On January 9, 2015, I was honored to speak in the changemakers session at TEDx Kampala, under a theme titled "Owning Our Destiny". As broad and cheesy a theme as they come, but it had me pondering the question of what I could possibly talk about as a technologist and change enthusiast. Something to elicit interest, fill with curiosity, suggest opportunity, and possibly trigger action long after the talk was done. Ultimately, it came down to social networks, technology, and new-age economics. All the things a twee almost-millennial could care about. And thus the title, "Technology and the sharing economy".
I do not have all the information regarding how the sharing economy started but I believe that it had something to do with the global financial crisis, the rise of the millennials as a consumer demographic and an altruistic albeit late shift from the "this is mine" to "what is mine is yours, for a fee" economy. During the economic downturn, there was a need to minimize expenditure, optimize personal costs and create new income. The ubiquity of social networks allowed for people to trust strangers if only due to the shared hardship. Tools such as Craigslist and E-Bay were a boon to peer-to-peer transactions. Why buy a saxophone, or a tuxedo when you can rent one from a stranger online? Fantastic, right?
These experiences, however, are largely western. That does not mean that the sharing economy is lost on us here in Uganda and sub-Saharan Africa. Our history suggests that we have always had a sharing culture. It is happening on a small scale each day and with the right technology in place, the volume can grow. Case in point is a shared experience I had with my colleague, Moses Mugisha, CTO at our company Sparkplug, while on a road trip in Bushenyi District, Western Uganda. The farmers in this area do not have enough income to buy a tractor each to till their pieces of farmland. When we asked how they got about it, they intimated that it all came down to community. They formed a trust in which all the farmers contributed to a fund. Once they had accumulated enough, they time-shared a rented tractor over the course of a week for a not-so-great sum.
You are forgiven for your happiness and your successes only if you generously consent to share them - Albert Camus
It was this experience that gave us the idea for our latest product, Akabbo. Launched in November 2014, Akabbo, which derives it's name from the Luganda word for a collection basket, is a localized crowdfunding platform that allows users to create campaigns and pool funds effortlessly using the far-reaching mobile money wallets. We created Akabbo to provide a venue for individuals and organizations to actualize their dreams and ideas through a shared fundraising model on a national scale. We are currently working to add international online payments processing for wider reach. You can explore the different campaigns on Akabbo here.
I digress a lit bit but I will leave you with this: The economy of the future is people-powered and will be driven by peer-to-peer transactions. If opportunity knocks, open the door. If it does not knock, build a door. I was delighted to be part of a pretty fun but painfully lengthy discussion in the Ugandan Twittersphere a few days ago. It is definitely worth checking out. Here is it's genesis:
The details of the conversation are way longer than this post so go on to Twitter to check it out. The entirety of the TEDx Kampala talk will soon be available in a video format on Youtube. I will share it as soon as it is available.
About 4 weeks ago, our beloved client, Starkey Hearing Foundation, invited the directors of Sparkplug to their Annual Gala. The gala is a weekend long event during which they celebrate their partnerships, ambitions, and achievements but most of all, show appreciation for the past year. It was an amazing evening of moving speeches and riveting performances, and overwhelming support for the gift of hearing by raising more than $8.7 million to reconnect families and communities around the world.
For a foundation the size of Starkey, it is very well run, with an amazing team of people who care about what they do and whom they serve. They seek to deliver the gift of hearing to those who need it most. With operations in over 45 countries worldwide, they wish to fulfill their ultimate mission that is, "So The World May Hear".
I first met Bill and Tani Austin, the co-founders, while volunteering at one of their missions here in Kampala back in 2012. I liked what they did and thought to take note the next time they were in Uganda. We met again in 2013, thanks to the venerable Richard Brown, and thus begun our journey to jumpstart their International Patient Database system. It is for this reason that I, together with my colleague Moses Mugisha, were invited to join celebration of this and the many other achievements that the Starkey Hearing Foundation achieved this past year.
I wish to share photos of some of my favorite moments from the gala, as well as talk a little bit about some of the interesting people I met there.
I got to be in the same auditorium and share and evening with these amazing people. Care to guess the names of some of the people in this photo?
Founders' Circle Luncheon was really informative, and fulfilling as we got to see the product of our work on display, and meet Starkey partners from the different countries around the world. And I got to chat with the former president of Malawi, H.E. Dr. Joyce Banda!
Meeting Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, a TIME 100 honoree, was one of the highlights for me as she represents the power of empathy and hope in any community. With her organization, Sewing Hope, she presides over Saint Monica's Vocational School in Gulu, Uganda and invites formerly abducted and ostracized girls, who return with LRA rebels' children, and imparts vocational skills such as tailoring so that they may gain independence. Working together with the Forest Whitaker Foundation and Pros for Africa, she has been able to have great impact on this section of her community. Keep up the great work Sister Nyirumbe.
The work that Abraham Rami Elhanan and Mazen Faraj are doing with Parents Circle - Families Forum to bring about peace in the Gaza strip cannot go ignored. Glad they got awarded for their efforts. I hope and pray for peace in Gaza.
Dikembe Mutombo is way taller than you! And he does a lot of great work with his foundation!
Miss Minnesota is a pre-med student. Her future is bright. She's gonna save lives.
This amazing glitter elephant. I'm an elephant clan boy so the obsession is warranted!
Anyhow, the main reason I wrote this post was to show appreciation for our client, the Starkey Hearing Foundation, and highlight the importance of partnership. Choosing the right partners goes a long way in achieving impact for any cause you set out to achieve. Are you choosing the right partners?
As I sit here in transit, in the library at Schipol Airport, my mind wanders back to the last time I was in Amsterdam, and not in transit. It was my maiden European adventure and I intended to make great use of it. Since travel is a journey not only for the body, but also for the mind and soul, I meant to use this trip to rekindle connections as well as indulge in culture and the arts. Amsterdam was the last of a tour of two cities.
A truly cosmopolitan city with wonderful people, plenty of bicycles, wonderful beer and a fantastical cycle of unending museum exhibitions. A true arts and culture galore!
Amsterdam has set a new tone for itself as a throwback to that time when art was ambitious enough to change lives, and inspire change in a person. As you walk about, you cannot help but notice the presence of exhibitions, temporary or permanent, just about everywhere. Vondelpark, in a space of an hour offered an open air theatre, random material installations, and unplanned tree climbing!
This got me rather excited for the museums. Queue the Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk, and Van Gogh museums.
As luck would have it, the first exhibition I went to was "Art is Therapy" at the Rijksmuseum. A wonderful curation inspired by Visual Healing, by one of my favorite philosophers, Alain de Botton, and John Armstrong. The goal is to raise - and then answer in a distinctive way - the question of what the purpose of art really is. Mostly to propose that art can be looked to, and enjoyed for, its powerful therapeutic effect. In their own words:
This exhibitions had plenty of fantastic paintings and pieces but here's a few of those that stood out to me:
The next day, I sauntered on to the Stedelijk museum, which prides as the largest museum of modern and contemporary art and design in the Netherlands. It is huge, and now with world renowned collections, experimental exhibitions and engaging public programs, since moving into the new museum building. Some of the pieces I found intriguing:
What was most exciting, but equally draining was how open each and every piece was to one's interpretation. My thoughts were lukewarm at best, and remained unspoken. However, situations like these help one appreciate beauty in the unknown, or un-understood.
I highly recommend that anyone travel to Amsterdam, if not for the canals and coffeeshops, then for the art and culture. Looking forward to the next time.