Coded in Country | Stoking Local Innovation

Can institutions [be they international organizations, companies, universities, foundations or governments] enable innovation in local technology industries? We explored this question on a rainy Saturday afternoon in New York at the ‘coded in country’ session of the Open Mobile Consortium‘s Open Mobile Camp in New York.

The challenge of ‘coded in country’ — how to get more coders in the developing world working on mobile projects — is in many ways a helpful proxy for thinking about the larger question above. In an energetic discussion, we developed something of an incomplete typology for developing the capacity of local programmers, each with its advantages and drawbacks.

Partner with Local Universities

Lucky Gunasekara of FrontlineSMS:Medic and Stanford University pointed to Nathan Eagle‘s Entrepreneurial Programming and Research on Mobiles project that partners with African mobile engineering department to strengthen capacity. challenge: ensure knowledge reaches beyond university-educated classes.

Break Down Barriers with Local Tech Industry

Chrissy Martin of the Fletcher School mentioned that in Tanzania, the most inspired, engaged, and talented programmers all worked at value added services companies. These are companies that charge premium rates for sending and recieving sports scores, concert tips and other local cultural content. Chrissy argued that there should be more cross-pollination between private sector talent and those working on M4D projects. challenge: find an incentive for private sector programmers to engage.

Convince Donors to Adopt a ‘Coded in Country’ Standard

Similar to a fair trade stamp of approval, what if the Gates Foundation declared that any development project with a coding element must be 50% coded in-country. To be sure, some projects already feel a need to hire local developers. Stephen Miller of the Ujima Project | Investigative Reporting for Africa, discussed how the group hired Appfrica Labs to do the coding for the project. challenge: in places where local capacity is not established, balance project goals with local capacity building.

Give Space for Informal Innovation Labs

Christelle Scharff, professor of computer science at Pace University, discussed the mobile development boot-camps she runs in Senegal. The goal is to create space and an incentive for young people to spend a week intensely tinkering with mobile solutions to community problems. This is a similar approach to Appfrica Labs 10,000 Hours project, which urges companies in Kampala to open their space to young people interested in digital technologies. challenge: ensure that peer-education ensures learning of fundamental skills.

Cross-posted on In An African Minute.

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About the author: Joshua Goldstein is a technology consultant and writer living in New York. While completing his masters degree at the Fletcher School, Tufts University, he interned with Google and Harvard's Berkman Center. He is currently a consultant for UNICEF Innovations group and an Appfrica Labs Fellow. He blogs at
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