Have you heard the story of Ushahidi? You should have. It’s the kind of inspirational story that gets made into a movie or documentary. Or both.
Ushahidi is a software company “offering products that enable local observers to submit reports using their mobile phones or the internet, while simultaneously creating a temporal and geospatial archive of events”. What would interest you though is the ways in which Ushahidi has been used, particularly in Africa.
The software first caught the public eye in the aftermath of the 2007/2008 presidential election crisis in Kenya. It was used to create websites to gather news and citizen generated reports of violent attacks. A year later, it was again used in South Africa to gather stories of xenophobic attacks. Since then, it has been used in Congo, Malawi, Uganda, and Zambia. There’s a detailed report by Forbes on it, if you’re interested.
But this post is not really about Ushahidi. Just the principle that helped it gain so much traction and put it on the world radar.
Here’s the principle. Stop me if you’ve heard it before, “Local solutions to a local problem using locally available tools will jumpstart any startup.” In fact, I dare say, that’s the formula for Africa’s long awaited “unicorn”.
Africa is a peculiar case study, and it’s not just the generally high amount of melanin in our skin.
Whether it was self inflicted or it was the western media that branded us with it, some problems are now synonymous with the tag, Africa. It’s maddening, I know. But it’s something that can be turned into an advantage. Like the sage once said, when life gives you lemons, you throw it out and go get soda. I don’t think I quoted that right…
Just as Ushahidi was able to go engage the public using simple, everyday solutions to solve an important African problem, ideas and startups that hope to jump the queue and get on the world radar need to remember that one rule as well.
And here are some things that we need solved right away, in no specific order (just incase you’re out of ideas):
Terrorism, government abuse of power, misappropriation of funds, malaria (can’t believe this is still an issue in 2015), weather prediction and early warning systems (and lack thereof), drought, general poverty, security, refugees, desertification… I could be here all day.
Take your pick, but remember:
“Checklist for African startups: 1. Solve a basic need, 2. Dumb it down, 3. Don’t compete with Silicon Valley.” http://t.co/ke9ETensP9
— Alan Knott-Craig (@alanknottcraig) September 9, 2015