Appfrica is an international technology conference and think-thank, taking place in Africa of course. The idea is to bring together researchers, educators, businesses, industry leaders, and organizations, to talk about uses of web technology. The goal being to find new ways to further develop the educational process in the developing world, as well as talking about online innovation from an African point of view overall. The first panel is on July 31st at the Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.
Jon Gosier is involved in the Appfrica project, so I shot him some questions to get to know what it really is all about.
What do you hope to achieve with this conference?
The goal of Appfrica is to provide a place for informal positive reinforcement to encourage African developers, software programmers, businesses and children who’ve embraced emerging technology. It’s also a place to educate those who haven’t and show them why it’s critical that they do and engage the world marketplace. Appfrica is a series of think tanks and unconferences that will move around the continent, and (eventually) the rest of the world to encourage a debate that is intended to motivate African developers to be more vocal, and encourage the world tech community to acknowledge the talent that exists there.
What kind of response have you gotten from organizations and businesses? Are there any secured sponsors you’d like to give extra props to?
The response so far has been outstanding. I have to mention the Makerere University and the Technology for Innovation and Education in Developing Countries Conference who’ve graciously allowed for our panel to help kick start Appfrica. We’re still looking for sponsors. Groups interested in sponsoring or participating in an Appfrica event, visit our wiki or email firstname.lastname@example.org
What kind of ideas do you think will evolve from this conference?
The biggest idea we hope to cultivate is that there are real economics for including Africa in the world tech community. In many ways Africa is where Asia was twenty or thirty years ago. Yet when you look at India and China one of the many things that has helped accelerate the course of development in those countries is the embracing of technology, entrepreneurship and innovation. We feel it’s up to Africans to create that kind of intellectual wealth in their own countries and it’s our goal with Appfrica to stimulate that feeling because it’s definitely already there. I feel huge wave of African tech is coming: Kenya is hosting it’s first BarCamp for Developers in Nairobi soon to be followed by followups in Uganda and Mauritius, Google recently opened an East Africa presence in Uganda, there’s also a number of African ISPs and Mobile Carriers that are creating jobs for developers there.
There’s a lot of attention on Africa because of things like Darfur, the Zimbabwe, the Kenyan Elections and the recent events in South Africa, but it’s important to start reshaping the narrative of what people see coming out of Africa. When people see conflict they associate risk, and that means businesses decide to invest in other locations and Africa is left out. On the other hand, if people see progress and innovation, businesses will invest and choose to engage Africa and even if not, Africa is still creating intellectual commodities for itself.
Beyond all that, we’d like to encourage the adoption of emerging tech by the non-profit and NGO communities that work there. It’s scary that for nearly thirty years we’ve seen the same type of TV ads asking for donations to aide organizations. Maybe old models aren’t working, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned about disruptive media in the past twenty years, is that it can create more efficient methods for doing things. I think the nonprofit sector has lagged in embracing new technology but that’s changing very fast.
Ultimately Appfrica will be a place where people can discuss all these issues, come up with real deployable solutions and try them on their own. It won’t be governments, aide groups or armies that change the continent for better or for worse. It’ll be individuals and those individuals need to realize they aren’t alone. Appfrica isn’t an aid organization or a cause, it’s a forum to stimulate participation.
Best of luck to Jon Gosier and the Appfrica participants. Be sure to check out the Appfrica wiki for more information,