Mashujaa Day Special: Twelve Heroes In Kenya’s ICT Industry

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Today is a Kenyan holiday. The name’s Mashujaa Day, Mashujaa is Swahili for Heroes. And this is the day to remember heroes in Kenya’s history who were significant in the change of events from a colony to a free country Kenya. The day was previously Kenyatta day, a day to commemorate Kenya’s first president Jomo Kenyatta, alongside 10th October previously for the second president Daniel Moi. The latter was scrapped while the former was changed to Mashujaa day.

Now heroes don not end there, we have heroes every day, from that person who helps you through a tough time in life to the one that lends that helping hand to assist overcome day to day hurdles. Thus here at Techweez we thought to compile a list of individuals we consider heroes in the tech ecosystem that we thrive in, in Kenya. They range from individuals who were just minding their own businesses and as an end result impacted many to those who were delegated to do exactly that and came through in such good ways. So here we go, and in no particular order of arrival or measure of impact:

Bitange Ndemo

Bitange Ndemo is one name Kenyans will know for painting and helping realize dreams and goals within the Kenya ICT sector while he was Permanent Secretary of ICT. Ndemo has big visions for Kenya and while on duty made some of them get realized, even with so much friction while at it by the opponents of positive change. Ndemo was instrumental in the roll-out of the fiber optic cable in Kenya in the push to get the country connected. He was also an enabler in many ways while in the industry and was also very bold in the push to get Kenya’s first ICT City Konza realised. Sadly that’s a huge project that was bound to go on without him.

Ndemo believes so much in the tech entrepreneurship in Kenya that he even has sessions to nurture entrepreneurs in Nairobi on how to wade through the waters that are tech and business. This is held at iHub in Nairobi.

Erik Hersman

Erik is quite a big name in the tech industry both in Kenya and abroad. Together with a group of forward-thinking individuals some years back they came up with iHub and Ushahidi, the latter which came to be a technology used the world over to mitigate and map crises live as they happened. Ushahidi came through immensly during Kenya’s post-election violence in the year 2008 where reporting was difficult by Kenyan media and thus presented tools to enable crisis reporting by citizens from where they were. iHub was the first tech hub in Kenya and this has contributed immensely to the tech ecosystem in Kenya which is quite popular the world over. We currently have over ten ICT hubs in Kenya years later.

Sam Gichuru

Sam is another hero in that while iHub stood out for being a space where techies could access resources like co-working spaces and learn from each other, Nailab headed by Sam provided the next level. By establishing a space for companies to grow, Sam did what most small time techies would have asked for. Provided space and nurturing to newly formed companies with an idea and product to get it from idea stage to a product that actually goes to the market and gets business. Sam takes startups through stages of business product development and pitches to enable them go out to market with something that can actively sell and acquire customers. Many techies miss the element that is the selling of their product, Sam closes that gap by nurturing and getting the startups ready for the market.

Agosta Liko

Liko is that individual you might not know but you probably use their product. A perfect case of bootstrapping gone successful, Agosta Liko is one success story that every Kenyan innovator would with to be like. He is the founder of PesaPal, one of the quite widely used payments integrators in Kenya. With the unbanked Kenyans percentage higher than account holders, alternative payment methods needed to be put in place to cater for these masses. Liko catered for this need. With services ranging from utility bill payments to school fees payments with direct to the school integrations, Liko has mastered his game. You most probably use his service to purchase airtime from your mobile phone when you do. Pesapal is one innovation that is Kenyan and going strong, this includes exporting the service outside Kenya and into Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia.

Micheal Joseph

Micheal Joseph of the “peculiar Kenyans” fame is the guy who developed Mpesa from when it was a baby to the time he retired out of the post of Safaricom CEO. Micheal was able to study Kenyans behaviour as a telco leader and with that was able to develop a product that complimented Kenyan’s behaviour of preferring to send each other airtime as payment as opposed to making bank deposits, the other option that they had then. Mpesa has then grown to be one of the most innovative products from Kenya supporting very many businesses, disrupting others and even becoming an export.

The world talks of Mpesa being a very unique case of success that was pioneered from a developing country and exported to developed countries, usually it’s the opposite. But there it is.

Micheal would not have made it to this list a year ago, but he does now by virtue of being a Kenyan citizen as he acquired this earlier in the year. This was made possible by the 2010 constitution that allowed Kenyans to hold dual citizenship without denouncing their other passport. He is also a US citizen.

Phillip Ogola

Philip makes it to this list, even if not exactly a techie by the use of technology to communicate and tell a digitial story. His abilities came to a true test when he joined Gina Din PR firm and headed the G4S account for social media management. The brand was quite visible. But the impact that actually brings him to this list is his role at Kenya Red Cross thereafter.

Philip went on to become an award-winning social media manager with crisis reporting and management while at Kenya Red Cross. Notably, the Westgate crisis brought out the best of Philip where he reported minute by minute events and also assisted in data management. He also pioneered a crisis reporting channel via Hash Tag, #iVolunteer to get social media users to participate in and contribute in awareness and reporting.

Evans Muriu

Evans is one passionate entrepreneur who goes further than his entrepreneurship selling cars to a humanitarian venture that touches the most ordinary of Kenyans. He founded an organization called Wanadamu some 3 years ago with an aim to get Kenyans to participate in blood donation to save lives Evans has run a successful campaign and it’s now widely known, especially on social media that #wanadamu would be the first place to call for an emergency requiring a blood transfusion.

Wanadamu has a database of over 18,000 blood donors who donate blood regularly to save lives. Most of the blood donation calls are made on social media and Wanadamu has gone on to get recognized by organizations like Safaricom

John Kieti

John Kieti, the m:lab East Africa lead is another hero story. John, a Computer Science graduate who mastered in International Business also makes it to this list for his amazing work in the Kenya tech industry. Basically, what John does at the helm of m:lab is close the ICT gap that has been created by our Kenyan Education system. John and team train university graduates on mobile technologies that matter in today’s mobile world. Even the WiFi password at m:lab is Mobile Economy, goes to tell you what he stands for.

John trains developers on use of current tools to develop world solutions that are mobile first to ensure they have the desired impact. He also assists the trainees with mobile research and during events like Wireless Wednesday involves stakeholders in the various industries like Agriculture so as to get the trainees develop relevant solutions in the industry. John also heads Pivot East, an event that provides a platform to showcase the applications and services developed by developers in East Africa to investors, potential business partners and media.

At m:lab John also incubates startups picked from Pivot East winners to provide them with the next level of training, nurturing and market preparedness.

Judith Owigar

Judith makes the first lady in the list. She is the president of Akirachix, an organization by women for women in tech. At Akirachix, Judith heads a team of women in tech who came up with the organization to provide training to girls who would otherwise have been without hope of a bright future due to poverty and lack of access to education. The ladies train girls who did not go to secondary school and college to use computers to get sellable skills. They train programming, computing, graphic design among other skills. They also go a step further by assisting to get the girls internship placements in demanding job positions within companies and also provide them with a form of living by assisting them with getting them freelance jobs. Thus essentially getting them sustenance and hope one girl at a time.

Kennedy Kachwanya

Kennedy is a techie who’s training is in Business, but still stuck with his passion for tech. Kennedy is the founding chairman of Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE), a community organization that represents a group of Kenyan online content creators and that seeks to empower online content creation and improve the quality of content created on the web. Kachwanya was very instrumental in the forming of the association which has since gone on to become an icon in the region influencing other countries like Uganda, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe among others.

Kachwanya rounded up the first group of bloggers to convince the of the idea to come together and leverage the synergy. Initially it was about how best to make money by working together, but with time and brains, BAKE got even better ideas like working with other institutions to get the story telling level in Kenya improved. BAKE has gone ahead to start BAKE chapters with Kenyan Universities with Daystar leading and others like JKUAT and Kimathi University also on board. Kachwanya has actively participated in training of students, fellow bloggers and corporate on blogging. This has gone on to the counties to get more participation in blogging outside of Nairobi where most bloggers are concentrated.

Njeri Chelimo

Njeri Chelimo’s story is one of a victory that turned unfortunate, but she never gave up and rose again to become the hero that she is. The lady was accepted to the US hacker school for a 3 month hacker retreat to, among other things learn new languages and write code. Though this was to be free, she needed money for the trip and also get a spanking new laptop. She was able to get this money and more via an Indiegogo campaign, but couldn’t get a US visa since, according to the embassy, the could not show enough ties to need to go back after that.

What would have turned to a disappointment case ended up as an inspiration when Ms Chelimo thought that she could indeed bring the hacker school to Nairobi. She embarked on a second Indiegogo campaign and is now a proud lead of Nairobi Hacker School where in partnership with Jumpstart Lab she trains developers on Ruby on Rails programming for Android. The school also offers mentorship to newbie developers while at the same time offering apprenticeship for the developers. Thus she gives all what she wasn’t able to get with the US Summer Hacker school.

Lilian Kiplang’at

Lilian heads innovation at Chase Bank Kenya. In her own words, her role is to take those forwardthinking gambles to create partnerships and investments in technology for the bank. Chase bank was the title sponsor for Pivot East, a launch pad for mobile startups and also platform to connect investors and startups. Lilian is pivotal in the move for Chase bank to start understanding these new tech businesses that are not the ordinary businesses that have traditional securities and commodities. In her move to scout for opportunities she came by m:lab, just as preparations were about to start for Pivot East and she had a foundation to start with.

Her aim is to get Chase Bank to be the bank that has the best relationships with Tech businesses in Kenya. As we well know, many banks have not taken steps to understand how most of these function so as to develop banking products that cater specifically to these kind of businesses. You know, businesses which have intellectual property as their assets as compared to physical assets and business equipment as their tangible assets that banks can latch onto for finance security.

IMG Credit: Akirachix

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