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  • Translator: Joseph Geni Reviewer: Morton Bast

  • Living in Africa is to be on the edge,

  • metaphorically, and quite literally

  • when you think about connectivity before 2008.

  • Though many human intellectual and technological leaps

  • had happened in Europe and the rest of the world,

  • but Africa was sort of cut off.

  • And that changed, first with ships

  • when we had the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution

  • and also the Industrial Revolution.

  • And now we've got the digital revolution.

  • These revolutions have not been evenly distributed

  • across continents and nations.

  • Never have been.

  • Now, this is a map of the undersea fiber optic cables

  • that connect Africa to the rest of the world.

  • What I find amazing is that Africa

  • is transcending its geography problem.

  • Africa is connecting to the rest of the world

  • and within itself.

  • The connectivity situation has improved greatly,

  • but some barriers remain.

  • It is with this context that Ushahidi came to be.

  • In 2008, one of the problems that we faced

  • was lack of information flow.

  • There was a media blackout in 2008,

  • when there was post-election violence in Kenya.

  • It was a very tragic time. It was a very difficult time.

  • So we came together and we created software

  • called Ushahidi.

  • And Ushahidi means "testimony" or "witness" in Swahili.

  • I'm very lucky to work with two amazing collaborators.

  • This is David and Erik.

  • I call them brothers from another mother.

  • Clearly I have a German mother somewhere.

  • And we worked together first with building

  • and growing Ushahidi.

  • And the idea of the software was to gather information

  • from SMS, email and web, and put a map

  • so that you could see what was happening where,

  • and you could visualize that data.

  • And after that initial prototype,

  • we set out to make free and open-source software

  • so that others do not have to start from scratch like we did.

  • All the while, we also wanted to give back

  • to the local tech community that helped us

  • grow Ushahidi and supported us in those early days.

  • And that's why we set up the iHub in Nairobi,

  • an actual physical space

  • where we could collaborate,

  • and it is now part of an integral tech ecosystem in Kenya.

  • We did that with the support of different organizations

  • like the MacArthur Foundation and Omidyar Network.

  • And we were able to grow this software footprint,

  • and a few years later it became

  • very useful software,

  • and we were quite humbled when it was used in Haiti

  • where citizens could indicate where they are

  • and what their needs were,

  • and also to deal with the fallout from the nuclear crisis

  • and the tsunami in Japan.

  • Now, this year the Internet turns 20,

  • and Ushahidi turned five.

  • Ushahidi is not only the software that we made.

  • It is the team, and it's also the community

  • that uses this technology in ways that we could not foresee.

  • We did not imagine that there would be this many maps

  • around the world.

  • There are crisis maps, election maps, corruption maps,

  • and even environmental monitoring crowd maps.

  • We are humbled that this has roots in Kenya

  • and that it has some use to people around the world

  • trying to figure out the different issues that they're dealing with.

  • There is more that we're doing to explore this idea

  • of collective intelligence, that I, as a citizen,

  • if I share the information with whatever device that I have,

  • could inform you about what is going on,

  • and that if you do the same, we can have a bigger picture

  • of what's going on.

  • I moved back to Kenya in 2011.

  • Erik moved in 2010.

  • Very different reality. I used to live in Chicago

  • where there was abundant Internet access.

  • I had never had to deal with a blackout.

  • And in Kenya, it's a very different reality,

  • and one thing that remains despite the leaps in progress

  • and the digital revolution is the electricity problem.

  • The day-to-day frustrations of dealing with this

  • can be, let's just say very annoying.

  • Blackouts are not fun.

  • Imagine sitting down to start working, and all of a sudden

  • the power goes out,

  • your Internet connection goes down with it,

  • so you have to figure out, okay, now, where's the modem,

  • how do I switch back?

  • And then, guess what? You have to deal with it again.

  • Now, this is the reality of Kenya, where we live now,

  • and other parts of Africa.

  • The other problem that we're facing

  • is that communication costs are also still a challenge.

  • It costs me five Kenyan shillings,

  • or .06 USD to call the U.S., Canada or China.

  • Guess how much it costs to call Rwanda, Ghana, Nigeria?

  • Thirty Kenyan shillings. That's six times the cost

  • to connect within Africa.

  • And also, when traveling within Africa,

  • you've got different settings for different mobile providers.

  • This is the reality that we deal with.

  • So we've got a joke in Ushahidi

  • where we say, "If it works in Africa, it'll work anywhere."

  • [Most use technology to define the function. We use function to drive the technology.]

  • What if we could overcome the problem

  • of unreliable Internet and electricity

  • and reduce the cost of connection?

  • Could we leverage the cloud?

  • We've built a crowd map, we've built Ushahidi.

  • Could we leverage these technologies

  • to switch smartly whenever you travel from country to country?

  • So we looked at the modem,

  • an important part of the infrastructure of the Internet,

  • and asked ourselves why

  • the modems that we are using right now

  • are built for a different context, where you've got

  • ubiquitous internet, you've got ubiquitous electricity,

  • yet we sit here in Nairobi and we do not have that luxury.

  • We wanted to redesign the modem

  • for the developing world, for our context,

  • and for our reality.

  • What if we could have connectivity with less friction?

  • This is the BRCK.

  • It acts as a backup to the Internet

  • so that, when the power goes out,

  • it fails over and connects to the nearest GSM network.

  • Mobile connectivity in Africa is pervasive.

  • It's actually everywhere.

  • Most towns at least have a 3G connection.

  • So why don't we leverage that? And that's why we built this.

  • The other reason that we built this

  • is when electricity goes down, this has eight hours

  • of battery left, so you can continue working,

  • you can continue being productive,

  • and let's just say you are less stressed.

  • And for rural areas, it can be

  • the primary means of connection.

  • The software sensibility at Ushahidi is still at play

  • when we wondered how can we use the cloud

  • to be more intelligent so that

  • you can analyze the different networks,

  • and whenever you switch on the backup,

  • you pick on the fastest network,

  • so we'll have multi-SIM capability

  • so that you can put multiple SIMs,

  • and if one network is faster, that's the one you hop on,

  • and if the up time on that is not very good,

  • then you hop onto the next one.

  • The idea here is for you to be able to connect anywhere.

  • With load balancing, this can be possible.

  • The other interesting thing for us -- we like sensors --

  • is this idea that you could have an on-ramp

  • for the Internet of things.

  • Imagine a weather station that can be attached to this.

  • It's built in a modular way so that you can also attach

  • a satellite module so that you could have

  • Internet connectivity even in very remote areas.

  • Out of adversity can come innovation,

  • and how can we help the ambitious coders and makers

  • in Kenya to be resilient in the face of problematic infrastructure?

  • And for us, we begin with solving the problem

  • in our own backyard in Kenya.

  • It is not without challenge.

  • Our team has basically been mules carrying components

  • from the U.S. to Kenya. We've had very interesting conversations

  • with customs border agents.

  • "What are you carrying?"

  • And the local financing is not

  • part of the ecosystem for supporting hardware projects.

  • So we put it on Kickstarter, and I'm happy to say that,

  • through the support of many people,

  • not only here but online,

  • the BRCK has been Kickstarted,

  • and now the interesting part of bringing this to market begins.

  • I will close by saying that, if we solve this

  • for the local market, it could be impactful

  • not only for the coders in Nairobi

  • but also for small business owners

  • who need reliable connectivity,

  • and it can reduce the cost of connecting,

  • and hopefully collaboration within African countries.

  • The idea is that the building blocks of the digital economy

  • are connectivity and entrepreneurship.

  • The BRCK is our part

  • to keep Africans connected,

  • and to help them drive the global digital revolution.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

Translator: Joseph Geni Reviewer: Morton Bast

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