Mobile technology innovation rock stars, East Africa

I’m in Nakuru, Kenya and I just committed to extend my stay in the country for another two weeks. Destination, Lamu Island on the Kenyan coast. Flight change to The States, check. Flight from Nairobi to Lamu, check. Booking my overnight accommodations for a mere $35/night (including breakfast…and a bonus lobster dinner, but that’s another story…). But wait, they can’t take a credit card. What to do? I worked it out to have the establishment I was staying at in Nakuru, run my card, and then they M-Pesa’d the money to the owner of the little beachside bed and breakfast I was staying at. No credit card, no checks. All through mobile technology. (“M” is for mobile, “Pesa” means money in Swahili). I didn’t really think much on it at the time. Convenient for me, now a nice leisurely re-visit to Lamu.

On returning to The States, I wanted to learn more about the place I had spent the last month in. I set up my google alerts generally to “Kenya.” I get a weekly email digest of the news and happenings… online. What is catching my attention is all of the tech focus and I learn more about the M-Pesa technology. It’s quite amazing to say the least.

M-Pesa was launched in 2007 by Safaricom, a mobile service there similar to our Verizon Wireless. As of 2012, more than 17 million Kenyan’s (roughly 70 percent of the adult population) were using M-Pesa to pay for things from groceries to the little B&B on the coast. About 25% of the countries gross national product is running through mobile phones. Kenya leads the world in mobile money. And with that a bigger technology and innovation hub has emerged out of Nairobi.

Kenyan developers are designing straight to the hand-held mobile device. I can only imagine how their innovators and designers are processing information with mobile in mind, not getting distracted by designing for the computer.  Hopefully, Indianapolis-based ExactTarget has Nairobi on their radar. I think we have a lot we could learn from one another.

PBS Newshour

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