fbpx

All Posts By jacob

Social Capital

Posted on 5 min read

Self-Made Myth

You have ever heard someone say that ‘I am a self-made person.’ It could be a self-made millionaire, self-made YouTuber with many followers, self-made programmer, or even self-made businessperson. The claim here is that the person is who they are due to their own effort, and did not depend on help from other people. The pride!

Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no self-made person. At least, they did not give birth to themselves. They never taught themselves how to speak. Did they invent money so that they can make a lot of it? They never became influencers by following themselves, nor did they make the gadgets that they use for social media. Even if they stole, they did not steal from themselves. All their achievement is because they live in a society with other people, who directly or indirectly, influenced who they are.

There is no self-made person.

Collaboration

At the center of everything we do is other people, and this is a unique gift from God that sets us apart from other animals. Human beings are able to collaborate with one another in very special ways. Take the example of taking a cup of tea; where you can walk into a café and get some ready-made tea, or you can buy the ingredients and make yourself a cup of tea. You do not need to grow your own tea, make your own sugar, blacksmith your own sufuria or model your own cups. You depend on other people to have your cup of tea.

In life you never see monkeys specializing and having some of them look for bananas while others look for berries. You do not see some of them working hard to map the forest so that they keep an up-to-date database of where all foods are. You do not see wild animals coming together to irrigate the jungle during the dry season. Neither do you see lions setting traps and hunting in bulk so that they can sell to other lions, and so that the elderly lion will not need to hunt. Specialized collaboration is the gift that human beings have.

Social Capital; Definition

Which brings us to social capital.

Social capital refers to the links and bonds people form through friendships and acquaintances. It is what allows groups of people to work together for a common purpose or goals. When you know somebody who can solve your problem, or you know somebody who knows somebody who can help you file your tax returns, you are making use of your social capital to achieve a certain goal.

Why is this important?

Herbert Smith, Nobel-prize-winning economist, estimated that 90% of what people earn in wealthy “western” societies is down to social capital. Had Bill Gates been born Yatta, Matuu, perhaps he could be a major sand supplier in Kenya. The guy pushing a handcart in Nairobi could easily have been a logistics officer with British Airways of they were born in London. This is social capital at work.

If you are born in a poor country, you will make less money for the same skills and effort compared to if you were born in a rich country.

Social Capital in the Bible

Let me put this here so that I do not forget, or lack somewhere else to say it.

‘The greatest of all networks is to know and be known by God.’

That said, we move on.

The idea of relationships and networks starts right from the beginning, where we see a Triune God setting things in action in Genesis. We see laws that help people live together as a community because this was key.

Something worth noting: While social capital is built on the idea of reciprocity, that is not expected in Christianity. The command is to reach out to those who cannot pay back. “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.” (Lk 14:12)

Some 3 examples from the bible:

Mephibosheth
  • Perhaps he was the 3rd in line to be King (After Saul and his father Jonathan)
  • All this was lost when David takes over. But,
    • David comes to his rescue, on account of his father Jonathan
    • David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” 2 Samuel 9:1
    • This way, he enjoys royal treatment based on the relationship that the Father had with David.

Lesson: Networks we build today could help us or our children in future.

Naaman
  • Leprosy was a nagging problem for this big person. A servant girl in his house knew the solution.
  • She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 2 Kings 5:3
    • Naaman was known by the right person, who offered a solution.
      • The problems you have today, someone possibly has the answer.
        • Someone could be looking to hire someone with the skills that you have. But do you know them? Do they know you?

Lesson: Know people, or know people who know people, or be known.

Jesus

  • His ministry was dependent on people, who he needed to build first
    • He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach. Mark 3:14
      • This was like getting interns.
      • He trains them and they end up being his witnesses.

Lesson: Create your networks by building people.

What determines our social capital?

There are three things I can highlight:

  • People we know

Our social capital is tied to the people we know (and of course, if they know as well because I know Vladimir Putin very well). It is important that we seek to know people.

  • Depth of those relationship

It is not enough to know people; ensure that they know you in the right way. This calls for a rich and genuine relationships with other people. People may not know that you can offer a certain service or possess a certain skill unless you interact closely. If people do not know that you are looking or a job, they will not be looking out for opportunities on your behalf.

  • Benefits of those relationships

You could have people who know you, know your needs, but are they willing to go out of their way to help you? What are they willing to do to help you? While there is little we can do to get people to help us, we can take the first step to ensure that we help people who are within our networks.

How to Build Networks/Social Capital

 A few tips:

  1. Do good to the people that you already know. People reciprocate.
  2. Know new people. Do not sit back and blame your introvertedness or claim that you are not good at making friends.
  3. Diversify your networks
    1. Get to know people in different fields. If you are an engineer, you will need a lawyer one day.
    1. Get to know people in different locations. There many opportunities outside your locality.
  4. Create time for people. Visit if you can. Make calls. Invite people to visit you.
  5. Keep in touch with former colleagues. Here there is a goldmine of people and you already know them.

**** Notes from MUBET fellowship talk on Social Capital. Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash ***

Share

A Tribute to my Editor: Tefo Mohapi

Posted on 2 min read

One thing that Engineering school teaches you is brevity. No need for stories when a simple equation is enough. Perhaps, this is why many tech people suck at explaining things that seem obvious to them but rocket science to everyone else. I know this from experience.

With an engineering background, I knew that writing stories would not be my thing. But it is now. What changed? I met one man by the name Tefo Mohapi.

I decided to try writing out of necessity. I needed something written and published, but I did not know a professional who could help. At times, working in a startup means that you are forced to do something because you neither have the talent to do it in your team, nor do you have the money to pay someone to do it. That is how I started writing. A few posts later, I realized that I needed to know where to publish the content and when I approached iAfrikan Media, Tefo Welcomed me with open arms.

In two years, I ended up publishing over 100 articles, thanks to guidance from Tefo who was the editor. He edited my work and helped me to communicate effectively. With him in the background, I had the freedom to write knowing that someone had my back.

Covid-19 came and hit him hard, but he fought harder. He was thankful to God for carrying him through the dark ordeal where he was in the hospital five months in 2021. I was hoping that things would brighten up and he would fully regain his health, but that was not to be. On 14th of July, he succumbed to pneumonia after a short illness.

Tefo is gone, but his legacy will live on. Rest in Peace brother.

Share

The Race for Electric Boda Bodas in Kenya

Posted on 4 min read

Twenty years ago, motorcycles were a preserve for the rich in Kenya. In rural areas, a few teachers owned them, and agricultural extension officers used to ride them as they went for farm visits. They were not common, and were never a public means of transport.

This all changed when President Mwai Kibaki’s government implemented some policies that lowered the buying price of motorcycles, enabling many people to acquire them. Many youths jumped into the opportunity and motorcycles, popularly known as Boda Bodas in East Africa, went mainstream in Kenya.

Since then, motorcycles are a preferred means of transport in all parts of Kenya. As of 2020, there were more than 1.4 million boda boda riders in Kenya, doing a total of 22 million rides per day. The total revenue from the industry is KShs 980 million per day.

The Energy Part

One of the associated industries that has gained from the growth of boda boda is the energy sector, where it is estimated that the riders spend about 25% of their income on fuel. This would translate to about KShs 250 million spent every day on fuel.

It is this lucrative industry that is attracting different players with electric bikes. Traditionally, motorcycles run on petroleum fuel which has a lot of negative effects on the environment. Besides, the cost of repair and maintenance is high due to the many parts involved using Internal Combustion Engines.

With electric bikes, boda boda operators can save on fuel costs, spare parts, serving, and reduce their Carbon dioxide emissions.

Startups in the Electric Motorcyle Business in Kenya

Here are few startups that are seeking a piece of cake in lucrative electric boda boda sector.

Ampersand

Ampersand is an electric motorbike company which has been operating in Rwanda, but now expanding to other countries in East Africa. In April 2021, Ampersand secured a funding of 3.5 million USD from the Ecosystem Integrity Fund (EIF) to fund its expansion. Already, the company has advertised for various positions as it plans its entry into the Kenyan market.

Ampersand assembles its electric motorcycles and finances riders to acquire the bikers, as well as providing swap stations where riders come to swap batteries once charge is depleted.

Opibus

Opibus is a Kenyan based electric mobility start-up that has successfully converted Internal Combustion Engine vehicles to electric. One of the products that they are building is an electric motorcycle that is locally designed in Kenya.

Opibus’ electric motorcycle comes with a 2.9kWh battery with an extra slot for an optional second battery, and is available for preorder in Kenya, with delivery dates starting late 2021.

Ecobodaa

Ecobodaa is a Kenyan startup that is slowly disrupting the boda boda industry in Kenya. The startup providers riders with electric motorbikes that are designed and assembled in Kenya, and supports them to succeed as boda boda riders. With its unique ride-to-own financing model, riders get to own their bikes after sometime.

Ecobodaa launched a successful pilot program in 2020 before beginning their expansion. The startup has secured funding from Persistent Energy Capital in April 2021 to help accelerate its growth in Kenya.

Mazi mobility

Mazi mobility is another Kenyan startup that is assembling electric motorbikes in Kenya. Founded in 2020, Mazi mobility seeks to enable boda boda riders in Kenya to acquire electric bikes and provides battery swapping stations where riders will quickly swap their batteries quickly and efficiently.

Kiri EV

Founded in 2020, Kiri EV manufactures electric motorcycles in Kenya. It also provides charging stations, as well as battery swap stations. The firm has been in pilot phase but is now taking preorders from the public.

Fika mobility

Fika mobility wants Kenyans to transition to electric motorcycles by offering them affordable electric motorcycles and providing battery swap station for easy charging.

ARC Ride

Arc Ride is a British startup that offering electric motorcycles in East Africa. The startup is focusing on assembling electric motorbikes, establishing solar charging networks, assisting in ownership and offering fleet management services.

Stima

STIMA enables boda boda riders to acquire electric motorcycles and offers a battery swapping network to enable faster and easy battery swap.

Uber

In May 2021, Uber announced the launch of electric boda bodas in Kenya on its platform. This would allow riders offering the Uberboda, Uber connect and Uber Eats to run the service on electric motorcycles.

Bolt

Bolt followed Uber’s move and unveiled electric motorcycles in Kenya in June 2021. The electric motorbikes are in use by Bolt Food Carriers who do food delivery and will be expanded into the ride hailing business.

Others

There are some startups that are solely dedicated to providing charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. These include Chaji Energy and E-safiri.

UNEP’s Electric Mobility Programme has also added a voice in the race to electrify the boda boda industry in Kenya. Earlier in 2021, UNEP donated 99 electric bikes that are in use in Kenya in Karura Forest, Kenya Power and Lighting company, Power Hive and Kisumu County.

Share

An SMS from a Politician is Coming your Way

Posted on 3 min read

It is that time of the election cycle when we start receiving unsolicited messages (SMS) from every politician. Brace for impact.

Your favorite politician, your worst politician, your current politician and your aspiring politician have suddenly developed an interest in you. Not exactly you, but your vote. You are just a means to an end; the vote.

And so they will keep sending you unsolicited messages telling you of great things about themselves ad how the future is you. They will keep telling you about your civic duty and responsibility as a citizen. The politician will wish you a happy Easter and even a happier Easter Monday. They will want you to celebrate Madaraka and Labour day in peace.

If you are wondering why they send these indirect messages and not directly ask you to attend their rally or vote for them, it is because political messages are highly regulated by telcos. Politicians know how to go around that.

You will also note that these messages do not come from a phone number, but possibly the name of the politician or political party. This is called a sender ID. It is a form of branding which allows you to know who us sending the message in the same M-PESA messages come from M-PESA and not a phone number.

These messages are a one-way communication channel, where you cannot reply. The politicians are not interested in your response. You should not be heard.

How did they Get my Number?

Whenever Kenyans receive any promotional messages, they assume that Safaricom or some other telco is selling their data.

What they forget is that our data has been poorly handled in the past. Every building you walk in keeps a record of your name, ID number and phone number with no guarantee that the information will be used for the right purposes. M-PESA agents used to keep a record of data which politicians could ‘buy’. There are many cases where data is collected with no reasonable use in mind.

This has often made it possible to access people private data without their consent. In some cases, some data that is illegally acquired is on sale.

The voter register in Kenya is in the hands of many people. Politicians can buy contacts for their region and keep spamming you with texts. Even a list of Safaricom subscribers has been in circulation for quite a long time now, and anyone with means and a few shillings can get access to it.

Personal Data Protection

In the past, there was now law to govern how personal data was handled in Kenya and this led to a culture where everyone could buy data and use as they saw fit. However, the Kenya Personal Data Protection Act passed in 2019 regulates how data is collected, shared and even used. One of those requirements is that a politician should not send you a message if you have not consented to receiving the message from them.

There is also an office where one can report any misuse of data, including when a politician sends you an unsolicited message. Instead of complaining about the politician, go ahead and let the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner know that you are being spammed.

Share

Why We all Need Some Cybersecurity Skills

Posted on 2 min read

Security is always an important consideration in a world that offers many external threats. We build fences around our homes, install doors with locks, put grills on our windows, employ security personnel and even choose a residence based on perceived security.

In the past, human beings would settle in locations that are easy to defend and would even go ahead and build fortresses. They also established armies to secure geographical regions. They built Navies and Air forces to defend them in the air and on the sea.

Security is important for survival and as the world changes, so do the tools and systems that are needed to keep it safe.

The world has changed, so do the security tactics.

In a world that is primarily driven by and dependent on Information Technology, there is an increasing need to secure the data and the networks in which this data thrives. This is where cybersecurity comes into play. One needs to safeguard their identity, their data, phones, computers and other electronic devices and installations. Organizations need to protect their information too, and this is done through use of special tools, trained personnel, and educating the members on how to contribute to the security of the organization. Countries need to guard against foreign cyber threats.

As individuals, we are largely responsible for our data and we need to be careful on how we share it out there. Think of what one can do if they have information about you. This could include Education data, Employment history, Identity, Education data, financial data, Data on your devices or even medical data. We have to be careful how we share such information because this can be used against us and cause great harm. We need to know what kind of data to share, with whom to share it with and when to share it.

We need to know how to secure our computers and other devices. We need to know how to use passwords effectively. We need to know how to survive most attacks that are targeted at us. We need to know what information can be shared, and what should not. We need to know what fraudsters may ask from us, and what a real bank staff cannot ask for.

This is why we all need some level of cybersecurity skills.

Share

Learning from Development Failures

Posted on 3 min read

Once in a while, technologies that are meant to change the world emerge, but turn out to be nothing but hot air. In fact, many end up making bad problems worse, or deviating much needed resources from the areas where they are most needed. This has happened severally in the development world, as shown by these two examples.

The PlayPump

In 2010, an idea to build a water pump that was connected and powered by a merry go round won the World Bank’s Development Marketplace award. The pump would be installed in remote places in Africa and when children played on the merry go round, water would be pumped to a storage tank for later use by the community.

This caught the eye – or better, the pockets – of various celebrities and world leaders including Jay-Z, Laura Bush and Bill Clinton, resulting to millions of monies in funding. It was supposed to be the pump that completely transforms remote African villages by giving people access to clean water.

The playpump concept

What happened to the playpump? It was a total failure.

As soon as the pumps were launched, several challenges showed up. The worst of them was the sheer amount of time that children needed to play to make the pump viable. In some communities, children would be expected to play for up to 27 hours every day to meet the expected water needs of the community. For the children, playing was no longer a fun and spontaneous activity, but hard work to get water into the storage tanks.

The pumps were more expensive than the conventional hand pumps and were very expensive to maintain. Most communities had neither the expertise nor the spare parts needed to repair them, hence would fall into disuse once they broke down. Obviously, children get tired and also need to go to school, forcing women to turn the pumps by hand in order to get water. It also needed several women to turn, hence more complicated than existing hand pumps.

One Laptop Per Child

In 2005, a professor at MIT came up with an idea of developing the most rugged laptop that would cost $100, and would be used in third world country to help students learn.

These laptops would be unbreakable, would not need access to electricity, would be owned by students and would encourage students to study.

It was a poetic story that was sold to donors, with promises that laptops loaded with hundreds of books would be dropped from helicopters so that poor children in developing world could access them.

The failure was big.

The model 1 laptop per child computer

Almost all the promises made were not kept. The final product was a basic laptop which had less computing power than existing smartphones. They cost $180, and in the process of trying to make the cheap, they made them extremely hard to repair. They needed electricity to operate, and they would also break easily.

Experts from developing countries had warned that there were more pressing needs than laptops, but the proponents of the project were so busy selling their poetic idea and never listened.

The project failed. Those that were sent to schools in Latin America largely remained in boxes and original packages because even teachers did not know how to use them.

Learning From the Failures

The problem was that both the playpump and 1 tablet per child projects pleased donors, and the flashy idea were not practical or sustainable. With money from different sources, the projects went ahead to full deployment and failure was dismal.

This should be a caution to people developing products that are appealing to many, and assume that they will be adopted by the masses. It calls for engineers and entrepreneurs to venture into thorough research before throwing resources into solutions that no one needs or will never work.

Unfortunately, many people never learn, and when you advise someone that no one will ever install the app they desperately want to build, they opt to go forward with it until they see it practically fail. They prefer to learn from their own experience.

Before you get excited about that cool idea you have, find time to do some serious research. Talk to the experts, ordinary people, potential users and most importantly, the critics.

Share

Doing Business in an Election Year

Posted on 3 min read

In about 7 months, Kenyan will head to polls for the General Elections, with a possibility of a repeat election that could drag on for another three months. This makes 2022 a politically volatile period.

This might turn out to be a gloomy time for entrepreneurs in Kenya, as electioneering periods always are.

There are several factors that negatively affect businesses during an election period. Some of these include:

  • The uncertainty of not knowing the political and economic direction of the country.
  • Diminished investments since investors do not want to risk too much.
  • Decreased government spending, affecting people who do business with the government.
  • People moving to rural areas to vote, or to be in safe environment during the electoral period.
  • Risk of not being paid if the government changes.
  • Risk of loss of property in case of election related violence.

2017 General Elections

This was the case in the year 2017 when Kenya went into elections which were held in August 2017. From the beginning of the year, it was all doom for many people who were in business. Unfortunately, elections did not just end, but were nullified by the Courts and had to be repeated in October, further extending the period of uncertainty.

After the elections, a series of political unrests followed after the main opposition party refused to accept the election results. This continued until March 2018, when President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga decided to put their differences together to form the handshake government.

For a period of almost one and half years, Kenya witnessed toxic politics that negatively affected businesses.

Guarding Against Local Politics

How then can business guard against this negative effect of elections?

After the 2017 election period in Kenya, one of the realizations that came was that there was a need to geographically diversify revenue streams to guard against political cycles in different countries. This was one motivation that led to expansion of Truehost Cloud to Nigerian market. Having revenue streams from different countries could help stabilize the revenue fluctuations occasioned by political processes.

However, not every SME can afford to scale to other countries. One needs to figure out what they can do in order to cushion their businesses when such time comes.

Overcoming the Threat

One crucial task is to assess the threat involved, so as to plan accordingly. Some business may be less affected, like those offering essential goods and services. In some cases, business may actually increase during the election period. An example of this is people in the printing industry, who get a once in a lifetime opportunity to print posters, t-shirts, and other materials used in campaigns.

The location of the business may also determine the risk involved. There are some well-known elections violence hotspots, such as the informal settlements. Doing business in these areas calls for increased caution and one should plan ahead for such risks.

If there is a risk of harm for the employees, one may need to figure out how to keep them safe, by requiring them to work from home. Covid-19 has already proven this to be viable. Employees might also be affected depending on their tribe, and so one needs to protect those who are most vulnerable depending on the location.

If possible, have some cash reserves that will sustain you during the period of uncertainty. This will help when sales go down or there is no income.

At times, it may make sense to close down the business, scale down, or move to another location until the elections are over. This applies mostly to places where election related protests lead to destruction of property. Of course, a better approach is to insure the business so that one can keep operations running during the elections.

No Guarantee

Even with the best planning and information, it may not be possible to guard against the negative effects of elections. There will always be a risk involved, just as business is always a risk. The best thing is to prepare for the unforeseen circumstances.

Share

Untethering from Social Media Slavery

Posted on 5 min read

In his book Fool’s Talk, OS Guinness says that “everyone is now in the business of relentless self-promotion – presenting themselves, explaining themselves, defending themselves, selling themselves or sharing their inner thoughts and emotions as never before in human history.” This is majorly through Social Media. People are seeking the widest possible public audience in the name of followers, friends or connections, often to the detriment of authentic lives and connections.

Among the many documentaries that caused a stir in an event field 2020 is one ‘Social Dilemma’ on Netflix. This docudrama directed by Jeff Orlowski tries to shed some light on the harmful impact of social media in the world today.  They argue that platforms like Facebook are designed to be addictive and the primary goal of the people behind the platform is to use your data to make money. Consequently, they do all they can to draw and retain your attention, and they do it with lethal effectiveness to the extent that it is like a drug addiction.

People are almost running their entire lives online by being tethered to their devices all the time.  As highlighted in the documentary, the creators of those platforms have designed them in such a way that they are addictive and are always demanding for your attention. They are not just technology companies with some geeks churning out code after code, but are psychological think tanks with armies of psychologists, neuroscientists and social science experts who use their knowledge of human vulnerabilities to capture your attention and get you addicted. Social Media is addictive by design.

To be sure that you are using social media in the right way, look out for the following things:  

Examine yourself

In the words of Haggai, we need to do a self-examination, or ‘give careful thoughts to your ways.’ The first question to ask is whether you are using Social Media responsibly, and if you have a healthy relationship with the same. The goal is to ensure that you are in control, and not the Social Media platforms controlling you. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do I spend unnecessarily long periods of time on Social Media?
  2. Do I experience time management problems due to unhealthy use of social media?
  3. Have my studies, social life, ministry activities and relationships been negatively affected due to social media?
  4. Do I have irregular sleep patterns due to use of social media?
  5. Do I feel down when I am unable to access social media, or if my posts are not getting the attention I need?
  6. Has social media led me to other vices such as pornography, greed, jealousy or masturbation?
  7. Do I have more conversations online than in person?

If you answered yes to one or more of those questions, perhaps it is time to examine if you need to apply some change or readjustment to your relationship with social media.

2. Take Corrective Measures

If you realize that social media has become your god, or it is on the verge of becoming one, or you have an unhealthy relationship with it, it is time to take action. Seek as much help available. You should also have some form of accountability with people that are close to you.

Here are a few measures for your consideration;

i) Define your Social Media use

Why are you using Social Media? Is it for entertainment, business, education, or personal development? If you figure out why, you will be in a position to know when social media is useful, or when you are becoming very hooked. If you are using it for entertainment, you should be able to tell if you are having too much entertainment, or if your entertainment channels are imbalanced.

ii) Be Self-Controlled

A person without self-control is like a house with its doors and windows knocked out (Proverbs 25:28).  Do not allow algorithms to control your life and lead you from one video to another, with little regard for content, values or even your time. Also, guard yourself from drifting into mindlessly into these addictive habits. Apply self-control and consciously decide to not be enslaved.

iii) Avoid the ungodly

While there are so many benefits of social media, avoid any matter that is ungodly. It may be trending or forming the base of every discussion in your circles, but if it draws you away from God, let it go.

Instead, appropriate the grace of God, which teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age (Titus 2:11,12). Keep off the ungodly content that would corrupt you.

iv) Do not be the fool

Social media has the ability to deceive and make you think that you are in control. In your mind, you might think that you are just trying to keep up with the memes and challenges, while in real sense you are being manipulated to keep scrolling endlessly.

Learn how social media works, and the impacts it has on you. You could even use the same social media to learn about the ills of social media. It is said when the product is free, like social media, you are the product. In the words of Ephesians 5:15, ‘be careful how you use your time, not like fools, but like those who are wise.’

v) Do not Seek validation on Social Media

Have you ever found yourself taking countless photos just to find the perfect one to post on social media? Do you find yourself checking your notifications over and over just to see if someone liked, replied or retweeted your post? Many times, we seek validation on social media, which blurs the truth about ourselves. Our self-worth must be pegged on God, and not on a bunch of notifications. While you promote content online, do not be unnecessarily invested in its outcome.

In conclusion, we must draw the line and define how much intrusion is too much. As explored above, scriptures guide us on assessing our virtual spaces and redefining them in a way that fosters truth and responsibility. While there might be too much pressure to stay hooked, we must fight to overcome and live self-controlled lives to God’s glory.

Share

How Covid-19 Responses Speeded the Adoption of Digital Technologies

The Covid-19 Pandemic led to accelerated uptake of different digital technologies in a way that was unforeseen. Some estimates say that the world has taken a 10-year leap in terms of digital technology adoption. Today we have seamless cloud meetings, online learning, several health monitoring tools, booming e-commerce, automated manufacturing, better supply chain systems and many more.

Some of the technologies already existed, while others are recent innovations by people responding to the pandemic. Many of these have now gained widespread acceptance. How did this happen?

The disruption caused by Covid-19 led to a turning point that promoted the adoption of new technologies. Usually, new technologies go through an adoption lifecycle that starts with innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. With a disruptive event, the time it takes for the early and late majority to onboard is short, hence a technology can gain massive acceptance within a very short time.

Background

The timing of the Covid-19 pandemic presented an opportune time for use of digital technologies. The world had become more connected with affordable broadband internet connection is available in many places. The availability of smartphones also made it easy to use digital technologies even in areas where computers are not available.

With this background, digital technologies could thrive. Developers went for digital tools to respond to various challenges such as contact tracing. The government needed ways to keep track of vaccine distribution. Shops needed to keep selling even when communities were in lockdown. Schools needed to keep teaching even when physical school attendance was limited. Solutions lay in digital technologies.  

The nature of the pandemic also helped to encourage digital interventions. Covid-19 is spread majorly by close contact to an infected person. This called for limiting physical interactions and public gathering – the very things that are crucial for human existence. To compensate for these, digital technologies could be used to connect people where physical meetings were not possible. E-commerce was necessary if people were not to go to malls as before. Many technologies to make this possible existed, but had not received widespread adoption.

Digital technologies are also at the center of public health responses needed to fight Covid-19. The table below shows examples of digital technologies in public health intervention.

Covid-19 Responses in Kenya

In Kenya, the government implemented several responses to slow down the spread of Covid-19. Some of these include:

  • Requiring physical distancing in all places.
  • Enforcement of dawn to dusk curfew.
  • Restriction of movement from some geographical locations.
  • Closure of schools.
  • Requirement for people not providing essential services to work from home.
  • Ban on mass gatherings.
  • Active disease surveillance.
  • Economic stimulus packages to employers and employees.
  • Encouraging the use of non-cash transactions.

Many of these responses involved the use of digital technologies to implement, or to help cope with the new normal.

Adoption of Digital Technologies

With the closure of schools, learning was supposed to take place remotely, something that had barely been happening before (except in some Universities). This meant that teachers and students needed to get creative and find out what could work in their context. They used cloud meeting platforms to conduct classes where the Internet was available and students could afford the necessary devices. Teachers had to learn how to use the different platforms and many acquired crucial digital skills. In some cases, they had to improvise and use platforms such as WhatsApp.

This exposure to digital technologies is very useful in the sense that it makes them open to adopting other digital technologies. Running a successful online class gives the teacher the confidence to adopt other technologies, and even continue using the same after the pandemic.

With reduced income and job losses, many people tried their hand in business. This led to many people setting up their own websites and online shops to allow buyers to access their products online. Faced with a different operating environment, many businesses moved online in 2020. This is another way that people were introduced to digital technologies.

There was also an upsurge in the use of cashless payment solutions. In Kenya, the Central Bank negotiated for reduced tariffs for mobile money services, as well as free movement of money from mobile wallets to the bank and vice versa. This led to an increase in the use of cashless transactions and it become normal for small traders to accept payment via mobile money. This is likely to remain even in the post-pandemic world.

The use of digital technologies to track vaccine rollout in Kenya is also a significant step forward in managing healthcare. This could set the stage for more ehealth functions when people see the need for it. Already, there are businesses that are working to make telemedicine a possibility in Kenya.

Reduced movement of people led to a boom in eCommerce. Some people who had never ordered goods or services online found themselves with little or no option, and many are now open to shopping online and having their goods delivered without having to physically visit the stores.

The need to work remotely forced people to invest in different tools to make this a reality. This led to an increase in internet usage, and people were buying more equipment such as smartphones and computers. Home internet connections increased, and these opened possibilities for the adoption of more digital technologies.

Conclusion

The Covid-19 pandemic may have forced people to result to digital technologies to solve their most pressing needs, but the results will outlast the Covid-19. We will see a world that is more open to digital technologies and also developers focusing on more of these technologies. This is one positive outcome of the pandemic.

Share

Challenges in Implementing Digital Technologies in Rural Kenya

Posted on 7 min read

If you ask people in Nairobi where they might like to live if they didn’t have to worry about a commute to work, the answer is nearly unanimous: the suburbs. The suburbs, they say, lie just close enough to the city’s amenities while avoiding its traffic, high costs and pollution. When I suggest rural Kenya as an option, very few people respond positively. Why? Rural communities often lack reliable electricity, Internet access, good schools and healthcare facilities.

Social innovators should take notice. Missing necessities can deter people from moving to rural Kenya, and their absence also presents a host of considerations for digital technologies designed to operate in those areas. In spite of that, rural Kenya is home to 68.9 percent of the Kenyan population with the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands alone occupying almost 80 percent of the total landmass. This large size and population make them key to the economic growth of the country and it is imperative that they do not miss out on the digital revolution.

Rural-Urban Divide

Rural areas in Kenya face a number of unique development challenges that affect the use of digital technologies. The Kenya Economic Update by the World Bank notes that while 44% of the urban population have access to the internet, only 17% of people in rural areas have access to the same. What works in urban areas may not necessarily work in rural areas.This is the reason why, at the moment, we see more people working on technologies that are more suitable for urban areas. But understanding the issues may encourage more product developers to target rural areas. Here I’ll describe three main challenges that innovators will face in rural Kenya.

Infrastructure

Infrastructure remains one of the greatest challenges in rural Kenya. From innovation hubs, learning institutions, Internet services, mobile networks, and access to grid power, people in rural areas have less access than residents in urban areas. Deficiencies in services cascade from key absences. For example, the absence of power means it is harder for telcos to set up mobile networks, and the absence of mobile networks means that fewer people acquire mobile devices.

Even where the infrastructure is available, the quality may not be sufficient. While 77 percent of major towns in Kenya are covered with a Safaricom 4G network, the total 4G population coverage in Kenya is only 57 percent, and the majority of places not covered are rural. From the map below, it is notable that the area with the least coverage is rural Kenya, and the 4G coverage is quite low.

This network coverage map shows, from left to right, Safaricom, Airtel, Telekom (pink-GSM, yellow-3G, orange-LTE).

Patrick Sampao who has experience deploying digital solutions in rural areas, notes that sometimes even the simplest technologies just don’t work as expected. An example of this is the USSD service, which is a text-message protocol similar to SMS. USSD allows any phone to send messages by dialing a command, *123# for example, which then prompts the user to reply with a digit depending on the service wanted. While this feature works on any phone and doesn’t incur any cost to the user, there are many older SIM cards which do not support that function. Users would need to replace those SIM cards first before they can use the USSD service.

Digital Literacy

One of the greatest barriers to internet penetration in Kenya is digital literacy. Although smartphone penetration is on the rise, the number of people who are able to effectively use many digital technologies is still low. The 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census estimates that there are around 10 million Internet users in Kenya, while Google estimates the number to be closer to 13 million. In a population of 47.6 million people, that translates into an Internet usage rate of 20-25 percent. A report by GSMA in 2018 put the number of mobile internet users in Kenya at 25% of the population. By comparison, Internet usage in the first quarter of 2020 in the United States was at nearly 95 percent.

Smartphone penetration is higher in urban areas than in rural areas, as one of the hindrances in rural areas is literacy levels. Many older people struggle to use smartphones while those with little education are wary of such technologies. This was one of the challenges that the government’s Digital Learning Program faced, where many teachers were unable to use the devices that were provided. The availability of experts who can offer technical support is also low.

Even the simplest mobile phones require some form of literacy and experience. For example, the USSD function times out after a period of inactivity, requiring a user to be relatively fast. This can be difficult for those with little digital literacy, and many end up trying multiple times before they are able to get through.

Income Levels

While poverty is a major problem in the whole of Kenya, rural areas suffer disproportionately. This explains why demand for many services is lower in rural areas than urban areas as people do not have as much disposable income. Lower population density also makes the economics harder, even if the total populations may be large.

Competing needs in communities with low income levels may outweigh many digital services. Any digital product that charges users for a service should solve basic, pressing needs. An example of this is the AfriScout app. More than 6000 people in rural areas use the app because it solves a basic need, directing pastoralists to water and pastures.

The alternative business model for digital products is to offer services for free but place ads that users must see. In that way, products like Facebook which have gained popularity even in remote areas.

Despite the fact that people in rural areas have lower purchasing power than their urban counterparts, the cost of some services may be higher in rural areas due to greater costs in building, servicing and even fueling those networks. Michael Ouma who provides Internet services in Northern Kenya, notes that a 10 Mbps link costs at least KShs 30,000 in the region, while the same would cost less than KShs 10,000 in Nairobi. The added expense increases operating costs for rural businesses compared to their urban counterparts.

Breaking the challenges into three main groups like I have done is a convenient tactic for describing the issues more clearly, but in the real world these problems do not exist in silos. The lack of reliable power, for example, affects businesses, schools and homes and is a cause of low income levels. The lack of power deters companies that might build mobile infrastructure, which also impacts people’s income. And low income and lack of mobile infrastructure deter people from buying mobile devices, which reduces their exposure to technology and, consequently leads to lower digital literacy rates. Low incomes, in turn deter companies from building expensive power and mobile connectivity infrastructure for communities that may not be able to pay for it, thereby closing a negative feedback loop.

Overcoming the Challenges

In terms of pricing, innovators need to price their products in an appropriate way that suits the rural economy. One unique way is to make the installment affordable, instead of asking for significant money upfront. This strategy has been successful  with many products and could explain why Safaricom is hoping to sell 1 million 4G-enabled devices in Kenya in the next year by having users pay only KShs 20 per day. According to a Nielsen report, more than 70 percent of fast-moving-consumer goods purchases are of products priced below KShs 55.

One also needs to find or develop suitable technologies that would be appropriate for rural areas. Devices that consume a lot of power and apps that are highly dependent on a stable internet connection may not be appropriate. Instead, innovators should focus on the use of technologies such as USSD, SMS, interactive voice services, devices that do not rely on grid power and apps that can work on simple smartphones.

The cost of entry into rural markets can also be high. Innovators can circumvent this problem through partnerships which can help subsidize the cost of entry. They can also opt to share infrastructure as various telecommunications companies have done previously.

Digital Literacy is a wide problem that needs to be addressed through the formal education channels as well as well as various initiatives to upskill people. When it comes to digital skills, the elderly people are more disadvantaged compared to young people who are digital natives. Innovators targeting rural areas need to keep their solutions simple and easy to use so that even people with limited skills will find it simple and easy to adopt. Providing digital skills is also one area where social enterprises should venture.

Great challenges and great needs

Rural Kenya presents challenges to digital social innovation, but the people there also happen to be those who could benefit highly from the right products and services. The region is a broad target for socially minded engineers and entrepreneurs. The trick is to understand the obstacles and navigate them accordingly.

If you are interested in this topic please read the research collaboration developed by E4C Fellows (including the author of this article) together with Huawei and iGov Africa around ICT solutions in Northern Kenya.

Share