Ushahidi Founder is Google’s New Policy Manager for Africa

The success of Ushahidi as both an activist organization and as a technology startup is one that is widely recognized as Africa’s first big ‘garage’ startup success story. The organization was born out of the 2007 post-election unrest in Kenya when a Ory put out a call to map citizen reports of violence. Erik Hersman, David Kobia and Juliana Rotich all heeded the call and was born (see for the first version)!

The company has since skyrocketed to a staff of 13 people including myself as the Director of the SwiftRiver project. It goes without saying that there are few companies of African origin that are truly serving a global market at the scale Ushahidi is. But the biggest news to close out 2010 for Ushahidi is that my (now former) colleague Ory Okolloh will begin 2011 as Google Inc.’s Manager of Policy for Africa! This is beyond huge news for the African tech space. It represents an appreciation for the African startup talent pool that has worked so hard to change the narrative of the continent by doing things for themselves.

It’s great that the humanitarian space recognizes the potential of African talent, but the real change in Africa will come when the rest of the world, the private sector, the investors, and global business community recognizes the same. That there is a wealth of talent waiting to be tapped on the continent and that they can be as innovative, intelligent, disruptive, and lucrative as their counterparts around the globe.

Ory echoes some of these feelings in a post on her blog, writing:

Beyond the growth of Ushahidi as a platform and an organization, I always tell people that I am most proud of the fact that the Ushahidi story has provided an inspiration to other techies in Kenya and Africa – an example of the kind of talent the continent holds, but also a reminder that we have just scratched the surface. And so after 3 years of serving as Ushahidi’s Executive Director, I feel it is time for me to take on the next challenge. Those of you who know me well know I’ve got a 1001 ideas floating in my head that I need to get out☺

Ushahidi co-founder Juliana Rotich will be the acting Executive Director. As Program Director (and pretty much since the very beginning of Ushahidi) Juliana has been our key interface with the wider community of techies, implementers of the platform and volunteers. Her ability to be a bridge between the core of Ushahidi and the wider community (along with her uber-geek status!) gives me and the rest of the team every confidence that the transition process will be smooth and bigger things lie ahead for Ushahidi.

Where I am headed? I will be joining Google in the new year as the Policy Manager for Africa. The role will involve developing policy /strategies on a number of areas of relevance to Google and the Internet in Africa and will involve working with different parties including government leaders, policy makers, regulators, industry groups and so on. It is a huge opportunity to bring Google’s resources to bear as far as the growth and development of the internet in Africa (and hopefully a reminder of why I went to law school in the first place!). I’m very excited about the move and I hope I can continue to lean on your support and insight in my new role.

The western press picked up on the story as well. The LA Times writes:

Kenyan activist Ory Okolloh is joining Google as its policy manager for Africa, a move reflecting the growth and development of the Internet there.

In a blog post, Okolloh, the 33-year-old Harvard-trained lawyer and blogger who created Ushahidi, a nonprofit which builds free software to help democratize information and increase transparency, said her new role represents a “huge opportunity to bring Google’s resources to bear” in Africa

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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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