Innovation hubs for a Rural Setting

I have always been drawn to the complexities and intricacies of the policies and structures that govern the Education System, better yet, how the Education in the developed world and developing world compare. I was astonished to find out that they bear much more similarities than differences, contradictory to my prior beliefs. With this realization, it begged the question, ‘What are we as developing nations doing wrong? Or rather what can we do to better our state?’ I am a firm believer in education being the key to success, as cliche as it may sound. However, I refer to education as the acquisition of knowledge as opposed to the schooling system, and as the saying goes, Knowledge is Power.

A few months ago, I stumbled upon a TED talk by Chika Ezeanya-Esiobu titled, ‘How Africa Can Use its Traditional Knowledge to Make Progress’. This came at a time when I was visiting different hubs and social innovation centres in East Africa to understand how they were catering to the large market that lies in rural areas. From my research, majority were involved in programs that would instill their participants with the necessary skills to compete on a global scale but few were targeted at equipping those from rural areas with the technological skills to better their lives and simplify their day-to-day tasks.

Is the urban settler the target market of these hubs? Is it that penetrating the rural community is difficult? Or are most of the innovators from the Urban areas hence only being conversant with the challenges that plague them?

This took me back to the discussion that emerged in 2013, that led to a decision to set up county innovation hubs in all the 47 counties in Kenya. The then Cabinet Secretary (CS) of Devolution and Planning, said the establishment of the hubs in each county would empower youths with the necessary training and work experience to develop market ready ICT services and products. Whether this was actualized or not is a discussion for another day, but later on in 2017, the CS of Information Communication and Technology (ICT), set out to establish Constituency Digital Innovation Hubs in all the 290 constituencies countrywide.

This will be an initiative to watch if set-up and implemented accordingly. It will provide Kenyans all over with public access wifi, co-working spaces and an innovative community. But why don’t we give the same attention to the Jua Kali sector? (Shout-out to the Jua Kali startup that enables you to buy Jua Kali products online.)

ICT skills are quite important, but why is it that innovation is strictly limited to software development skills? Would it be too outrageous if this innovation hubs were also set-up with the necessary tools to facilitate activities such as welding and carpentry that would enable the users to build models that would improve their livelihoods? (Check out the article on Twende Social Innovation Centre) Wouldn’t this still count as innovation?

I believe it would, so let’s not box-up innovation to always have a software component as is the case with mobile applications and smart devices but may we let the mind roam free, even though it means the building of a purely mechanical device in this age of smart technology. It all has to begin somewhere.


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