Sometimes that’s entrepreneurs in Kenya, sometimes it’s crisis mappers globally, and other times it’s just a person we know finally able to get online.