More than meets the eye: In conversation with Mark Kaigwa

Mark Kaigwa is a digital strategist, consultant, speaker, writer and self-proclaimed ”power networker.” Nairobi-based Mark makes it his business to keep absolutely up to date with the developments of the technology and communications sectors and uses his expert knowledge to help businesses, start-ups and non-profits to launch into the thrilling environment of African entrepreneurialism. Ahead of his keynote speech at eLearning Africa 2013, we interrupted his busy schedule to get some insider tips from the very heart of Kenya’s thriving technology scene.

By Alicia Mitchell

So, what makes Africa buzz like nowhere else? Kaigwa has no doubt about the answer:

“The one central point that everything revolves around is the mobile phone.” Currently standing at 750,000,000, African mobile subscriptions are set to hit one billion by 2015.[i]  “The role that [mobile] plays in accelerating or changing the landscape for people is the most important part of the equation … mobile penetration is one of the things that distinguishes this market.”

One of the most globally known mobile success stories to come out of Africa in recent years is M-pesa,Safaricom’s mobile-phone-based microfinancing and money-transfer service. Kaigwa himself has spoken widely on the M-pesa revolution, which saw Kenyans transferring an average of US$1.4 billion each month in 2012.[ii] M-pesa is an innovative answer to specific African circumstances and a great story of Kenyan tech success. So, what’s the next big thing?

Nairobi has been creating an international name for itself as a hotspot for game-changing initiatives such as the iHubm:lab, and Nailab, and this, says Mark, is indicative of where the Continent is headed. “[Mpesa] is owned by a large corporate organisation … so it’s not the best example of what innovation looks like. Innovation doesn’t necessarily happen in the corridors or boardrooms of organisations like Safaricom: We should expect and anticipate innovation from the hubs, labs, and accelerators.”

Although there are many fantastic projects out there, Mark insists that the real story is an atmosphere of change with a unique African context. “In the seven years that M-pesa has been around, we’ve seen a transformation that’s led to an influx of incredible talent and the entrenchment of user-centred design here. Now people don’t come with preconceived notions and a blueprint made in Boston or San Francisco.

“We have hundreds, if not thousands, of pilot projects: health, manufacturing, 3D printing, education … you name it. Some last a year, two years, or three years, and some are past proof of concept – saying ‘yes, we can scale this’. The more you have an atmosphere where things like this are happening, the higher the likelihood that you’re not going to get an M-pesa, but something greater and possibly in a field or sector that needs it the most.”

Mark points to the two sides of the famed Kenyan tech scene that are contributing to its high profile. “There’s the organic side, and then there’s the more high-level side. The Kenyan tech scene, Africa’s so-called ‘Silicon Savanah-to-be’, is a promising market, but we have more than meets the eye.”

The construction of the Konza Techno City, the Kenyan government’s focus on ICT and local content, and sustained efforts to raise support and encourage large businesses and blue-chip companies to come into the country are only half of a bigger picture. [Read more about Kenyan ICT policy and leadership here.

“The other is the more organic side of the coin, with hubs and labs investing in entrepreneurs and the very early stages of start-ups. It’s creating an atmosphere where great talent is growing and thriving; good ideas and strong problems are being turned into business opportunities; and investors are finding out what it takes to get involved in an African country.

“People assume that it’s more of the high-level stuff that makes change happen. I really believe, though, that it’s the organic stuff, initiated by the community and on the fringes – the stuff that might not have been on the government’s radar previously. This is what’s really going to transform our country and the rest of the East African region, if not the whole Continent.”

Later this month, Kaigwa will be speaking on African self-reliance at the BMZ’s (the German Federal Ministry for Economic and Cooperation Development) second Future Forum in Berlin.

What role does he see for international government and investors in Africa?

“There’s plenty of room, plenty of problems and plenty of challenges that are going to need smart people to tackle them.

“We are in a very unique place, but you can never stop learning, especially with how far we still have to go. Shared experiences, in both directions, set the tone for sharing ideas and potential partnerships. We can learn what we have in common and what we don’t, and I might discover what I have to learn from the Berlin scene, and Nairobi could probably teach Berlin a thing or two as well.

“However, sometimes I feel that dealing with governments can be very high level: a lot of handshakes, exchanging of flags and books, and that’s awesome. But what does the ecosystem have to gain? What are the incentives for a Kenyan entrepreneur to work with a developer based in Berlin? … Is there an incentive for working together and forging partnerships? What’s the government doing to make it easier for this to happen?”

And finally, what is the secret behind Mark’s prolific personal success?

“I’ve understood some essentials about good communication and branding and have taken some of those concepts to invest in my own personal brand by really connecting with entrepreneurs (young and old) and with investors. I set out to meet people and make an impression.

“The exposure part has been a continuous experiment. Nothing is written in stone. History is ahead of you, and it’s up to you to make it. With this mindset, there is no problem with making mistakes. Fear of failure and rejection is diminished because no one else has set the expectation for you to fall below. You set your own expectations.”

Mark Kaigwa will be giving a keynote speech at the Wednesday evening opening plenary session of eLearning Africa 2013. To find out more about the Conference, please visit

Mark Kaigwa on Twitter:

Update from Tariq Khokar on Open Data news from the World Bank

Tariq, who must have one of the coolest job titles at the World Bank (he's their official Open Data Evangelist), posted the following remarkable update to Facebook today. I am impressed, and recommend all four links to Kabissa members seeking to understand and use World Bank Open Data relevant to Africa and the whole world. If you contact their helpdesk and get interesting answers, let us know about them here!  

On the plane back to DC from SFO and feeling very proud of my World Bank Data colleagues who are launching a number of superb products today, if you'll indulge me, my top 4:

1) The 2013 World Development Indicators (WDI): now in an "online first' form with a streamlined print edition to wet your appetite / slam down on a desk with the conviction that comes from being informed by most trusted facts on global development. 

2) The WDI Data Finder Mobile Apps: - a suite of cross-platform, multi-lingual products that get better with every iteration making it easy to access data wherever you are and if you're brave, still slam down on a desk with conviction.

3) The New World Bank Open Data Catalog: - this is really the backbone of the Bank's Open Data Initiative - over a hundred databases from across the institution that cover dozens of topics and geographies, now searchable and all available free for anyone to use and re-use.

4) The New Work Bank Data Helpdesk: - our team answers over 500 queries a month from users wanting to know more about our data or get help using it. This new knowledge base and discussion space make it easier for people to find answers and share their ideas. 

And if that weren't enough, our friends from the World Bank Group Finances Open Data team just announced they've opened a bunch of data from the International Finance Corporation (IFC):

Hope you enjoy them. I'm going to spend the rest of this flight editing some videos... but more on that next week.

Le Social Learning, filière d’avenir pour les jeunes africains

Tableaux noirs, stylos et papiers, professeurs jonchés sur leur estrade,  l’ère de l’éducation traditionnelle constitue-t-elle encore la norme ? Ou au contraire, laisse-t-elle la place à un nouveau mode de transmission des savoirs plus interactif ? Pour répondre à cette interrogation, l’équipe d’eLearning Africa s’est attachée à décrypter et cerner la tendance du Social Learning.

The 5th Global Forum on Innovation & Technology Entrepreneurship



infoDev and South Africa's Department of Science and Technology present

May 28-30, 2013 | East London, South Africa

Meet with the Global Forum community and benefit from the experience of business leaders, powerful networks, and learning sessions on mobile, climate, and agribusiness innovation, as well as business incubation best practices.

infoDev, a global innovation partnership within the World Bank, and South Africa's Department of Science and Technology cordially invite you to the Global Forum on Innovation & Technology Entrepreneurship on May 28-30, 2013, in East London, South Africa. The Forum will facilitate learning, business matchmaking, strategy, and knowledge sharing, with a special focus on the needs of African entrepreneurs and innovators:

Join interactive sessions on mobile innovation, agribusiness, clean technologies, and women's entrepreneurship.

Participate in a business incubation training program just before the Global Forum, an entrepreneurs fair exhibiting SMEs and startups, as well as site visits exploring South Africa's innovation landscape.

Celebrate inspiring entrepreneurs from developing countries at infoDev's Dragons Den pitching competition and meet financiers, business incubator managers, industry leaders, policymakers, members of the media, and donor representatives.

For more information about the Global Forum, key program highlights, registration, and logistics, please visit:

eLearning Africa 2013 - Evénements de préconférence

Participez à l’un des ateliers pré-conférence ou à un séminaire le 29 mai afin d’améliorer vos connaissances pratiques, avoir un aperçu des experts internationaux et nouer des contacts avec d’autres professionnels.

Les ateliers et séminaires comprennent notamment « Pôles de technologies innovantes en Afrique : créer des opportunités pour l'apprentissage via les pairs et l'échange de connaissances » de GIZ qui explorera les meilleures pratiques  en termes de hubs innovants et durables ; « Blogging pratique innovant et collaboration en ligne pour le développement », événement durant lequel les participants apprendront les manières pragmatiques et novatrices de partager des informations en ligne » ainsi que « Conception de l'apprentissage libre : repenser notre enseignement pour les apprenants Africains de demain » où chacun prendra en main les outils et techniques essentiels pour concevoir des cours éducatifs efficaces.

Les places sont strictement limitées. Réservez donc dès aujourd’hui la vôtre afin de vous assurer d’être là. 

eLearning Africa 2013 - Pre-Conference Events

Take part in an optional pre-conference workshop or seminar on 29th May to enhance your practical knowledge, gain insight from leading international experts and network with like-minded professionals. Workshops and seminars include GIZ’s “Technology Innovation Hubs in Africa: Creating Opportunities for Peer Learning and Knowledge Exchange”, which will explore best practice in sustainably creating and expanding innovation hubs; “Practical Innovative Blogging and Online Group Collaboration for Development”, in which participants will learn practical and innovative ways of sharing information online; and “Learning Design in the Open: Rethinking Our Courses for Tomorrow’s African Learners”, where participants will gain key tools and techniques for designing effective and educational courses.

Places are strictly limited, so secure your spot today to ensure you don’t miss out. 

No dumping allowed

IClassroom Get Downn January this year the eLearning Africa news service reported on the progress being made towards the impending Millennium Development Goal (MGD) deadline and highlighted the worrying trend of prioritising quantity over quality in efforts to reach the target of universal primary education by 2015. New eLearning technologies offer the tantalising potential to spread high-quality education across the developing world. This could be an answer to the problem, but it is never a simple case of ‘just add ICT’.

By Alicia Mitchell

Examining eHealth in Africa

Whether they are collating data on disease, monitoring health trends, combating misinformation or facilitating cooperation between medical centres, African eHealth initiatives are leading the way towards higher standards of living and health on the Continent. With eLearning Africa 2013 set to subject eHealth to a detailed examination, the news service explored a few initiatives that offer a promising prognosis for Africa’s health sector.

By Matthew Labrooy

Africa’s smartphone revolution

Smartphone use in Africa is on the rise, and major mobile makers and distributors are starting to pay attention to the emerging African market by producing devices that cater to the needs of the developing region. How will increased smartphone use revolutionise the way education takes place in Africa?

By Matthew Labrooy

Storytelling yesterday, today and tomorrow

A poet, singer, historian, musician, comedian, an entertainer, an archive. The griot is all these things and more. Through storytelling and music, the griot has shared and maintained the identities and histories of communities in West Africa for centuries. Oral culture on the African continent has persisted when elsewhere in the world it has all but vanished. But with shifting populations and the rise of digital entertainment, who will continue to weave these stories around the fireside, and who will be there to listen?

By Alicia Mitchell

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