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7 Facts about Technology in Kenya
Kenya is a small coastal nation in northeast Africa. Known as a popular tourist destination, people praise Kenya for its tea exports, beautiful landscapes and rich biodiversity. Currently, Kenya is engaged in a rapid expansion of its information technology sector. This makes it one of the notable tech hubs in the developing world. Here are seven facts about technology in Kenya.

7 Facts About Technology in Kenya

  1. Nicknamed the “Silicon Savannah,” Kenya is regarded as the second-best innovation hub in Sub-Saharan Africa. Tech start-ups thrive in Kenya, due in part to the ready availability of credit lines and other forms of financing. 2019 was the ninth consecutive year Kenya exceeded the innovation relative to GDP figures expected from middle-income nations.
  2. Mobile financial transaction apps are especially popular in Kenya. Nearly 70 percent of the population uses these apps regularly. This is partially because the Kenyan government privatized the state-managed telecommunication services, leading to the eventual emergence of Safaricom, the now dominant face of telecommunications in Kenya. Safaricom debuted its first money-transfer app, M-Pesa, in 2007.
  3. M-Pesa is not the only successful mobile app in Kenya. Farmer Su Kahumbu Stephanou created iCow in 2011. iCow’s original function enabled farmers to monitor their cows’ breeding cycles and milk production. iCow gradually updated to feature advice and information for farmers to use to maximize their income potential. Since iCow runs on SMS, it’s available to farmers who can only afford older models of mobile phones.
  4. Kenya’s once outdated telecommunications networks are now some of the most cutting edge in Africa. Kenyans residing in urban areas have easy access to fast and affordable internet. The internet infrastructure in rural areas is catching up. Internet subscription rates increased from 29.6 percent in 2017 to 41.1 percent in 2018. As of June 2018, 97.8 percent of Kenyans owned a mobile phone subscription.
  5. iHub, a technology-focused co-working facility in Nairobi, opened in 2010. Today, it houses dozens of tech companies, researchers and entrepreneurs. iHub and Nairobi’s other tech incubators and innovation centers have enticed foreign venture capitalists and international companies like Google and Microsoft to invest in the local tech scene. Funding for tech startups rose 92.7 million USD in 2016, to 147 million the following year. In 2020, Nairobi will host the Next Einstein Forum, Africa’s marquee science and technology conference.
  6. A study conducted by the International Development Research Center in partnership with Oxford Insights determined that Kenya is well-equipped to utilize artificial intelligence (AI) technology solutions. Kenya employs some AI technologies, including sexual and reproductive health monitoring chat bots. While 78 percent of Kenya’s largest corporations have integrated modern IT solutions into business operations, only 20 to 40 percent of the nation’s smaller-scale businesses have done so.
  7. Kenya’s early success in tech enterprises encouraged the government to double-down in support of its new industry. The national Internet Communications Technology board worked with iHub on multiple projects. The government also instituted Vision 2030, a strategy to construct the infrastructure backbone necessary for further IT development. Plans are even underway to design and build a new city meant to serve as a national tech-hub. These plans are estimated to cost as much as 7 billion USD.

Although still in its early stages, Kenya’s emerging technology sector has quickly grown into a lucrative slice of the national economic pie. These seven facts about technology in Kenya show that the country is innovative and has made great progress in improving the availability of technology to its citizens.

Dan Zamarelli
Photo: Flickr

Technology to promote literacy

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is an independent state comprised of about 600 small islands, that also shares a land border with Indonesia. PNG uses technology to promote literacy in a number of ways. PNG broke off from Australia in 1975 but still receives substantial economic, geographical and educational gains from the country. However, the Australian government reports that in spite of their economic growth and middle-income country status (due to agricultural and mineral wealth), “PNG’s social indicators are among the worst in the Asia Pacific. Approximately 85 percent of PNG’s mainly rural population is poor and an estimated 18 percent of people are extremely poor.”

The World Bank details that PNG also faces a “vexing” situation regarding their remoteness and number of languages. Communities in PNG are very closed off from one another and land travel is strenuous. PNG has 563 airports and air travel has proven to be the common way to get from one place to another. At over 800 languages, PNG is recognized as “the most linguistically diverse country in the world.” As a result of these two factors, PNG’s education system faces a variety of challenges. PNG was ranked 153 on the Human Development Index in 2017, and its adult literacy rate was reported to be 63.4 percent in 2015. Australian Aid and the Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) cooperated to produce The SMS Story research project, a way to use technology to promote literacy.

The goal of the SMS Story Research Project was to ascertain whether daily text message stories and lessons would improve the reading ability of children in grades 1 and 2 in Papua New Guinea. The text messages were sent to elementary school teachers in the Madang Province and Simbu Province using a free, open-source software program called Frontline SMS. The project was a controlled trial with two groups, one group of teachers received the message and the other did not. About 2500 students were evaluated before and after the trial. Using statistical testing, it was determined that the reading ability of the group who received text messages was higher than that of the group that did not.

It was found that the schools participating in the study had little to no reading books in the classroom and that students in groups without an SMS story were “twice as likely to be unable to read a single word of three sub-tests (decodable words, sight words and oral reading).” It seemed that many classrooms in PNG did not provide easy access to reading materials or proper reading lessons.

Amanda Watson, a researcher involved with the project stated that the SMS stories were helpful to the teachers as well. She says, “The teachers actually received almost like a reminder to teach, a bit of a motivator to keep teaching and they received that every single day and we think that really helped them to realize that they’re supposed to be teaching reading every single day, five days a week.” This suggests that before the trial, some of the teachers may not have promoted reading as much as they should have, either due to lack of access to materials or not realizing its importance.

Daniel A. Wagner, of the University of Pennsylvania and his colleagues, detail the importance of using technology to promote literacy in countries with minimal access to education or educational materials in their paper, “Mobiles for Literacy in Developing Countries: An Effectiveness Framework”. He underlines the importance of promoting literacy through information and communications technologies (ICTs) in today’s world where there are “more connected mobile devices than people” and provides several examples of organizations that are working towards increasing literacy through ICTs.

The Bridges to the Future Initiative (BFI) is run in South Africa by the Molteno Institute for Language and Literacy. They aim to “improve literacy through interactive, computer-based lessons” created by the University of Pennsylvania’s International Literacy Institute (ILI). They provide access to educational materials and issue students with “mother-tongue resources” in regions where computer sources or books are mostly in English. Comparably, Ustad Mobile is an application in Afghanistan that runs offline on phones. They center around instructing reading comprehension, listening, and numeracy. Teachers and students can download and share lessons; the app also includes exercises, videos and interactive quizzes in order to “mobilize education for all”.

BBC Janala is another project using technology to promote literacy in Bangladesh. It is a multi-platform service and can be accessed through TV, internet, print and mobile phones. BBC Janala concentrates on teaching English through three-minute audio lessons, quizzes, TV shows, newspapers, textbooks and CDs.

Illiteracy is an issue in Papua New Guinea; most likely due to the lack of reading materials and importance placed on literacy. However projects like, “The SMS Story” are all over the world and are working towards using technology to promote literacy one step at a time.

Jade Thompson
Photo: Flickr

Dengue Fever PredictionThe ability to determine where and when epidemics will break out may soon be available at the touch of your fingertips.

In Pakistan, dengue fever was largely endemic in the southern city of Karachi; however, in recent years it has been appearing in a previously unaffected area — northeast Pakistan.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that dengue fever is transmitted by the infectious bite of a mosquito, and currently there is no vaccine or specific medication for this illness, which usually results in a range of symptoms including “mild fever, to incapacitating high fever, with severe headache, pain behind the eyes, muscle and joint pain and rash.”

A recent article by SciDev describes the possibilities of a mobile phone app which can effectively predict epidemics by tracking the patterns of people.

“As the transmission of the virus that causes dengue fever is partly driven by human travel, analyzing how people move across the country allows researchers to predict when and where epidemics may break out,” SciDev says.

Telenor, a Norwegian mobile provider that operates in Pakistan, teamed up with researchers to track the call records from close to 40 million subscriber SIM cards within the last seven months of 2013.

Mathematical data pertaining to traveling patterns could be tracked and was later published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This information combined with clinical and climate data helped serve as a “model retroactively to predict the likely location and timing of epidemics across the country.”

This newfound data provided encouraging results that would enable researchers to “effectively target interventions, surveillance and clinical response” for where and when to expect dengue epidemics.

“The travel model predicted the geographic spread and timing of outbreaks in 2013 in both recently epidemic and emerging locations, the paper says. For example, it showed good overlap with the actual pattern of the first dengue cases in the northeastern cities of Lahore and Mingora,” says SciDev.

Predictive models may be the solution for mapping and creating early warning systems for diseases such as dengue. With such success regarding Dengue Fever prediction in Pakistan, it is possible for other Asian countries to adopt the same technology for other diseases, such as measles, malaria and influenza.

Soon, the very touch of a button may be able to save thousands from experiencing the disease via dengue fever prediction.

Nikki Schaffer

Sources: WHO, SciDev, PNAS
Photo: Pixabay

Tanzania Red Cross Society Uses Mobile Phones to Aid Disaster Relief- BORGEN
Mobile phone technology is sweeping across Africa in the rapid, all-encompassing style of a pandemic. However, mobile phone usage and supporting networks actually offer a solution to treating disease and other disasters.

Using Open Data Kit (ODK), a set of free, open-source tools organizations can use to author, field and manage mobile data collection, the Tanzania Red Cross Society has been able to facilitate data collection through phones.

Red Cross volunteers are able to upload surveys to their mobile phones that they then use to interview beneficiaries of Red Cross relief efforts about the aid they received. After completing each survey, volunteers can remotely upload results to the server. From there, the collected data is analyzed, allowing Red Cross officials to determine the effectiveness of various emergency relief efforts.

Kibari Ramadhan Tawakal, disaster management coordinator at Tanzania Red Cross Society, reports that Volunteers prefer the mobile platform, referencing how easy it is to use in comparison to pen and paper surveys.

“Using the mobile phones is exciting for them, and helps increase their confidence when interviewing beneficiaries. It also enables us to collect more consistent data,” Tawakal said.

It is true that recording and distributing data in the developing world can be a challenge. Without guarantees of a power source or specialized hardware and network access, information is not always current or reliable.

Created by researchers at the University of Washington, ODK was designed to offer an accessible solution to data collection in developing nations.

Cellular service is uniquely reliable even in the developing world. This enables data to be sent and analyzed in real-time. Mobile phones also contain cameras and GPS units, which ease data collection, and are capable of establishing USB and WiFi connections to desktop computers. Smartphone cameras additionally function as a tool for reading barcode information.

With telecom companies investing millions in rural mobile networks, cell phones are accessible even in the most remote areas of countries like Tanzania. The nation’s Communications Regulatory Authority reports that as of 2015 there are approximately 33 million mobile subscribers in the country.

For this reason, ODK software offers an extremely promising solution to data collection challenges. With dependable real-time information about the appropriateness of disaster relief efforts, Red Cross officials will be able to quickly make informed decisions with regards to future aid.

Improved data collection may also feed directly into Red Cross efforts regarding HIV/AIDS. As a part of their project in Tanzania, the organization cites improving knowledge about HIV at a community level and reaching 35,000 people “through community-based educational activities that focus on preventing HIV and reducing the stigma and discrimination associated with this disease.”

Having accurate, region-specific information about HIV/AIDS can only help when it comes to community outreach.

– Emma-Claire LaSaine

Sources: IT Web Africa, IFRC, Ars Technica, Open Data Kit
Photo: Flickr

Loans_in_the_Philippines
As less than a quarter of the Philippines‘ 101 million people have bank accounts, establishing credit remains impossible for many. Traditionally, in the Philippines there are two ways to borrow money if you can’t get a loan from a bank.

First, the legal option involves selling goods at any of the country’s ubiquitous pawn shops (as of 2013, the central bank tallied more than 17,000 pawn shops nationwide). The second, illegal option is to borrow from a loan shark.

Enter smartphones.

Three-quarters of Filipinos who use the internet, access it primarily through their smartphones. The increasing popularity of using smartphones now offers a safer alternatives for securing loans in the Philippines.

PawnHero, a Manila-based startup, wants to give Filipinos an accessible, less expensive alternative to the traditional pawn shop. On PawnHero, users upload photos and descriptions of items they want to pawn to the website where an appraisal team decides upon a fair estimate.

If both sides agree, PawnHero picks up the item where it is stored until the loan is repaid. As opposed to traditional pawn shops, PawnHero offers up to half of the typical monthly interest rates found in physical shops.

Another company, Lenddo, creates virtual credit scores for Filipinos who have no bank account or credit history. According to their website, Lenddo’s credit score and verification services “use over 12,000 data points to manage risk and make better decisions.”

These data points stem from users social media accounts, such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn and serve as methods to prove the identity and creditworthiness of the user.

While Lenddo was created in 2011 in the Philippines, their assistive reach now extends to Mexico and Colombia with plans for further expansion into other emerging markets.

Loans from Lenddo typically average around $450 with interest rates at 2-4 percent monthly. With membership at over 500,000, Lenddo’s effectiveness as a supplement to emerging middle-class families is evident.

With the middle class on the rise, the country is finding new ways to empower its impoverished through technology. Smartphones are just the beginning.

Bailey Wenzler

Sources: WSJ, Pawn Hero, Lenddo, The Guardian

Life InsuranceMobile devices are now, quite literally, protecting lives across the developing world. For the first time in history, thousands across the globe and their families are protected from risk through mobile-based health and life insurance providers. Health insurance can be wildly expensive, and many do not have access to agencies or branches that provide it.

Life insurance to many low-income families is a low priority; food, shelter, and medicine are expensive enough. But as with countless other industries, mobile markets and transactions are changing the way that services are performed while also helping to improve the lives of countless living in poverty.

Mobile access is key to the insurance revolution. Cell phones are becoming cheaper and cheaper and governments are quickly building up mobile infrastructure, even in rural areas. Prior to mobile insurance, it was physically impossible for insurance providers to collect micropayments with any consistency, and those insured could not afford large lump sum payments.

However, services like Bima, which operates mainly in Ghana, have changed that. Bima is a life insurance provider that sells coverage for about 2 cents per day. The service offers different coverage options including individual and family plans.

Recently the Swedish-based company has started to offer mobile medical consulting, which enables thousands who live in developing and rural areas to access valuable remedies and diagnoses. Bima is such a powerful tool because it does not only give customers a safety net should the worst happen, it also helps them if emergency situations ever emerge.

In the past 10 years, mobile phones have proven to be one of the largest humanitarian tools in their own right. A decade ago only the richest in Ghana, Indonesia, Guatemala, and many other nations across the world, could afford reliable health insurance and care.

Now thousands are protected with more and more signing up each day. Nearly anyone in the 14 developing countries that Bima covers can now afford hospice care, in-home doctor visits and financial safety in case the unthinkable strikes. Bima and services like it are helping to win the war against poverty one check-up at a time.

Joe Kitaj

Sources: Wired, BIMA
Photo: Pixnio

end_global_poverty
One of the greatest challenges facing developing nations in Africa is connectivity, connectivity to reliable sources of electricity, infrastructure and the world around them. But on the other hand, there are more people in Africa with cell phones than there are with toilets in their homes. And this fact, say some creative individuals, is the key to tackling poverty in Africa.

In 2009, the Grameen Foundation, an organization working to connect the world’s poor with vital knowledge resources, launched a program called the Community Knowledge Worker initiative. The initiative was designed to create a bridge between rural farmers and agricultural experts via a mobile phone connection. Oftentimes, these experts were other members of the local community who shared their knowledge with their peers.

Access to a mobile phone grants a rural farmer access to information resources beyond what they could find without. Not only can local farmers share tips and tricks, but even the most rural farmer can quickly Google pest treatments or look up the current market value of their crops.

Other people are utilizing programs like Mobile Midwife, a mobile-based program that helps connect midwives and patients. The program allows midwives to track appointments, access patient records and even schedule voicemail messages to be send out to patients each week.

Zoona, a social enterprise mobile banking company in Zambia, specializes in managing transactions for Africans without a bank account. In a country where roughly 85 percent of the population has never entered a bank, companies like Zoona stimulate greater money flow in a community by encouraging individuals to carry out transactions and by encouraging savings investments.

However, the boons of the smartphone revolution aren’t just material or economic. With more and more Africans utilizing smartphones, social networking sites are gaining ground quickly, connecting people from all across the continent. The growth in social media activity has been so rapid that social media giant Facebook has recently announced plans to open a headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Mobile phones open up a world of possibilities, even in the most rural and impoverished areas. Access to vast amounts of information, secure banking and social connectedness are changing the face of Africa and are giving poor nations a strong platform for growth.

– Gina Lehner

Sources: The Huffington Post, Grameen Foundation, AFK Insider
Photo: Flickr

How Mobile Phones Help the Poor
Mobile technology has been shown to have a tremendous effect in helping alleviate global poverty. Over six billion of the approximately seven billion people in the world have access to mobile phones, as shown in a 2014 UNESCO report. By 2016, it is estimated that there will be one billion mobile phones in Africa. Such widespread access opens up a window of opportunity to utilize mobile technology as an instrument in improving the lives of users in developing countries.

According to UN Millennium Project Director Jeffrey Sachs, cell phones are the key instrument in transforming poverty-stricken lives.

“Poverty is almost equated with isolation in many places of the world,” he said, as quoted in a CNN article. “Poverty results from the lack of access to markets, to emergency health services, access to education, the ability to take advantage of government services and so on. What the mobile phone — and more generally IT technology — is ending is that kind of isolation in all its different varieties.”

From the educational sphere to the economy, access to mobile technology has already significantly improved the lives of many across various aspects of life.

 

4 Ways Mobile Phones Help the Poor

Literacy and education
Where there are no books, there are still mobile phones. Utilizing mobile technology is one of the easiest ways to increase literacy rates simply because phones are already in the hands of members of developing nations. Mobile reading provides a much cheaper and more convenient alternative to reading from books. While cell phones cannot teach users how to read, they are shown to significantly increase literacy retention rates. Several mobile applications and programs exist to increase access to mobile reading in the developing world. Programs such as MobiLiteracy Uganda provide parents with daily reading activities to complete with their children via audio SMS so that illiterate parents can still work to improve their children’s literacy. It is not necessary for users to own smartphones because even the cheapest mobile models allow access to mobile reading.

Agriculture
Mobile technology has completely transformed the lives of farmers in developing nations, as it allows them access to market prices without the timely concession of long-distance traveling to faraway markets. Additionally, access to weather information can help farmers prepare for in-climate conditions that may affect their crops. Several mobile applications exist to provide farmers with information about nearby markets and prices, mapping to potential clients, feeding schedules for cattle and local veterinary information.

Banking
Millions of Africans utilize mobile technology as a banking instrument. Since 2007, Safaricom and Vodafone’s M-PESA application has allowed users to store funds on their mobile decides in order to transfer funds to other users, pay bills, or make other purchases. In 2009, a 10th of Kenya’s GDP was being circulated via M-PESA. Former Safaricom CEO Michael Joseph noted that mobile technology has been transformative for the informal business sector, which comprises about 70 percent of jobs in Kenya. This increase has been instrumental in helping surge GDP rates throughout the developing world.

Health
Mobile phones allow endless distribution of health resources, which has led to the development of mHealth, or mobile health, programs. Field workers can use their mobile devices to work with experts to determine what conditions are treatable at a local level and what patients need to be transported to a hospital. This increased communication saves time and money and also helps to ensure appropriate treatment. Text messages have also shown to be vital in communicating stock levels of medications and resources in remote locations. Additionally, public health organizations have organized text message campaigns to increase preventative habits against fatal diseases.

– Arin Kerstein

Sources: CNN, Fortune, National Geographic, UNESCO, USAID,
Photo: Sustainable Brands

Digital Poverty
The digital age has improved quality of life for many people around the world. The digital era has become a great asset to today’s world and has helped with business, community and even the economy. However, as prevalent as technology has become, there are still many countries that live with little or no access to technology; limited access means limited benefits. Among those countries living in what is called digital poverty, they are, more often than not, developing nations. So, what is digital poverty exactly and how does it affect the economy?

“Digital poverty is the inability to use IT, either due to the lack of access or due to the lack of skills,” said Thierry Geiger, co-editor of the Global Information Technology Report. “It is really a form of poverty because without digital access, without digital skills, you cannot tap into the huge potential of technology to improve your lives and create opportunities.”

 

Digital Poverty and Economic Growth

 

There’s an apparent link between countries with slow economic growth and limited access to technology, which results in digital poverty, according to a new report. The Global Information Technology Report for 2015 stated that only a minority of the world’s population has internet access; meaning, the economic and even social benefits that arise from being digitally involved are not reached. Approximately 39 percent of the world’s population has access to the internet. Additionally, many of the nations that do not have access to technology are failing to address digital poverty as a means to end poverty in general. Invoking simple, technology-focused reforms can not only help develop the economy, but boost productivity as well. Technology can also help improve education, communication and business practices.

According to Geiger, technology has a powerful impact on economies, especially those which are struggling to sustain their country’s needs. Digital poverty affects nations’ unemployment rates, increases inequalities and financial demands, particularly in countries with emerging and developing economies. In order to help in economic growth, countries need to establish a more advanced, digitally acquainted population.

Geiger also emphasized that the notion that technology is prevalent around the world is actually a myth because only a small percentage of the world’s population has access to technology. According to the report, out of 143 nations, among the top countries that have access to technology and use it as means for communication and economic impact are Singapore, United States, Norway, United Kingdom, Sweden, Japan, Netherlands and Finland. Additionally, the countries that have minimal access includes Yemen, Haiti, Burundi, Madagascar and Angola.

There are also countries that have made significant improvements in technological developments. The report revealed that among the countries that ranked high in development include Latvia, Macedonia, El Salvador and Armenia. The report reveals that those countries that utilize technologies have improved their economies by 20 percent, compared to 10 percent in nations who have not.

Aside from government actions and reforms, the population needs to be willing to become part of the digital world. Governments and content developers producing better and more relevant content can help with the job market, people’s income in particular. Providing the people with an incentive to advocate for technological advancements can help bring nations closer to the digital age. As countries become more digitally acquainted, digital poverty will decrease and in the process, more people will begin to see an increase in economic growth and a reduction in poverty rates.

– Nada Sewidan

Sources: VOA News, WE Forum
Photo: Flickr

mHero
With more and more people in danger of contracting Ebola, officials believe that information is key to preventing the spread of the disease. Mobile phones and new technologies such as mHero (Health Worker Electronic Response and Outreach) are now playing a big role in the fight against Ebola.

Even in some of the poorest regions, many people have access to mobile phones. Because of the presence of mobile phone users, data scientists believe that this may be the easiest and most efficient way to distribute health information to people in West Africa. Officials are now using phones to collect activity data from citizens in disease-prone areas.

Mobile data allows organizations like the CDC to determine where citizens are making the most health service calls and therefore the best locations to assemble treatment centers. The data has also helped officials with traveler screening in order to prevent the spread of Ebola.

Additionally, user data has played a large role in helping to track population movements and foresee how the virus might spread. In the past, analysts only had access to on-the-ground surveys and police and hospital reports to determine the movement of diseases. However, mobile data has been a tremendous help in tracking Ebola and predicting its movement. Many believe that this is the most effective way to keep Ebola contained.

mHero is a new form of communication for Ministry of Health personnel that uses mobile phones to send important information to healthcare workers. The system works by releasing text message reports on Ebola diagnosis, treatment and prevention in addition to caretaker safety information. mHero also allows those working on the frontline and in remote areas to stay in contact and receive important Ebola updates.

mHero provides instantaneous access to health workforce data such as mobile phone numbers. “Officials can use mHero to conduct real-time monitoring, complex multi-path surveys and detailed analyses,” says IntraHealth Technical Advisor, Amanda Puckett. mHero launched in Liberia last month and currently has over 8,000 Ministry of Health members connected through its system.

Healthcare workers are also beginning to use mobile phones for interactive voice response technology. Systems such as these allow for higher user content limits and also provide solutions for literacy and language barriers that many healthcare workers face in foreign nations.

Mobile phones and technology are extremely beneficial tools that have been helping citizens and healthcare workers in the fight against Ebola. Researchers hope that this technology combined with other current methods will help to prohibit the spread of the virus and to provide infected patients with necessary care.

– Meagan Douches

Sources: The Guardian, VITAL, BBC