Moving from ideas to impact is a long journey

For anyone who’s been looking closely (very closely), the backbone theme to this blog is that of motivation;

How we create motivation, how we stay motivated and how we pick it up again when it drops off.

In a previous post I mentioned how often the drive for this is made up of 3 keys principles;

  • practice
  • study
  • and community

underpinned by belief that what you are doing is worthwhile and taps into your values.

AG log

And on Friday 15 June, at Africa Gathering London 2012, I was lucky enough to see all of these principles put into action by a room full of vibrant technologists, creatives, researchers and investors all looking to resolve social issues through technological solutions.

As African music welcomed the delegates to Thomson Reuters offices, a sense of expectation hung in the air. After all, the aims of Africa Gathering include;

helping to make a world better through communication and technology.

No small challenge then, but one for which The Indigo Trust is key. The trust sponsors ‘hubs’ across the continent that help develop social tech ideas into reality in order to address‘information inequalities’. A superb example of this was the project talked through by Director of the Nigerian hub, Tunji Eleso, who was keen to point out that the development of these ideas takes a lot of effort and doesn’t come easy. He talked about his incubation methodology which helped produce such simple and innovative projects as; Your Budgit, a great infographic, simplifying the Nigerian budget to the extent that it ended up being used by many as their wallpaper. (Get that George O!) Their Nigerian constitution app had 85,000 downloads in just 2 months. Surely that sees African technology engagement dwarfing anything in Europe? These socially relevant ideas may take time to incubate and develop but certainly seem to be getting traction when launched.

What stood out from Tunji’s session was how very often the key for getting investment in social tech projects is to be able identify the same problems within the commercial sectors and approach them. Whether banks, businesses or communities very often the issues are the same. Need to simplify complex financial information? Look for an infographic…need to gain take up on policies or guidelines? Editorialise it and get people chatting…

Ihub is cool”

Tosh Juma, from the Kenyan hub took us on a tour of the Nairobi social innovation centre aimed at accelerating social capital and tech for economic prosperity. Or as he put it….a space for technologists and investors to come together, showcase projects and…. have fun…The hub has hosted over 250 events in the last 2 years getting people together to share ideas and develop offers. They are now focussing on master classes in user experience and user testing facilities to help up the game for local designers.

What’s clear from the ihub example is how important good marketing comms are to let people know what you are doing, particular when approaching investors. Tosh showed a video showcasing the hub’s work but pictures, quotes and a simple video interview can all help tell the story of what you are trying to achieve. As one contributor said ‘Ihub is cool’.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”

The African proverb “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” seemed to be the theme for the Marketing and New Media session, hosted by curator of the event Mariemme Jamme. The room buzzed with questions about communities;

  • How do we tap into new communities to take up our messages?
  • How do we broach the digital divide ensuring that our messages reach those who may not have the generators, the connectivity or the hardware to see them online?
  • What is the best way to tap into the 14 hub communities across Africa?
Mariemme Jamme leads a breakout group

Mariemme Jamme leads a breakout group

Just one answer to much of this was to look to the tech hubs across the continent – all of which can play an important part in helping reach out to new communities, acting like 21st century golf club networks.

A room full of Story Tellers

The afternoon saw a fast fast pace befitting to the cheetahs of the tech industry. Some of the highlights included Edward Anderson from the World Bank. With 7.7 billion dollars of investment for ICT components across the world – The World Bank is no small fry. Tempted to tap into some of that?

As anyone who has spent any time in Africa knows, the spoken word is a tremendously powerful way of spreading knowledge. Mark Rock from Audioboo gave a super speedy demonstration of how the product can distribute voice messages over the web, citing a poignant example of a woman, who recorded a voice message 32 secs long, recording her boyfriend’s death.

Stephane Mayoux from BBC Africa had us all quoting Bertold Brecht, who was probably one of the first to sing the praises of twitter when he suggested that radio should be two-sided. It’s all about the engagement.

Franco Pepeschi from Web Foundation gave some key tips on how to generate a co-creative environment. He focused on a number of practical issues to bear in mind when making the web more collaborative;

  • hubs are not enough – while it is good to have people who meet together, you also need to be able to build things quickly
  • product development practices need to be put in place
  • persistence pays off
  • density – it is vital to get to where the people are directly
  • policies need to be created around how best to share and create content

Other tips for social development came from Michael Jenkins from EveryMobile, who pointed out that by offering up micro tasks that individuals can do for instance when they are on the bus, or when they have a few seconds to spare you will generate more actions and better take up. He also reminded us that while downloads, impressions and uus are important indicators of success, we must never forget the tangible results an application can have, whether the outcome is the number of people who went to have their eyes tested or started reading groups.

Discussion groups at AG

Discussion group at AG

The theme of the day had been very much about building communities and here was a community that had come together from all over Africa and the UK, seated in an international organisation in London focussing on global social issues. The next step is to continue to make the links needed to push through practical results and with some of the examples that were given and just some of the talent that was in the room, those next steps aren’t in doubt.

What I learned from the day;

  • Dry content, whether budgets or constitutions can be made enticing when portrayed in the right (and simplified way). Hurrah for infographics and of course the great David McCandless.
  • If you think you have an idea that only has social relevance, try to see what similar problems it may be able to answer in the commercial sector and then look to industry for sponsorship.
  • Marketing materials may seem to take up precious time and money but they can also help communicate exactly what you are about to potential investors. Invest the time in them and the investors will invest in you.
  • The World Bank is big (ok I knew that but it’s good to be reminded of it’s social outreach work)
  • As Bertold Brecht suggested…it’s all about the engagement. Social media can help spread social ideas. Use it.
  • Development doesn’t just happen. You need to put a framework around it for it to be successful
  • Downloads and uus are important but don’t forget the real world results
  • Build communities. Ask for help. Offer help. You can’t do it alone.

Most of all though it was just a privilege to be in a room full of such dynamic people who are focused on pushing through socially relevant tech projects across a flourishing continent.

And just because I can here’s a tribute to the great Gil Scot-Heron.

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