Silicon Savannah

About the social impact of the most innovative and entrepreneurial region in Africa
Friday, July 1, 2016 to Sunday, July 31, 2016

Introduction: from startups to social enterprises

From the Californian Silicon Valley, I flew directly into the African Silicon Savanna. This reputation just recently emerged in and around Nairobi due to its high innovation and global impact. Especially the high density of mobile networks and phones, allows for countless new social and technology startups. Driven by young and courageous entrepreneurs and supported by international investors, a dynamic startup scene was formed. I came here to experience this progress first hand.

Bootcamps: training for real life, not for the paper

The first thing that stroke me, were the many places to learn new skills. Countless organisations promise to educate and empower people. Most of these projects were initiated by westerners, who wants to share their privilege with others. Some projects select unexperienced teenagers from the Kibera slum to train and mentor. Others provide a more specialised education for competing candidates. A third group is just teaching basic life skills and building up self-esteem. Every single organisation I visited, impressed me by their engagement. All of them contribute to a successful and happy society of tomorrow.

Incubators: getting together and getting inspired

As in San Francisco, there are many startup hubs and co-working spaces. These are locations that promote exceptional innovation and creativity. Besides providing an everyday workplace, they also organise networking events to connect likeminded people. Due to my heavy travel activities, I only visited a few of those places and events. Nevertheless, I met some great minds with truly inspiring ideas and projects.

Startup Life: trying new ideas and going new ways

Being a startup, you often have to try and prove your concept. It is very refreshing to see, how much more courageous entrepreneurs in Africa are in comparison to Europe. On one hand, they often just have to go all in because they do not have another chance. On the other side, the investment costs are lower and people do not care so much about failure. Whereas in Europe, a failed entrepreneur is ridiculed and despised. Here, people are not held accountable, move on and try the next thing. Out of a necessity, innovation is faster and more experimental.

Entrepreneurs: everybody has a (side) business

Hustling and bargaining are deeply rooted in the Kenyan culture. The growing consumerism makes life more expensive and often requires an additional income. For some time, I was living with a Kenyan couple. Both having a good job, but also subleasing a room and renting an extra car to an uber driver. Every small job is performed by an entrepreneur: buying and selling (westerner’s) second-hand cloths on the street, cleaning shoes, driving a Boda Boda (moped) – even the Matatu (bus) driver and conductor are entrepreneurs!

Clean Energy: using the sun to enlighten the homes

Getting back to the industry, that brought me to Kenya in the first place. Solar, wind and water power are on the advance. From the smallest solar study-lamp to industrial sized solar parks, I have encountered a variety of projects. My concern, however, was the production and distribution of pay-as-you-go solar lanterns and home systems for the rural population. With great interest and in awe, I followed all the steps from the assembly line to the point of sales at rural markets. My engagement was a small contribution to enlighten millions of low-income homes.

Social Impact: helping others while enjoying the ride

Many westerners were coming to Africa to do something good for the people. As the history has shown quite impressively, not every method is really helpful. I have witnessed a very positive shift from large-scale investments to more personal engagements. Even local people have become more aware and interested in the wellbeing of their fellow citizens. A dear Kenyan friend is mentoring a bunch of girls in her spare time. The world is slowly enjoying the path to a bright future.

Summary: still trying to find the best approach

With Angaza and iCow, I was able to support two extraordinary projects. After living in Kenya and spending so much time in the field, I am convinced of any engagement that empowers the people and reduces dependencies. The entrepreneurial approach is working well to create more jobs and opportunities. But in the long run, the state and social system needs significant improvements.

I am grateful and thankful to everybody who is engaged in making the world a better place.

My waypoints on this journey

Newlight Africa - bringing clean solar light to millions of rural homes through chama saving groups
bringing clean solar light to millions of rural homes through chama saving groups
SunKing - following the energy officers of a global solar distributor on their daily adventure
following the energy officers of a global solar distributor on their daily adventure
EcoFinder - social engagement for sustainable farming and living at the board of Lake Victoria
social engagement for sustainable farming and living at the board of Lake Victoria
booking.com (at iHub) - meeting and learning from the maker of my favourite online travel platform
meeting and learning from the maker of my favourite online travel platform
Tunapanda Institute - visiting one of the most impressive and impactful tech schools in the world
visiting one of the most impressive and impactful tech schools in the world
Kibera Girls Soccer Academy - getting an unique tour through the slums of Kibera to the free school for girls
getting an unique tour through the slums of Kibera to the free school for girls
Nairobi Garage - checking out one of the many melting pots of creativity and innovation
checking out one of the many melting pots of creativity and innovation
Solinc - rare manufacturing (assembly) plant for solar panels and home systems in Kenya
rare manufacturing (assembly) plant for solar panels and home systems in Kenya
iCow - information service to educate and empower farmers using basic mobile phones
information service to educate and empower farmers using basic mobile phones
moringa school - getting inspired by an aspiring school for high class software developers
getting inspired by an aspiring school for high class software developers
ROCK: Reaching Out with Compassion in Kibera - helping a bunch of witty teenager to focus and learn on a Sunday afternoon
helping a bunch of witty teenager to focus and learn on a Sunday afternoon
Angaza Kenya - improving technology for the world while having fun with a great team!
improving technology for the world while having fun with a great team!
The Foundry - great place to work, getting things done or just hang out with colleagues
great place to work, getting things done or just hang out with colleagues
BrightLife by FINCA - performing a usability test with great sales agents for clean energy products
performing a usability test with great sales agents for clean energy products
EdTech Demo Day - solutions and ideas on how to improve education in Africa using technology
solutions and ideas on how to improve education in Africa using technology
Yusudi - personal mentoring for young professionals, lead by two young and inspiring women
personal mentoring for young professionals, lead by two young and inspiring women
United Nations - having lunch and a private tour with a new Swiss friend from Nairobi
having lunch and a private tour with a new Swiss friend from Nairobi
Honey Care Africa - producing innovative and natural products with a sustainable impact
producing innovative and natural products with a sustainable impact
Kytabu - building cutting edge learning software for the classroom of tomorrow
building cutting edge learning software for the classroom of tomorrow
Africa Digital Media Institute - meeting Africa's creative multimedia creators and producers of tomorrow
meeting Africa's creative multimedia creators and producers of tomorrow
Andela - hunting for talents and training world class software developers in Africa
hunting for talents and training world class software developers in Africa
BRCK - learning more about mobile internet and education solutions at the source
learning more about mobile internet and education solutions at the source
amani institute - educating global citizens for social innovation and change in Kenya, Nairobi
educating global citizens for social innovation and change in Kenya, Nairobi
Jazza Centre - recruiting, educating and placing Domestic Assistants all over Kenya
recruiting, educating and placing Domestic Assistants all over Kenya