I am in Kenya over a week now and it has taken me this long to write something about the new Hub that has been established in Mombasa. Part of the reason for this is that internet connectivity has been pretty shaky here all week with poor connection speeds and a number of power cuts.
The main reason however is because I have actually been working quite hard (I know unusual for me!) trying to get a sense of how things are on the ground here.
It suffices to say that Camara Kenya is an amazing venture. The hub is very much up and running with a great staff team and a truly wonderful set of committed volunteers. Systems have been put in place that give you a real sense of confidence in the place.
From inventory tracking, refurbishment processes, monitoring and evaluation in schools looking to acquire computers, training procedures, a feeding programme for the volunteers and even a van with a beautifully painted Camara Kenya logo on it for transport of computers and trainers and volunteers around the area.
It has taken two years to get to this point and there has been real challenges along the way but when I look at the hub now you realise that it has been worth it.
Already after only 3 months of officially opening, the hub has won a national award from the Kenya Linux Association for its contribution to Education. This is a significant achievement for an organisation so young. The award has provided great visibility for the project with articles and media coverage and this can only help the hub going forward.
Why is the hub important?
The hub is providing state of the art technology and more importantly knowledge and training to people that would never get this opportunity otherwise. ICT literacy is now as important as basic numeracy and literacy and if we cannot find ways of insuring everyone has access to this new literacy we will only add to an already huge digital divide. The hub has developed a model that allows everyone participate. This is made possible through a combination of using technology that would have ended up in a land fill site together with the generosity of volunteers who want to give something back through sharing their expertise with others.
I cannot stress enough that the combination of everything makes the project work. There are very few short-term projects in the developing world that can make a real difference to peoples lives. This is one of them. It works because when somebody has been trained on a computer by a volunteer they can keep learning on that computer when the volunteer leaves. And if they need help in their absence they can use the internet.
What are the main challenges?
The ultimate challenge is to make the hub self sustainable as soon as is reasonably possible.
The hubs can be made sustainable with 2-3 years. I really believe that. They can generate revenue from in at least 4 different ways:
(a) The sale of computers to the schools (at a price affordable to any school with electricity)
(b) They can offer a maintenance service
(c) They can offer ongoing training and certification
(d) They can provide internet services and in time software, content and platforms.
The first three approaches Camara Ireland can support through the provision of computer and expert volunteers. The services option is something that the hubs can grow into in time. And I have no doubt that this will happen mainly because of the choice to go the Open Source route. There is an army of seriously talented people out there willing to help and offer their support in making sure the hub is a success. Once you have internet connectivity the solution to any technical problem is a simple email to this forum of experts.
However, there is still fragility ahead. We cannot be complacent out here. There are so many variables out of our control – the riots last year are perfect evidence of what can go wrong here. However, the seed is now planted and my sense is that we are over the threshold where something will take root.
Its an exciting time and its an exciting project. If you read this far consider coming out here at some stage to be inspired….