Thursday, 4 July 2013

Exciting insights from eLearning Africa 2013!

I had the privilege recently to represent iLab  at the eLearning Africa 2013, which was the 8th International Conference on ICT for Development, Education and Training held in beautiful Windhoek, the capital of Namibia.

ELearning Africa 2013 brought together 1480 participants from 65 countries gather in Windhoek for three days of learning, knowledge exchange and networking. The Continent’s largest gathering of eLearning and ICT-supported education and training professionals, eLearning Africa brought together over 300 speakers from across Africa and the world to explore the latest innovations and issues in the fields of technology and education.

Getting me to Namibia to attend eLA 2013 was bit of a hassle because I needed to get a  visa for South Africa in Accra, Ghana then get the Namibian visa in Pretoria, South Africa, but the dynamic and hardworking team of iLab applied all efforts and time to make that happen.

There were two major missions in sight as headed out to Namibia.

1. To represent iLab Liberia at the second gathering of the Afrilabs, a Pre-eLA 2013 conference workshop (Technology Innovation Hubs in Africa: Creating Opportunities for Peer Learning and Knowledge Exchange), which was organised and sponsored by GIZ.

2. To attend the actual eLA 2013 conference.

Africa now has several innovation hubs. iLab and these other hubs serve as business incubators, meeting places for the local IT-community and points of knowledge exchange. Although there are different types of spaces, but we all represent powerful opportunities for social innovation and community empowerment. A common challenge for many of our spaces is creating a sustainable business model that enables us to work independently and plan for the future. This pre-conference event was intended to strengthen the co-operation between individual hubs, as well as GIZ and Afrilabs.
During the first half of the pre-conference workshop, as hub managers / employees, we were asked to share our experiences on community building strategies, connecting members and enabling peer learning in our hubs. We were also asked to present our different business models and approaches to attain independence and sustainability. Additionally, during the second half of the pre-conference workshop, we were given a task to develop a toolbox that would include ideas for replicable income streams and ways to implement them. The essence of developing the toolbox was to find ways to give answers to the question: How can all activities, including community building, help build sustainable replicable environments for local empowerment?

Way forward/ Action Points (Opportunities) emerging from the pre-conference workshop + bar camp.
  • We should work on the Intellectual Property (IP) and legal challenges.
  • Build strong mentorship structures.
  • Successfully embrace virtual incubation.
  • Collaborate with our governments with the involvement of Development Funding Agencies (DFA’s) in technology development for example laying their own internet cables like Kenya did to cut the costs, subsidizing ICT equipment etc.
  • We need to be supplementing some of our government’s agenda’s if we are to tap in some of their support. We should also categorize the investors for example, donors, government, foundations, business angles among others.
  • We can only get good external funding if our activities clearly define “what is a hub?” in terms of what we do, the kind partnerships we are looking for, and most importantly the success stories we produce.
  • We categorized our revenue models into the activities that our hubs were good at and we highlighted;
    • Desk rental services
    • Donors, seed funders
    • Technology Philanthropists like the Geek Development Fund & Savanah Fund in Namibia
    • Banks, Small SME loans, Partners e.g. GIZ, CCL, Universities, Google, Dell, Microsoft
    • Consultancy and ISP partnership e.g. iHub in Kenya.
    • Local entrepreneurs e.g. Private Sector Federation, Rwanda Development Board.
  • Work on Hub profiles:
  • Statement of path to sustainability – develop prototypes of revenues models that can guide new hub entrants.
  • Shared amplification of AfriLabs using the Media Machine as double edged sword for example news channels, news papers, magazines, T.V and Radio shows but being conscious about cons international media. Hub managers should blog about their Hub activities and community activities.
    Key Points about growing our hub communities:
    We should have activities that are tagged to the community challenges and keep the hub open to society. It doesn’t have to be techie’s only. (Jessica-iHub, Kenya). Have events running frequently and ensure to make them practical. Something that will keep the participants engaged all throughout the entire activity. (Mohammad-Ice Cairo). Have a good set of planners (events management at the hub). Have a web platform for continuous communication between the community, event facilitators and the hub management as well.
    We got a representative from ECOWAS in one of the Bar Camps, his remarks were: Ministries wanted to work with youth that were good at content development for example youth entrepreneurs, developers of animations that reflect the true value of the African Continent.

At the conference, I had the opportunity to attend the followings:

1. The opening plenary: Learning and Innovation: In the Cloud and on the Ground with a Spirit of Ubuntu which chaired by Honorable Minister Joel Kaapanda, Minister of Information and Communication Technologies, Republic of Namibia.

2. Promoting Innovation in Africa Through Free and Open Source Technology. This session chaired by John Matogo, Strathmore University, Kenya, Geraldine de Bastion, Germany and Joris Komen, FOSSFA, Namibia. The speakers shared their past five years experience of using free and open source software to create learning environments, as well as business opportunities in Africa.

3. Technology Innovation Hubs in Africa: This interactive session focused on how many of the innovation hubs in Africa go beyond start-up incubation and are actively supporting peer learning, community engagement and education. Finding sustainable ways to finance hubs and how can individual hubs network and cooperate. I actually served as on of the panelists during this session.

4. eLearning Africa Debate: Innovation and sustainable; which is more important for education in Africa? Participants were given the chance along with the panelists to point out if priority for education in Africa be Innovation or sustainability. In the end, the house that believes that more emphasis should be placed on Innovation won the debate.

As stated by the organizers, I do concur that ELearning Africa conferences are the key networking events for ICT-enhance education and training in Africa. It is a must those who want to develop multinational and cross-industry contacts and partnerships, as well as enhance their knowledge, expertise and abilities. The hub for first-hand information and real-life examples of how ICT advances the cause of education for all in Africa. Decision makers and practitioners from the education, business and government sectors, with 80% coming from Africa. And amazingly the conference is accompanied by extensive and exhibition and demonstrations.

Overall, eLA 2013 was a great learning and networking experience for me and I also found some time to have fun and explore beautiful Windhoek.

eLearning Africa 2014 will be held in Kampala, Uganda from May 28th -30th.

Friday, 11 May 2012

iLab’s New Course teaches Liberians to have a Global online voice

Technology is all around us.

iLab Liberia is at the forefront of educating Liberians on various information and communication technologies.  With the help of iLab’s Quickstart Website Training, Liberians are now gaining the skills needed to contribute to global conversations and create an online presence.

The Quickstart Website training is a week-long course that introduces participants to WordPress and how to use WordPress to create websites and blogs.

The major challenge we identified before teaching this course is that participants need to first have basic computer skills before being able to use WordPress. So we screened participants by using a basic computer test to determine if they were well suited for the course.

However, we noticed that passing the basic computer test didn’t guarantee that participants could do well in the Quick-start website training. We now plan to incorporate a more comprehensive evaluation for the next course that will not only test their basic computer skills, but also their proficiency in using the web.

With the help of this course, iLab hopes to see more Liberians being proactive in creating their own voice.

Luther Jeke
Training Director

Friday, 23 March 2012

My ICCM Geneva Experience

I just returned from attending the International Conference on Crisis Mapping in Geneva Switzerland and I just thought it wise to tell you a little about how it all happened.

On June 2, 2011, while at work, my boss Kate Cummings asked the entire staff of Ushahidi Liberia to apply to the World Bank for a sponsorship to attend the International Conference on Crisis Mapping (ICCM) that would be hosted in Geneva, Switzerland. We all did accordingly and sent in our applications for sponsorship. Fortunately, on July 21, I received a letter back from the World Bank saying I had been selected as one of the three candidates from Africa to attend the Conference. I then started to follow all the next steps they proposed and completed all my requirements for their sponsorship. Though I received my visa at the last minute on November 13, the day my flight was scheduled to leave but I still made the trip.

The interesting part is that I am 24 years of age and this was my first time being on a plane.
On the SN Brussels flight

It was also my first time going to Europe, seeing a more beautiful place than Liberia and feeling extremely cold weather. While on the SN Brussels plane I had a window seat, and I was enjoying the ride as I watched the scenery below. I saw the blinking city lights of Abidjan, Brussels and Munich while transiting there.

I almost lost my way in the Brussels airport because this was my first time seeing a big airport that had so many terminals, but I found my way out by asking people. It's always good to ask people whenever you are confused about a thing. Oh! Not to forget, the food on the planes was delicious and the flight attendants were wonderful, too.

When I arrived in Geneva on the morning of November 14, I couldnt find my friend Dave who had gone to pick me up at the airport, but I later found him standing with my name and Ushahidi logo on a computer screen. That also drew the attention of Ushahidis Erik Hersman who was also landing at the time. When we left the airport it was way too cold for me, as I had never experienced this kind of weather before. Luckily, my boss bought some hats and gloves for me before I left Liberia, so I immediately put those on.
Erik and I at Geneva Airport

While en route to the hotel the World Bank had booked for me, I had the opportunity to see beautiful buildings, clean and well laid-out streets, electric buses and a very organized city.

My experience in Geneva, though short, taught me a lot of things. French was the common language spoken and written and that complicated my communications a little bit. Luckily, I was not there alone, so I always had a good back up: Dave who would always tell peoplehe speaks only English, so please speak in English.

While at the conference I listened to great presentations from Adam Fink about the LRA Crisis Tracker, Christiaan Adams of Google, where he talked about Google Earth, Google Maps and Google Earth Builder, Laura Hudson of FrontlineSMS and others.

These talks gave me a new perspective that crisis mapping can help greatly in Liberia. From the amazing talks I heard at the ICCM about mobile technology, I believe that Crisis Mapping could become an important part of Liberia's emergency response and peacebuilding efforts because mobile technology is the most common means of reporting information here.
Apart from the conference, I was able to visit many important statues and places; the UN office, the World Bank office, the Catholic Archdiocese Geneva Headquarters, the old part of the city and also the famous water fountain (Jet d'Eau) at lake Geneva. I also had the opportunity spending one of my days there at the home of a Liberian lady named Krubo who had lived in Geneva for the past 20 years. At her home, she and I sang the national anthem of Liberia, talked a lot of Liberia and we also had a great dinner. 
At Lake Geneva
Geneva is an international city, seen by its different populations, enriched by their cultures and displayed by the variety of building architecture.
All in all, it was indeed a good learning experience for me and one to remember always.