Interview with AllAfrica.com
Sometime in August 2008, I was interviewed by Kathleen Gabel of AllAfrica.com, a leading online publisher of African news and information worldwide. Kathleen and I spoke at length about emerging trends and the current ICT landscape in Kenya, especially about my experiences in Dotsavvy, the digital agency I founded 6 years ago. Here is the interview that was published this week.
Kenya: ICT Progress Offers Scope for New Silicon Valley
18 September 2008
Posted to the web 18 September 2008
Moses Kemibaro is the business development director at Dotsavvy. The companyâ€™s main focus is building web sites. He spoke to AllAfricaâ€™s Katy Gabel.
We help clients decide how to package their product online. We donâ€™t just take the materials and repackage them. We actually build tools that reflect the target audience for the product â€“ for a young personâ€™s bank account we might set up a social networking page, or display video materials, and so forth. We make sure that the brand is effectively represented on the Internet with a theme, a message and a personality.
Weâ€™ve been very successful with financial services. I think right now we have about six banks and eight insurance firms. One of the companies we work for is the Cooperative Bank of Kenya, which is one of the largest. We also have Equity Bank, whose site we did a few years back. We recently launched some new web sites for Old Mutual Kenya; weâ€™re working with CIC Insuranceâ€¦. All of these are well-known, well-established institutions that want to have a meaningful web presence.
Here at Dotsavvy weâ€™ve been doing some really innovative stuff. Recently we created an e-learning application for HIV/Aids. Itâ€™s groundbreaking because it cuts costs and delivers educational materials to a much larger, life-saving community.
It was a unique assignment for an organization that trains nurses and doctors on HIV/Aids. They used to fly people out to a conference center or to the coast and theyâ€™d sit in a room where the training was disseminated. It was very costly and it was affected by internal politics â€“ certain people might get selected to go to the training and others not. So the organization decided to do this from an e-learning approach, possibly with a CD-ROM, but theyâ€™d never actually seen a product like this. So we put in a bid and won the job.
You can do the whole training on the CD-ROM. At the end of the process, you take a test, and it issues you a certificate of completion that you can print out with a serialized number from the CD. It means that someone sitting in a part of Kenya with no Internet access can do the course. When the content changes, itâ€™s easy for us to update new CDs and keep the system up to date. Theyâ€™re saving a lot of money and achieving more using this kind of product.
A few of our clients have expressed interest in developing mobile portals and access to their content. Weâ€™re looking to recruit someone to build those mobile applications for the sites we design.
In the past few years we really havenâ€™t had any trouble recruiting staff. People come to us with excellent credentials in all fields, from programming to accounting and marketing. In the early days it was a little difficult; recently itâ€™s gotten easier and easier to find talent. A lot of people have taken up web skills in this part of the world, to the extent that you could almost say thereâ€™s an oversupply. You might have 10 people who are reasonably good, but that one person who is really good is harder to come by.
Some of the best people are not even university trained. Some have done short courses or they are self-taught. Others have university degrees. We can help improve their practical skills for the workplace. Right now we have two interns. We take a lot of people in and help train them on our products and the kind of solutions we provide. Many of them actually become full-time employees. I think the industry here is very strong in terms of doing internships and providing training in-house for people to grow.
Iâ€™d say the biggest challenge in Kenya is that I donâ€™t think we have a strong support system for IT entrepreneurs. We donâ€™t have lines of credit or funding in a big way. It means making a lot of sacrifices. Itâ€™s also about linking up people. If we have a young person with a bright idea who wants to commercialize, we have to help him realize that opportunity. But generally we donâ€™t have a very strong support structure like you might have in Silicon Valley. Thereâ€™s a lot of talent and great ideas, but I think the market is not developed enough or aware enough for the potential and possibilities of IT innovation and IT products.
Weâ€™re seeing some changes, though. Several venture capital companies have now opened shop in East Africa and theyâ€™re looking to seed companies at various levels. There are also angel investors â€“ individuals who have a strong interest in IT or innovative business approaches â€“ who are also coming into the market. I know a few individuals who have received a bit of funding that way. People are starting to realize how a really good idea can go from zero to a multi-billion dollar company. Itâ€™s starting to happen at a really low level.
Government is recognizing the importance of technology as well. Theyâ€™ve started building technology parks. The environment is evolving, and itâ€™s definitely changing. Itâ€™s really exciting, and I think in the next few years weâ€™re going to see a lot of what happened in Silicon Valley starting to happen here. If thereâ€™s funding and if the infrastructure is in place, and there are facilities to empower people to take full advantage of the new opportunities, then I think itâ€™s going to change.