Staying on the main road or taking another path may still lead to the same place

roadI have tried many times to begin a new journey and diverge from education technology in Africa.  Yet whatever path I go on, it leads me right back to the main road of working with teachers in Africa.

I trained teachers in Mombasa from 2010-2013 on using technology in education.  I read an article this week entitled  “285 Mombasa Teachers Trained on ICT.” I even tweeted the article.

I was hoping that “our” teachers were the trainers for the roll-out of that program.  I knew that these teachers had at one point been working MOE in becoming master trainers, but that was quite awhile ago.

I received this from a teacher at a primary school in Mombasa that same day I sent the tweet:
“Hi Jodi, hope all is well. Right now we are training teachers on integration because the government is soon rolling out the laptop project here in Kenya. We miss those days you trained us. We wish you’d come back.”

It says it all why I do what I do.  I may veer off on different paths to explore options for using new tools and techniques.  However, I always end up back to that main road where it takes me home to work with teachers in Africa.


Not how? or what? but why? @ Coders4Africa event

My First Sketchnote

I had a conversation this week with a colleague from Africa who talked about creating videos to demonstrate specific skills and showing them on tablets.  He described it as innovative.  I had to break the news to him that videos on tablets is not innovative.  What is innovative is why the technology is used, how it is used and what is value added.

I recently attended an event of Coders4Africa on August 9, 2014.  Sessions were on tools, content, entrepreneurs, jobs.  What I Ioved most was through all the sessions – and remember, the majority were technical people – was that they always referred back to why? they were using the technology.  Even the few sessions on what were latest tools and technologies , the how? part,  came back to the why? and/or what?

Simon Sinek spoke about “How great leaders inspire action.”   They inspire action due to what he calls the “golden circle.”  Every organization knows “what?” they do.  Some organizations know “how?” they do it.  Very few organizations know “why?”  they do it.  Making money is a result.  It is not why you do it.  It’s a purpose, cause or belief.  It is why the organization exists.

Why do some organizations exist?  In the talk by David Ross on UX, he shared with us Freckle’s manifesto:  “Good software is cheerful software: it behaves cheerfully, and it leaves you cheerful, too. ”  Freckle knows why?   There must be smiley faces everywhere there.

Let’s apply the golden circle to technology.  People may know how? to use the technology.  People even know what? tools to use.  But do people know why? they are using the technology.  For what purpose?  What value does it add?  What problem are you solving?

The following are my random thoughts, concepts and ideas that I took away from the event in regards to what? how? and why?

Ali Kone:  What is  the intersection of business, design and technology?  What is the intersection of what is viable, desirable and feasible?

Kwane Andah: Think of digital analytics as what? people are doing vs. why? is it happening?

Amadou Daffe: There are problems that we are trying to solve in Africa but what is actually adding value?  Coders4Africa has the .org side to support and train coders and grow a coders’ community. Once they found the developers, the .com side now builds software that provide practical solutions.

With money from Google, they worked with girls in Senegal.  Sure , they taught them Python, Android, HTML, but first, the girls had to identify a problem and then they learned to build a solution for it.  Why?

Aaron Sanders: Technology is just a way to solve business problems.  Focus on solving the problem.  An innovation economy is about solving problems.

At the end of the day, if noone uses what you created, it did not solve a problem. You will want to change or if  ideas that don’t work here, maybe they could be disruptive in other places.

As a corollary, I would add it could be a problem that people did not know that they had.  Now where have we seen this?

Technology and Content Relevant to Africa panel: What motivates people is how you define the content.  If you want change, people have to react to what you are doing. Why would people want to use it?

Senam Beheton:  What is it that we bring to market to help people and change lives locally?

Startup Deep Dive panel:  To begin, have enough resources to add value to a few customers.

Sir Fazle Abed, BRAC’s 78-year-old founder and chairperson, explained in a NY Times article, The Power, and Process, of a Simple Solution, that management and monitoring systems have to be in place before scaling up:  “Some NGOs don’t have processes and systems.” Organizations have to be “effective and efficient and then you expand.”

It applies to businesses, too.  People want to attack a huge space, but they don’t have enough resources.  You only need enough resources to add value to a few customers to start.

Chika Umeadi: Competition brings innovation.  Vet your idea against others.
Ask other people if they fall in love with your idea.

For me, it goes back to the golden circle.   Technology is simply a tool to solve a problem.  Why would people would want to use the technology?  Why should that product, idea, content exist?  What is its purpose?  What is its value?  That is where to begin.

First Generation African

There is no place like home.
There is no place like home.

Someone called me that the other day after I told her the number of years that I have lived and worked in Africa. She is African and has spent many years living and working in the States.  She has returned to Africa, leading the Africa division of global technology company.

We both ask the question: “Where do I belong?”  She has many friends who have also spent years in other countries. They ask the same question.

“I am living at home but the other place is home, too.”
“I miss home. Which home am I referring to?”

I have days where I yearn for Africa after living back in the States now for a few years. I recently went to Zambia and Malawi for work. I was so happy to be back on the continent.

She called me first generation African. I loved it. It fits. Never heard that expression before. You hear first generation American all the time. But first generation Africa? Really? Can it be a trend?

Whatever it is, it is a way that connects me to another place that was and still feels like home.