Last year, I attended a conference with the best of MIT graduates and many great startups in Kenya. One of the most interesting ideas was a product called BRCK (pronounced as brick). Designed in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi by Ushahidi, BRCK is simply magical. Ushahidi is a non-profit software company that rose to eminence after the Kenyan 2007-2008 post-election violence when it deployed its website to find witnesses.
For a long time, I have always believed that technology is just a platform for lazy people. Technology may seem as a luxury to many but can it really solve some of the problems hindering Africa’s economic development? BRCK may seem extravagant to some but it is more than that. It is a connectivity device that can connect to multiple devices and can survive a power blackout. It was designed for places where electricity and Internet connections are unstable, places like Africa.
Seventy percent of Africans live in rural areas. These are areas where electricity is very unstable, if not completely absent. People who are lucky enough to have electricity connection have to pay extremely high bills for it. Yet people say electricity is power. That means currently, Africa is very weak.
Internet connection is a completely different story. All measurable parameters about internet connectivity such as number of hosts and ISP subscriptions show that Africa is still behind. East Africa is said to have the best internet activity in Africa yet only ten percent of Kenyans have access to the internet. Compare that with the fact that 98% of the US has access to internet. Whatever the statistics, how is one supposed to connect to the internet without electricity? This is what BRCK has been built for, it is for the seventy percent that has no access to reliable electricity and internet connection.
Rural Africa lacks adequate education. 90% of schools in Kenya are off the grid. For some people, learning without the internet is almost impossible. Well, 90% of Kenyan schools do not even know how learning with the internet is supposed to be. Agriculture, which is the main source of income in these areas barely yields any results due to unhelpful traditional methods of farming. Diseases like AIDS spread rapidly due to practices such as wife inheritance. One of Kenya’s former Vice president, the late Kijana Wamalwa died, leaving his wife at the mercy of his brothers who fought from the funeral to the courtroom for his wife’s hand in marriage. Many girls die after Female Genital mutilation and traditional childbirth. These are all misfortunes that could be stopped with knowledge, knowledge that these people do not have and it is simply too hard to even start to understand how to get this knowledge. This is why Ushahidi built BRCK, to enable everyone to have access to knowledge.
World Bank data shows that for every 10% increase in broadband penetration, there can be as much as 1.4% GDP growth. Imagine what this brand could do to Kenya’s economic growth. Ushahidi has revolutionized Kenya with their products that are simply too close to home, but BRCK is just genius, made to work where others cannot. It could take the continent one step ahead.
(Image Credit: brck.com)