UNDP Chief visits IT incubation centre in Kenya

13 May 2012

Africa is buzzing with innovative ideas, and some of them might just need the right space to develop and become a reality. That was the thinking behind iHub, a technological innovation centre in Kenya's capital Nairobi. iHub was developed by the people behind Ushahidi, a free software platform that was initially developed to map reports of violence during the 2008 elections in Kenya and has gained global recognition, partnering with the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to bring technology to other countries.

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark visited the centre ahead of the launch of the Africa Human Development Report on 15 May, along with a delegation of high-level UNDP officials including the Director for Africa, Tegegnework Gettu, and UN Resident Representative for Kenya, Aeneas Chuma.

“ICT is critical for lifting the productivity of business,” Helen Clark said during her visit. “There are all the advantages for education, for healthcare systems, for linking marginalized groups into the society. So every way you look at ICT, it is important for Africa.”

“Ushahidi is about telling your story... by mobile phone,” said the group's finance director Limo Taboi. “So whether it's about elections that are happening in your place [or] there's been an earthquake in your area, it's you and your mobile phone communicating.”

 “We're a very small company, about 20 people,” Taboi explained, “and election monitoring for example takes thousands of observers in a country, so what we do when we partner with an organization like the UN or UNDP, is that we focus on the software part and then leave the remaining 80% to them.” The founders now hope that other small start-ups could benefit from similar partnerships.

In Nairobi, brilliant minds that need space to think can use iHub in a number of ways, from a basic membership which allows access to information online and events, to a membership that provides full access to iHub’s office space and its facilities.
 
Using iHub’s office space is cheaper than renting your own office space, 28-year-old Nivi Mukherjee discovered when she developed e-Limu, an application that gives students access to quality learning materials. She won this year's InMobi Prize for best application.

“The three things that we cannot ignore in our educational agenda are play, creativity, and fun and that’s what e-Limu set out to do,” said Mukherjee, explaining that current educational strategies are often too institution-focused, rather than focusing more on students and their interests and ideas.

“You can see that young people are brimming with ideas,” said Helen Clark , “on how to contribute to society, how to build social enterprises, how to build their own businesses, and how to meet real needs in the society through ICT.”