Post by Matthew Dawes
In a few weeks’ time I’ll be heading back to Nairobi for the third edition of Mobile Web East Africa and after enduring a harsh winter in the UK I can’t wait to get some sun on my face. But that isn’t the only reason; I’m also really looking forward to seeing a few familiar and new faces at the conference and being able to again chart how the ecosystem has matured over the last 12 months.
I first came to Nairobi back in 2006 when I organised a conference with the CCK called Connecting Rural Communities. It was a great event and one of the triggers that started the ball rolling for me setting up my own company, All Amber, to organise the Mobile Web Africa series of conferences. That event was all about infrastructure, and whilst that is a crucial part of the jigsaw it’s absolutely nothing without content and services, which is what I chose to focus on. 7 years on, the change that has taken place and the range of options available to a mobile consumer is staggering.
Even more importantly, I’m also looking forward to checking out the progress of the Kenyan start-ups, developers and M4D projects. I see the growth of these elements of the ecosystem as fundamental in terms of the creation of innovative services and content. They light the way in terms of what can be achieved and as test beds are also educational – people learn a lot more from failure than success. Taking ICT4D as a case in point, over the last few years perhaps it hasn’t delivered as much as had been hoped. However, you can see people and projects are now streamlining their approach. Honing in on the end user, the target market. There seems to be less talk of scale or solving a huge problem and more focus on achieving success, just as any company needs to. And why shouldn’t the basic business principle of longevity be applied?
That’s an illustration of one of the reasons why I enjoy organising events like Mobile Web East Africa so much, as I have witnessed that change over time. I always think that ‘revolution’ is an overused word. Personally, I think it’s always a case of evolution. Being in a position where I can create platforms that contribute to progress, especially now that it’s under the remit of my own company where I have the freedom to make the key decisions, is absolutely brilliant.
I create a forum on a subject of my choice. Then get as many of the stakeholders as possible in a progressive environment and let it happen – whether it’s learning or relationship building through interaction. The attendees take away from the event what they can achieve. My role has simply been one of facilitating it; I’m not dictating to anyone. I met a Nigerian contact recently and at one point he said something along the lines of “you don’t realise the effect that your events are having”. It’s always nice to receive a compliment. But knowing that the Mobile Web Africa series are having a positive effect and are making a contribution confirms that I am still achieving my overarching objective.
And what of mobile progress across the continent, or more specifically in Kenya? Will Silicon Savannah succeed? When will the mobile web and applications cement their place as a fundamental element of life? When will the content, services, pricing, infrastructure and user experience all come together to really deliver for citizens? Which will be the breakthrough start-up of 2013?
Well, don’t look to me for the answers – I’m just a conference organiser, but time will inevitably tell. My hope is that Mobile Web East Africa 2013 will contribute positively to making it all happen and will accelerate that evolution. I hope that you’ll be there to get involved.
Mobile Web East Africa 2013 will take place over 3 days on 19th, 20th & 21st February 2013 in the fantastic surroundings of the Southern Sun Mayfair. 92% of the 2012 attendees rated the event as ‘better’ or ‘much better’ than any other conference they had attended. For more information please visit www.mobileeastafrica.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org. As is the case at each All Amber conference, Start-Ups, Developers, Academics and NGOs are encouraged to apply for a 50% subsidy on their ticket price.