There was a time when the “E” for e-commerce and anything internet was hot on the lips of everyone, now it’s the “M” for mobile that is the reason for many conferences, government policy agendas, startup and incubation lab launches. It’s exciting times indeed but in the same breath it is equally important to document the past, understand it and use any learning’s that may arise to inform future action.
I have decided to start using examples that you may easily relate to, in the hope that it will provide perspective against ideas that I propagate. The deployment that I choose to look at differently today is the idea of the Pasha Centers and championed by the ICT Board. I have not pulled any stats as to the success or not of this project but would like to present it with my own spin.
Back in 2005, the e-secretariat division in government was keen to see the uptake of the “E” phenomena and had done quite abit by bringing in private sector players to map the opportunity and execute on it. The private sector players were Wananchi Online, Microsoft , an infrastructure company whose name I can’t quite remember and a host of consultants. The inclusion of a dedicated youth centric development organization called Goal ICT lent much needed insight.
The plan was simple and achievable. It involved setting up interconnected nationwide infrastructure ,providing tools that would make commercialization of the resultant hubs turnkey; reducing the friction and learning curves. Dubbed “”Drop-a-Lab” every constituency would be home to a prefab shipping container that would be connected to the nationwide grid via VSat provided by Wananchi , pre TEAMS and SEACOM. Out of the box the lab would be rigged with digital display screens on the outside and a “mini-cyber ” on the inside. Microsoft was to provide a learning platform based on its Blackboard product, as education was seen as sticky and cutting across both old and young demographics who would patronize the labs. The innovation in all this came in the design of the national grid that would allow aggregation, dissemination and monetization of content, while making matters payment, reconciliation and lab management a breeze. I will explore a use case on this in the future.
For technology to be deemed successful, it must be deployed in a useful way and not just win awards. The success of the “Drop – a -lab” project was pegged on its uptake and use in a community setting. GoalICT, tackled this by creating programs that saw youth to come together and create business outfits that would be used to run the labs. With a core education offering that they could sell, a slew government outsourcing projects in the pipelines and traditional cyber services, they were trained on how to identify the opportunities in their communities and how they could use the labs to meet the need. Five groups were identifies for the pilot project in Nairobi, with various sites already negotiated and locked down for the project. My favorite site was the council owned center near the railway station in Nairobi. It had all the ingredients for success, which is important for a pilot.
Then it happened – a head hunt from Rwanda saw government champion on the project depart and with it all private sector goodwill and non was willing to start from zero.
Would “Drop – a – lab” have been successful? I don’t know, but I and the thirty odd youth who were keen to get going sure wished it had the opportunity to fly or fall.