“Connecting with Digital Innovation in Africa through Social Media”

 hosted by GIZ  in Nairobi, Kenya

GIZ idea behind this workshop with African hubs was to network with pioneers

m:lab East Africa

and practitioners, to share experiences, create new ideas and discover opportunities in Africa which will eventually help promote international cooperations for sustainable development.

The event brought together a dozen of African hubs including,  iLab Liberia of Liberia, iHub of Kenya, ActivSpaces of Cameroon, Klab of Rwanda, RLABS of South Africa, iLabAfrica of  Kenya, icecairo of Egypt, Wennovation Hub of Nigeria, BongoHive of Zambia, iceaddis of Ethiopia and of course our AfriLabs.

iHub

In attendance were representatives from the KAIPTC of Ghana and a hosts of GIZ representatives from  head offices in Germany and other African Countries.

During the workshop, we had the opportunity to visit Hubs, (iHub, M:Lab, iLabAfrica, Ushahidi) Incubators like(Nailab & iBizAfrica), and Strathmore University which houses the Safaricom Academy, iBizAfrica and iLabAfrica.

The Impact of hubs:

  • Develop skills

    iLab Africa

  • Create jobs
  • Serve as implementing partner for both governments and development cooperations
  • Serve as a focal point for the  community
  • Identify skills and bring them together under one roof where their potentials can be utilized effectively not only on the national scene, but globally as well.
  • Help with local development since it creates local linkages

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African tech and innovation hubs, let’s work together to make the Next Big Thing come out of Africa

There are A LOT of interesting things happening in the innovations, entrepreneurship and ICT fields in Africa. I had the privilege of representing  iLab Liberia at a meeting of the Afrilabs network of tech & innovation hubs in Africa last weekend, as a pre-event to the Global Innovation Lounge of the re:publica conference, in Berlin, going on this week. There were all in all about a dozen African labs present and meeting for the very first time.

 

Africa is not one story or one market. However, the choir of our voices can be louder together. As later mentioned by one of our hosts, GIZ’s Christian Gmelin, having Erik Hersman open up the huge re:publica digital media conference with a keynote “Innovating Africa”  turns the typical setup to a new direction – it was not the West talking about Africa and spreading there but rather a story of how Africans innovate at all levels of the society. Hersman presented some of the developments in Africa, highlighting that ideas and innovations come from the edge, from outfits and the disruptors – this means that we need to be on the lookout to learn from anyone – and the powerholder corporations, beware! And right now, there is a lot happening in Africa – and there are now more efforts to work collaboratively across the continent

 

So what’s in it for iLab?

 

The meeting and the conference were energizers, eye-openers and door-openers.

 

First, it was absolutely great to feel the energy amongst peers – all the hubs have a community of their own – but now there is also a network of hubs that makes us stronger, as we the users of the labs are getting to…well, thousands, if not perhaps already tens of thousands! And that makes for a powerful feeling of doing things together, around the continent.

 

Secondly, discussing with peers and hearing and seeing the stories at each of the places was – in addition to being entertaining – very thought-provoking and a learning experience.

 

Some of the key trends and developments that we discussed included:

 

-          Hubs moving up in the value-creation chain, i.e. moving gradually from being tech and coworking centers to being incubation and accelerator hubs, places that coach and develop companies (of course, not everyone has to be like that. At iLab, we are not quite yet at a phase where 5 or 10 startups could be incubated at iLab – but we are moving towards a pre-incubation phase, having various events and programs in place that encourage entrepreneurs to work together and it won’t be long before we have the first set of companies working out of iLab.

 

-          Hubs thinking about sustainable funding and business models – how hubs generate all or a substantial portion of their income by their own activities in a moderate time. As for iLab, this year’s budget is not fully covered by grants – we are looking to generate as much as 15-25% of our budget through various paid services.

-          It’s certainly not just “traditional IT” that these tech and innovation hubs are embracing: hubs that foster social innovations, physical computing and hacking/making and green technology had some of the most creative things happening. ILab is just starting out and experimenting on physical computing (Starting next week!) but already knowing that some of the other hubs have, there are great possibilities to learn

 

Thirdly,  the Afrilabs meeting and the joint Global Innovation Lounge at re:publica was a about initiating new contacts and collaborations – both in terms of collaboration between the various hubs on the continent, but also between hubs and donors, venture capitalists, academics and so on. We started our first collaboration with Hive Colab in Uganda, regarding Girls in ICT and more specifically Girls in Programming.

 

Pictures? Oh yeah, hub manager from around the world in action

Workshopping at Supermarkt. It used to be an abandoned Supermarket in a run-down area. Now several spaces in the area have been taken over by creative industry professionals and the areas has revived as well. It’s a great place for co-working and doing workshops.

 

Springtime in Berlin, very pleasurable weather. Whenever doing groupwork, most preferred to talk outside. The sun is good for creative thinking!

 

Some of the results from the first day: how do we make Afrilabs, the network of African tech and innovation hubs as success story.

 

The second day: after getting a few more into the city, the hubs briefly presented themselves, some of their unique features and challenges – to launch workshops on the most mentioned topics.

 

Topics of the second day.

 

The hubs that were present at the event.

 

The Global Innovation Lounge is not about flashy corporate style, but rather business and innovations coming from the grassroots. We demonstrated this feel by “hacking and making” our area at the conference – with inexpensive materials and a big heart. Jay Cousins from ICECairo leading the pack.

 

So…we all got our handmade pillows made.

 

Erik Hersman delivering the keynote: “Innovating Africa” and claiming that the statmakers got it all wrong – patent statistics are not really the way to define where innovations are happening.

 

This is what an early phase innovation might look like – a DIY 13-phase security system.

 

From a VERY early proto to a crowdfunding capable production version – the BRCK from Ushahidi

 

The crowd was gathering at the Lounge, it was busy most of the time

 

African hubs and their managers.

User Statistics, 2012 Review

In October of last year we did a blog post about the demographics of people that use iLab. Since then, we have tallied up our users and now we have the stats on who has used iLab up until December 2012. There are lots of changes that have taken place in the new stats of our users.

Female participants – the minority

The number of female participants is very low as usual. During this period, 19% of the total participants were female and the remaining 81% male. This low figure reflects a common Liberian perception that the ICT sector is best suited for men. At a recent girls-only iLab event, a participant noted that she was discouraged from entering the ICT field by various people because it would too much math and coding.  To help create more gender equality, iLab now has a customized ICT-Girls Mastering the Internet course which is exclusively for women and high-school aged girls. We believe this course will serve as a stepping stone to encourage Liberian women to learn about the Internet and its many components as they gain more exposure to the opportunities before them in the field of ICT.

Intermediate and advanced courses get a boost

We also now have a lot of Intermediate and advanced trainings, unlike before. When iLab was first launched, we started with basic courses like Intro FOSS, Intro Mastering the Internet, Intro Website design, etc. But as the months went by, the participants who took these courses kept coming to iLab and wanting more. Because of this demand, we now have intermediate and advanced level courses that were previously only offered at the intro level. For example, 46% of people who took Intro FOSS have come back to iLab to take the Intermediate FOSS. We might have even offered the Intermediate FOSS to a larger of number students , if iLab were able to admit all participants who take the pre-test for the Intermediate. We often turn down a lot of interested participants because our two labs only hold 15 participants for a course. Thus, we are not able to hold as many people in the intermediate FOSS course as want to attend. The Intermediate FOSS course is offered in one of the labs approximately every two months.

TED talk – our most popular event

From the inception of iLab until now, we have always referred to Intro FOSS as iLab’s most popular course, and it sure is. No other course at iLab has drawn more interest and produced a high number of participants like the Intro FOSS course. However, it’s now time to also recognize our most popular public event – TED talk night. From the testimonies we have received, many see it as being more interesting, inspirational and overall very educational.

Via iLab, Liberian Journalist Presents at New York Film Festival on Global Human Rights

Tetee Gebro is a Liberian Journalist reporting for New Narratives and working with SkyFm, a local radio station here in Monrovia.

 

Recently, Tetee reported on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) on her radio show. This report brought about a huge outcry in Liberia among both the traditional people and human rights activists with diverse opinions on the topic.

 

Because of her coverage, Tetee was asked to appear on a panel at New York Film Festival on Global Human Rights. This was a glorious opportunity for Tetee and Liberia’s entire journalism community.

 

In order to participate in the panel, Tetee was to appear virtually via Internet, but because of Liberia’s lacking telecommunication infrastructure and slow Internet connection, it appeared almost impossible for this opportunity to become a reality.

 

As Tetee’s organizers tried to find a place with reliable internet service and an evironment that could afford her to appear by video over Skype, iLab Liberia was the only public resource center in Liberia that could provide Tetee with the resources to participate in the panel discussion.

We were immediately contacted and as usual, we invited Tetee and her local organizers to a meeting to understand the nature of the event and to ensure that all Tetee could required to make this event possible could be available..

 

 

iLab prepared a computer running Skype and a projector with and adequate bandwidth just sufficient to ensure uninterrupted video and voice transmissions. With the help of iLab, Tetee was able to successfully attend and presented at the Firm Festival. See more about Tetee’s presentation at the Film Festival here.

 

iLab is the only technology hub in Liberia that offers free technological opportunities that could not otherwise be found in this country. With the lab’s popularity spreading, we are moving to a larger space this month so we can better accommodate users’ needs and interests. We are always looking for potential funders who would like to see Tetee and other Liberians given the resources that iLab has to offer; contact us if you would like to contribute to iLab’s future and that of Liberia!

 

Thanks

 

Carter

Ashesi University offers scholarships to Liberians

Last month, we received a delegation from Ghana’s Ashesi University. In addition to visiting iLab and getting a sense of our operations, the delegation came to offer scholarship opportunities to qualified Liberian students.

Ashesi University is a coeducational institution whose goal is to educate African leaders
of exceptional integrity and professional ability. The university, which began instruction in March

 2002 with a pioneer class of 30 students, has quickly gained a reputation for innovation and quality education in Ghana.

The university is an independent, private, not-for-profit institution.

The University co-founder, Patrick Awuah, speaks at TED talks about the university on the topic “educating leaders”; we highly recommend this video – watch it here.

The day after our meeting with Ashesi delegation, we invited iLab users to attend and informational session explaining the procedure and necessary forms to apply for the scholarship opportunity. More than 80 interested candidates were in attendance, including both iLab users and others new to our facility. During our meeting, we explained about the University, the levels of scholarships awarded, procedure for applying for the scholarship, and a virtual tour of the campus through the university’s website, and at the end of our meeting, we encouraged all interested candidates to attend the official Ashesi University Scholarship launch which was to be held the next day at the Joseph Jenkins Roberts United Methodist School in Monrovia.

Our team attended the launch and found that nearly 50% to 60% percent of the people at the launch had attended the scholarship awareness meeting at iLab Liberia the day before.


The scholarship opportunity

Ashesi University has over $3,000,000 from the MasterCard Foundation to give financial assistance to applicants who otherwise could not afford the college’s tuition. Nearly 40% of their student body receives scholarships from the University.

Ashesi offers a four-year bachelor’s program grounded in the liberal arts core curriculum. Degrees offered include:

  • Business Administration

  • Management information Systems

  • Computer Science

Ashesi University is here in Liberia to award significant financial support to qualified students who need such assistance. Students accepted will be eligible for full or partial scholarship support to cover their tuition fees, textbooks, housing, and meals. In addition, 40 scholarship recipients will receive laptops each year.

The admission and scholarship application forms can be downloaded here.

Requirements for scholarship

  1. WAEC – All applicants are required to have obtained division I, II, & III in the West African Examination.

  2. If in High School, you are required to provide your transcript along with your application form(s)

  3. Engage with other activities, skills, leadership ability, volunteer job, sports, talents, etc is an added advantage

  4. Bank Statements, pay slips etc from family

  5. Fill in the Admissions and Scholarships Forms (if you are applying for a scholarship)

  6. Complete Application Forms in CAPITAL LETTERS

  7. Submit Forms my post and email

  8. If selected you will have to undergo on-phone interview (The University admissions office will call and interview you by phone on the number you will provide in your application form).


Frequently Asked Questions about the Ashesi scholarships

Who can apply for a scholarship at Ashesi?

Any family that can not afford the full fees should complete a scholarship.

Application Form and turn it in with their admissions application.

You can not apply for a scholarship after you have been admitted.

Will I need to submit any supporting documentation with my scholarship application?

A letter requesting why you need a scholarship is required. Families will able be required to submit bank statements, pay slips and any other relevant documentation. The more information you can include to support your inability to pay the full fees, the easier it will be to process your request. However, if you are unable to provide supporting documentation please explain in your letter why you are unable to do so.

How are scholarship decisions made?

First, the selection process begins by determining who should be given an offfer of admission based on each applicant’s overall profile

Second, based on your scholarship need, you are placed into one of three categories:

Extreme Need (over $5,000)

High Need (between 3,500 – 5, 000)

Medium Need (between 2,000 – 3,500)

Low Need (less than 2,000)

For each category, there is a set amount of scholarships Ashesi can award.

Third, students in each category are selected based on the competitiveness of their admissions application.

When will I know whether I have been awarded a scholarship?

Typically, decisions are made within three weeks of submitting a completed application. You will receive both your admission and scholarship decision at the same time.

Will the scholarship be renewed every year?

As long as you and your family can continue to demonstrate financial need, you can expect that your scholarship award will be renewed annually. The scholarship committee meets annually to assess the financial status of each scholar’s family. You may be asked to submit updated bank statements, pay slips and other supporting documents of verify your family’s financial standings.

Where iLab comes in

Looking at iLab Liberia’s mission to provide and encourage innovation, access and technology, we are in a position to provide our users with any possible learning opportunities that enable them to excel. In an effort to helped our users understand the requirements and submit their applications, iLab has pledged to do the following:

  1. iLab sent out a citation to all her users and the public upon which they gathered at iLab’s office where they were briefed about how to apply, provided copies of the application Forms, and encouraged them to attend the launching ceremony to hear from the horse’s mouth.

  2. Obligated her lab to all applicants to send their applications by email.

It is our hope an prayer that a good number of Liberians applying will be qualified and admitted.

iLab Small Business training

iLab Liberia, in collaboration with the Ministry of Commerce, hosted a four-day training for small business entrepreneurs.

 

The training ran from February 13th to 16th, and brought together twelve participants from diverse businesses, covering the following topics:

Day-1: Created Gmail accounts for business transactions with lessons in email etiquette, as well as how to write professional work-related emails.

Day-2: Introduction to navigating the internet and how to use search engines for researching one’s business needs.

Day-3: Created a Facebook business page for marketing and advertisement purposes.

Day-4: Created Google spreadsheet to manage and track finances, then export to Excel or Open Office.

The participants took a final test on the last day, and certificates were awarded. For those who made below a 70% on the exam but participated fully in the course, a “certificate for participation” was awarded; participants who scored a 70% or higher received certificates for “completion and outstanding achievement.”

Since participants are certificated at the end of every training, we have resolved to accompany every training with a final exam to determine what level of certification participants receive.

 

Challenges

Prior to this training, many of the participants lacked the necessary skills in computing their business management and so the training served as a boost to enhance their ability to effectively transact businesses using computers and the requisite online tools.

To date, iLab has not conducted evaluations of potential participants before a training. However, we have noticed in recent trainings that some participants do not possess the requisite skills needed to benefit from the training; although most of our trainings start at the beginner level, some participants have never before used a computer or opened a web browser. To tackle this problem, we will implement a pre-test for those who register for upcoming trainings.

 

Successes

The Small Business training afforded participants to learn ways they can advertise their businesses online and further use the internet to connect to Suppliers, Competitors and Customers in a more secure way.

With the growing number of interests in our trainings and participant obtaining jobs solely from what they learned from ilab, it is evident that our services to the public is breeding the tech community in Liberia in a positive way.

 

Lesson Learn moving forward

We have realized that computing training is needed in almost every section of the Liberian society, while it is true that we have been offering free trainings for the public, it is evident that specific training for targeted groups that applies directly to their career is needed. With the success of the small business Intro-level training, we are confident of looking forward to more customized courses for diverse disciplines.

 

iLab Robbery Lessons Learned

In the past year iLab has had over five hundred visitors. This Tuesday morning, January 10th, we had our first visitor who left with more than a bit of IT knowledge – instead, he took two of our computers.

 

The thief signed in at the security booth at about 9:28 am, informing the security that he had a scheduled meeting with us. He had visited the day before, sharply dressed in a business suit, and had inquired with iLab’s office manager about his local NGO working with iLab. But on Tuesday, as he made his way into the iLab for the 2nd time, he opened the lab door quietly and unpluggeed two laptops closest to the door and put them in his bag then slip out – all of this with iLab staff in the next room. The lab computers were not locked as they normally are, and the office manager was momentarily out of the lab.

 

Empty spot of the stolen HP Probook 4525 in iLab

Our IT Director noticed the two computers were missing within an hour and we called colleagues at a local GSM company. They were able to geotag the location of the phone number the thief provided when he signed in with security. With the help of the police’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID), the thief was found and arrested by the evening; the ex-pat who bought the stolen computers has also been arrested, and the police are now trying to recover the computers.

 

Lessons Learned
We at iLab have gotten too comfortable. Being on the last floor of a five-story building, surrounded by a huge fence and security system, we felt secure; although we anticipated the possibility of theft when first moving in and had locks for all the windows, doors and computers, the computer locks had not yet been reinstalled on our first days back from the holiday.

 

We are just plain lucky that these were our two least valuable computers, and that only two of 16 were taken. Clearly, some changes need to be made – here’s what we’re thinking:

 

  • Bag checks by security when visitors enter and leave iLab
  • An automated doorbell that rings whenever the front door is opened
  • Having at least one iLab staff located in the lab at all times
  • Locks on computers and all equipment in the lab at all times
  • Making sure we have all the details of our equipment (not just the computers) – serial number, model and make – recorded so we can easily identify our equipment should it be taken
  • Possibly hiring another security officer to station directly outside the iLab door

This has been a valuable lesson for us about being in touch with the realities of one’s environment and not blinded by one’s feeling of security. As a public resource center, we don’t control what members of the public will come to iLab and thus we cannot assume what their intentions will be. If you have any other ideas on how we can improve the security of iLab, feel free to share.


 

Thank-you Letter from Columbia University

Access to technology is a huge challenge for local Liberians. iLab Liberia in an effort to minimize this gap has used its hub as a single public point for techies and innovators to access the internet in Liberia.

 

Among the many beneficiaries of this initiative are Liberians, expatriates and other INGOs, foreign universities and institutes that use iLab’s facility to enhance their mission, programs and surveys.

 

Below is a thank-you letter from Columbia University as a testimony for the assistance ilab rendered while they were carryout a survey in Liberia.

 

 

iLab Liberia announces a grant from Google.org

iLab Liberia is pleased to announce that we have received a $250,000 grant from Google.org to continue our work in Liberia. This grant will enable iLab to continue its current activities and introduce new trainings, upgrade our dedicated internet connection from 1.5mbps to 2.0mbps, double our laboratory space and purchase new computers. With Google.org’s support, it is possible for iLab to meet the growing demand in Liberia for access to cutting-edge ICT resources and trainings.

Some of the new events made possible by this grant will include:

  • A customized set of trainings for IT professionals seeking employment in Liberia’s NGO community
  • Providing free access to online courseware in ICTs and computer programming for Liberian students and professionals
  • HTML, PHP, CSS and Python programming language trainings
  • Introductory course in ICTs for small business entrepreneurs
  • Office hours for interested users to learn, experiment and create their own projects with assistance from our staff
  • ICTs for young women in Liberia: a course designed by iLab and Nobel laureate Leymah Gbowee
  • Data management trainings with a focus on standardization and portability of information for variety of users from government ministries to NGOs
  • YouTube parties that allow our users to contribute local content and directly experience the power of video as a learning tool

And these events, piloted and made popular in 2011, will be back in 2012:

  • Mapping parties where Liberians use Google’s Map Maker software to add the breadth and depth of their local knowledge to the map of Liberia
  • Beginner, intermediate and advanced free and open source software (FOSS) trainings
  • Hosting Google Technology Users Group meet-ups and other IT-related groups in need of a regular meeting place
  • Blogging and “social media for development” trainings
  • Web development classes for high school students
  • Continuing to host workshops and events for organizations requiring ICTs

 

We at iLab are incredibly thankful for Google’s generosity, and we’re very excited about the possibilities this grant will provide us in the next phase of iLab’s development.