In 2015, Ycenter team connected with Kiringai Kamau through the conduit of one of the Ycenter collaborative partners Kuntal Shah Warwick (who runs a high impact consulting agency helping startups and companies practice effective marketing strategies). Kiringai had read about our work in Mozambique, Africa at the intersection of Youth based entrepreneurship, Design Thinking and Technology solutions for low income communities. He immediately was able to connect the dots and shared his vision of building a youth based training capacity arm in Kenya. Our team used LinkedIn to interact with him.
The two most important things that begin this relationship was — shared passion for youth entrepreneurship driven development in Africa.
In less than 3 months, Kiringai set up a training partner and arranged for funding for Ycenter to launch it’s first ever program in Nairobi, Kenya. The program saw a 2 week long active participation from Kenyan youth coming from different counties to be trained in Design thinking and Social Innovation in context of Agriculture. That set up a solid foundation that led to a thriving partnership with Kiringai, who not only took up the role of being the Executive Director for Ycenter Africa but also recently, launched Impactathon School of Agriculture next to his ancestral home. This is an interview with Kiringai Kamau, as a continued extension to our series of highlighting Humans of Ycenter. (Read Part I here)
Tell us about your education and professional background
I am a lecturer in agricultural economics at the University of Nairobi with a focus on the nexus of Information and communications technology (ICTs) and agriculture through the practice of nutrition driven, value chain anchored and agribusiness. My education started as a mathematical statistician linked to computing science. I undertook my postgraduate training in computing science which I later changed to focus on Agricultural Information and Communication Management, in the Agricultural Economics Department of the University of Nairobi. I founded the Center for Agricultural Networking and Information Sharing at the University, later metamorphosing as the Program for Capacity Development in Africa, where I practice the linkage of Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition under the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN).
I started my work life developing transformation processes in the tax system for Kenya, which was however cut short by the client — the government of Kenya, after making good strides in demonstrating that we could make every Kenyan pay proportionate tax for the earnings they make, anathema to those in public offices then.
Income transparency by those in government leadership is not encouraged in most of Africa as the leadership fears that the transparency of the digital dimension brought to the filing of taxes and tracking of receipts into the banking system in the form of the Personal Identification Number (PIN), is not good.
The American Government Funded Project ended with the termination of the work permits of the leaders of the company II worked for. I, therefore, chose to work for myself and in 1995 started by first Company, WillPower Communications Limited, which I later split into two companies, WillPower Enterprise Development Limited and Octagon Data Systems Limited. Octagon retains the focus I had started on number-driven income generation and management, on which the tax modernization system I led in developing was based. The new private-sector focus of the SME I started continues in the journey I started of automating smallholder agriculture. The focus on smallholder agriculture Then and now seeks to eliminate cheating of farmers by the farmer organizations, and other value chain intermediaries who buy what smallholders produce. This has remained the focus of my engagement with Big Data Ecosystems that taxpayers form through their transactions but now taking the shape of promoting data sourcing using ICTs through experiential learning in value chain-driven agribusiness development, the integration of data to policy processes. The slant to farmer-owned agribusinesses is critical in helping the policy institutions identify avenues of linking with producers and de-risking agriculture through organization driven transformation thinking.
How did you get involved in youth training?
When one starts dealing with academia and the digital transformation of organizations through knowledge-driven institutional frameworks, the only human cohort, age-wise, that is amenable to such is the youth. To start with, I started my business as a young person. The risks I took cannot be undertaken by those advanced in age, the lessons I have learned cannot also be taught to the elderly as is the case of new thinking that delivers digital orientation of doing things from the first principles. Training and supporting the cohort of people who can effectively engage with knowledge when defined as the synthesized information derived from data processing makes me create pathways to learning only to those who can see the potential of linking all people do to data sourcing — in all the diverse dimensions that data, or records, take.
What are the top 3 projects you are working on, this year?
Broadly thinking, I work on only one project: to promote the creation of evidence; as the driver of decision making. However when you break that into the actions that the physical spaces take, then you realize that process-based pathways to decision making calls for aligning with what people are passionate about doing. I can, therefore, separate the diverse actions I do into diverse projects much as they are part of the bigger whole. These are:
- Supporting the Ycenter Led Program on promoting youth engagement with design thinking within a multi-sectoral dimension anchored on agriculture and agribusiness within the perspective of lifelong-learning using eLearning Platforms such as Ycenter’s EPIC.
- Promotion of the adoption of the International Fund for Agricultural Development- IFAD supported Gender Action Learning System (GALS). This project is to be supported by Oxfam and Hivos.
- Promoting sourcing of data as evidence to policy formulation and strategic thinking by linking Agriculture inspired Youth-Led Extension and Advisory for Development (YouLEAD). This links academia, policy, research, development actors and farmers through a model of engagement we have created of Farmhubs at the producer side and FoodHubs at the consumer side
What are the 3 things that keep you going despite the hurdles?
- Service to others through the energies of networks with the inspiration of the Almighty — whatever your Almighty maybe
- Promotion of the use of ICTs as the process transformation drivers in whatever situation there may be
- Infusing organizationally anchored process inspired food and nutrition thinking
Tell us the history present and future of the Impactathon School of Agriculture.
I met the founder of Ycenter, Dhairya Pujara, through social media. When he shared the work that he was doing in Public health + technology domain in Southern Africa in Mozambique. I persuaded him to come to Kenya and build a similar model for training youth in Agriculture. The opportunity to train young people came in an organization that had sought for some training from me on agribusiness, but I chose not to teach them just agribusiness but to use ICTs and Design Thinking to innovate agribusiness ideas. The funding existed and they came to Kenya to launch the program. While participating in the training, their focus on impact through their codename of Impactathon saw me thinking of creating a school of agriculture that focuses on knowledge-driven impact, hence the creation and registration of the Impactathon School of Agriculture (ISA). As part of propagating the Impactathon spirit, we partnered with the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA) to set up two FarmHubs one at my farm where we have created the home for ISA and another in a high potential potato production area. Two others have been supported by the IFAD Program and we are now partnering with universities in Africa to create Digital Center Hubs as Data-Driven Innovation and Sustainability initiatives. These will be certified and supported by the ISA as the anchor of experiential learning using open data sourcing paradigms
What should the world look forward to, in terms of innovation coming out of Africa?
Africa has the highest and growing youthful demography. It lacks institutions and resources to take lead in heavy private sector-driven investments as happens in other areas of the world, much as the African Union notices the need to engage the youth through public or social, rather than, private investments using the ubiquitous resource that is the Internet. The world, therefore, should look forward to a necessity anchored knowledge-driven innovation products coming out of Africa.
You are a family man, farmer, researcher, professor, businessmen, consultant, advisor. How do you manage your time and create a balance for yourself?
To be honest, I am not able to balance, but I try using the driving maxim on what I stated earlier — leaning on what I do as a service to others through the energies of networks and guided by the inspiration of the Almighty. My work is, therefore, a service to my family, farming — that produces food and train others to produce food so that we all can be of service to others. My research is agricultural and, therefore, a tool to deepen the relationship I create with farmers, youth/students, government and development partners. The business dimension offers support and owns the innovations I create to ensure they are sustainable going forward. In a nutshell, I do not go out to do anything different from the single thing I focus on i.e. supporting others through optimizing food and nutrition processes that make sense to many.