Trailblazing …

Six months ago we teamed up with colleagues in Innovate DFID to develop a strategic approach to digital technology and innovation and build our skills and impact in these areas. We called this partnership a ‘digital trailblazer’ signalling a hope to work together to showcase the potential of digital transformation for DFID Kenya and beyond.

It’s been a fascinating few months, exploring best practice within our portfolio, looking at how we can use digital tools for future priorities and examining how we can harness and support the digital expertise in Kenya for Kenyan growth.

It is amazing how much we already do.

First up it has been amazing to think about how much we are already doing within our portfolio. Here are a couple of examples of some I have been to see and learn about:


A cutting-edge water programme run by Oxford University and UNICEF, linking analogue approaches (conventional water hand pumps), technology (linked monitors that communicate pump usage and functionality), machine learning (early warning of potential pump breakdown) and science (data on aquifer levels etc).

It may look like a normal hand pump. But it is fitted with a smart monitor that transmits data on usage, water consumption, functionality enabling powerful analytics and rapid repairs


An e-learning partnership, led by global satellite operator Avanti Communications and its partners: sQuid, Whizz Education and Camara Education, it aims to improve learning outcomes for over 25,000 marginalised girls. The two key elements of Project iMlango are electronic attendance monitoring with conditional payments to incentivise families to send their daughters to school, and an internet learning platform where partners provide students with interactive, individualised learning tools. Teachers at the school can monitor performance and target those most in need of help.

One of the Girls Education Challenge (GEC) projects, using digital tech to raise educational standards, testing and results (and get kids interested…)

And there are lots more…

We did an assessment of how we already use digital tools to improve efficiency, tackle corruption, improve access in Kenya. The resulting map is impressive:

A preliminary map of some of the digital innovations we’ve led in Kenya

And space to do more still…

The more we looked at it the more we saw digital technologies as a potential enabler of UK development priorities in Kenya.

  • Could we use digital technology to transform the way we monitor and evaluate our programmes, unlocking data driven decision making with real time information from programmes and beneficiaries?
  • Could we think through how digital technology could help us unlock the potential of northern/ coastal Kenya, so long forgotten by development processes.

And we’ve learnt that there could be a role beyond our programmes and investments on the wider ecosystem. What if we could help Kenya build the policy environment to enable it to harness the collective expertise of digital innovators. And what would the barriers be? And can we help address them?

How digital approaches should influence analogue ways of working.

There is a risk with these kinds of initiatives that it feels as though digital only applies to a specific set of interventions or sectors. But this ‘trailblazer’ has helped remind us that you don’t need a digital project to benefit from digital approaches.

One of my personal frustrations is how development organisations (including us) continue to use conventional ways of designing and implementing programmes, relying on traditional ‘waterfall’ models: design is done in house until it is perfect then released to the market to implement. This is surely too clunky and slow for tackling modern day problems. So I am delighted that we are learning that digital ways of working can also help us change the way we think about programme delivery too. My blog about this last year reminds me that while it is quite easy to talk about, it is still hard to do in practice!

Keep on Trailblazing

This has been a great journey so far and we’re looking forward to the next phase. The way my colleagues have led this has also been an impressive role-model of what we should all aspire to. And nothing like the static and fusty reputation government bureaucracies can sometimes have… keep on ‘trailblazing..’