Grassroots Diplomacy


Recently we announced a contest that we’re co-facilitating with SODnet and the iHub in Kenya called Apps 4 Africa. This has been exciting in that it directly supports and rewards the innovative thinkers across the continent that are all too often left-out of the global discussion about how to help their own countries.

The Apps 4 Africa contest has a prize pot of $15,000 in cash, gadgets and other prizes for participants from four countries Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya. Because we’re aware of the constraints of spreading the word about such an event, over the next few weeks myself and the other organizers will be traveling to each of these countries to hold workshops for software developers and civil society leaders.

Our goal is to help spark conversation and collaboration between local innovative minds in East Africa, civil society leaders and the NGOs working to improve the region. For some entrants it will be a way to get help exposing their talent and ideas, for others it will be way to find application developers for their ideas, but ultimately we hope everyone will benefit from the discussions.

It was especially interesting to me that the U.S. State Department was the group that offered to fund the idea because I often hear people complaining about the types of diplomacy used by the U.S. and other governments. Here, it seems, we’ve found a division of the State Dept willing to try something different. To quote one of their representatives, “There is a general recognition that the aid and development programs we’ve pursued in the last few decades have had mixed results.”

Even if it’s only an experiment, I think the benefits of engaging them on such a trial are huge as it will hopefully open the door for more effort on their part to find out what’s working and what isn’t. I have no idea if this will happen, but it’s why I was more than happy to participate as a co-organizer.

For those of you living in other parts of Africa, don’t be discouraged. We’re looking into ways of bringing the Apps 4 Africa initiative to your region soon. So far we’ve held events in Kenya and Uganda, with another tomorrow July 27th in Rwanda. The Tanzania event is still being planned.

The photo above was taken during the Uganda A4A Workshop.

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About the author: Jonathan Gosier is a UI designer, software developer and writer. He currently lives in Kampala, Uganda where he incubates and invests in East African entrepreneurs as the CEO of Appfrica Labs. He's also a TED Fellow.
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