mLab East Africa is a project that we have been working on for a while. Activities started last year, and putting all the things together (a physical space, a community of passionate people, a training programme, a competition for start-ups, an incubation centre, a testing room, researches on mobile market) is not an easy task to do in few months. But we are extremely happy now, as the East African mLab is officially opened on the 16th of June, and most of the initiatives have started, and have had good feedback already.
If you are a regular reader of these pages, you know I have spent few weeks in Kenya, during June: Pivot25 was a great event, and has attracted quite a bit of attention from regional and international media, eager to discover what is happening in East Africa. If you are not a regular reader, you may want to open these links in a new tab, and read them later: Pivot25 – day 1; Pivot25 – day 2.
But there is more to that: on the 16th of June we officially opened the mLab East Africa. Erik Hersman (Ushahidi, iHub) was on stage, highlighting how technologies can revolutionise the world. Together with him, a distinguished panel enriched the discussion, by bringing their different perspectives and visions on how the mLab can benefit Kenya, East Africa and the continent in general: Ken Oyolla (General Manager at Nokia) and Heli Sirve (Ambassador, Embassy of Finland in Kenya) gave their view on Nokia and the Finnish Government reasons to kickstart this initiative (through InfoDev): the promotion of local innovation will have a wide impact on economic growth.
Johannes Zutt (Country Director, World Bank) pointed out that the World Bank is working with Kenya to stimulate areas where they think Kenya will flourish – tourism and ICT. For this reason, the mLab is an exciting occasion to create a space where SMEs can work together to address the constraints that are holding back their potential.
Paul Kukubo (CEO, Kenya ICT Board) reflected on the growth of the mobile ecosystem in the past years in Kenya, and made it clear that there is a need of a strong leadership role to drive this kind of initiative forward.
Finally, it was very interesting to have in the panel Dr. Bitange Ndemo (Permanent Secretary, Ministry of ICT), who focused on the fact that Governments shouldn’t shy away from intervening. They should – on the contrary – put as much effort as possible to make the industry grow, by launching research initiatives. He also announced his (successful) efforts to persuade the Ministry of Planning and Ministry of Health to release government data to open up to the public. Great news, and interesting to see Open Government Data initiatives spreading around the world.
While most of the words from the panelists were interesting, the atmosphere (and the amount of interested people) was what inspired me. Curious bystanders, old and new iHub members, geeks, entrepreneurs and designers converging from different parts of the world made the day (and the following weeks) a flux of chats and discoveries. As a designer / researcher, I was particularly happy to meet Catherine, Dan and Minnie from Frog design, doing exploratory research in town, and to know that they have organised a mini-workshop on design research at the iHub.