AfriGadget at “A Better World by Design”

This weekend I’m at Brown University in Rhode Island for A Better World by Design, a conference focused on answering the question, “How can we use technology to improve the world?” The line up of speakers is quite impressive. I’ll be speaking tomorrow on AfriGadget during in the time slot allocated on technologies that can kickstart economies. I speak after my new friend Paul Polak and before my old friend Ken Banks in the morning.

Thoughts from some of the speakers

(Note: I’ll likely keep this as a running liveblog today – as much as I can keep up with it anyway, I’m not Ethan Zuckerman… My pictures will be up in this Flickr set.)

IDEO handbook

Jocelyn Wyatt of IDEO, comes to the stage asking, “how can design have positive social impact?” They did interviews with 143 organizations and individuals and came away with the following two common themes for their report (download the PDF):

“Frustration with the progress in addressing problems we all care about.”

“Design thinking can make a big contribution to the social sector.”

What is design thinking? It’s looking at problems through the lens of what is desirable by people. Design thinking contributes through empathy, prototyping and storytelling. Empathy is about connecting with people and seeing the world from their perspective, not yours. Prototyping is about building to think – it helps us get answers fast (drawing, legos, etc.). Storytelling is about taking key elements and making them real.

The elephant in the room – there’s a tension between wanting to do the projects and needing to run a business.

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An Interview with Rob Katz of (Video)

Straying from the usual fare for a couple days, I wanted to post an interview that I did with Rob Katz, who runs a blog focused on businesses and entrepreneurs who are creating wealth at the “bottom of the pyramid” – those that make up the poorest 1 billion on the planet. It’s called

I had a chance to meet him last week at a conference called Pop!Tech in the United States. Many of the businesses and entrepreneurs featured on AfriGadget fit this model. If you’re interested in this subject, you’re probably already following his blog. If not, jump on over there and dig into some of the articles.

William Kamkwamba in the Wall Street Journal

We’ve written about young Malawian William Kamkwamba a couple of times here on AfriGadget, so it’s great to see him getting recognition in the WSJ! The article is titled “A Young Tinkerer Builds a Windmill, Electrifying a Nation“. Take a look at the video:

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A Little Housekeeping at AfriGadget

AfriGadget LogoFirst off, I’d like to thank the thousands of readers who visit AfriGadget every week. It’s been great to see the amount of interest that innovation Africa-style engenders. I’d like to give a little update on what’s been happening and where we’re going with AfriGadget in the near future. If you’d like to help in some way, please contact me.

Some AfriGadget Groups

    AfriGadget Flickr Group – We have an image gallery on Flickr that you can take part in. Tag your images “AfriGadget” and add them to the AfriGadget group.

    AfriGadget Facebook Group – Just started this month, the AfriGadget Facebook group is a place that you can talk to other AfriGadget readers and find like-minded friends.

Website Redesign
This has been a long time coming. The current site has some problems that we’d like to “fix” via a redesign. We’ll still be using WordPress, but want to make it more accessible and increase the breadth of information available. Feedback indicates that people like the look and feel of the current site, so we’ll try and stay pretty true to what you see now.

There has been an ever increasing number of emails asking for more information on specific projects, as well as a great deal of interest from people who want to purchase some of the items that we’ve shown on AfriGadget. We’re going to be building in some of those features into the new site.

Helping Micro-Entrepreneurs
I’ve had a number of interviews by different media outlets over the last couple months, and one specific interview by a South African radio company really hit me. They asked, “How does AfriGadget help the Africans who are beings showcased?”. I didn’t have an answer – or, I did, but the answer was “not at all”.

In the new site, we would like to work with an organization like Kiva, and their partners, to create ways for people to invest in some of the entrepreneurs that we talk about. In the cases where it makes sense, we’ll also help the entrepreneurs sell some of their items via our website.

Growing AfriGadget
The website initiative is only one of the three that we’re planning for this year. If we can find the right partners, we’ll be announcing some projects that a couple AfriGadget editors will be leading that are, quite frankly, much more exciting and “big” than a website redesign. As we grow AfriGadget we’re looking for partners who can help us. Contact me if you’d like to know more about those initiatives!

All of us do AfriGadget on the side. The growth of the site that I have outlined above is meant to benefit the innovators in Africa, not those of us who manage and create content for this site.

“I Try and I Make”

I found a story about a young Malawian who had built a windmill from scratch to help power the lights in his rural home. When I showed up at TED Global in Arusha in June, I had no idea that I would meet him. At that point, he hadn’t been introduced to the larger TED community, so I was this lone excited voice squawking about how thrilled I was to meet him.

2 Days later, William Kamkwamba was introduced to the TED community on stage: