kLab: Leading the Digital Renaissance in the Land of a Thousand Hills

Take the elevator up to the 6th floor of the Telecom House in Kigali, Rwanda and you'll not only find a stunning panoramic view of the city's endless hills, but you'll also walk right into a vibrant, open space of modernity and innovation known as kLab. While in the city, I had the distinct opportunity of writing the cover story about this up and coming tech hub and incubator for the African Business Journal. Speaking with founding member and general manager, Claude Migisha, I gained more insight into the country's burgeoning ICT industry and the various solutions local entrepreneurs are developing. "Africa will be the next birth place for innovation and the hub for world renknowned tech companies," says Migisha and it was both humbling and thrilling to see first-hand the seeds of this reality being planted at kLab. 

Read the full story at ABJ by clicking here.

Technology Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship

I've just recently wrapped up a course with the Institute of Technology and Social Change (TechChange). If you know me or read this blog, it's pretty obvious that I'm deeply involved in the tech space. But recently I've also taken a keen interest in social entrepreneurship, a field that's been increasing in popularity over the past few decades. More recently, there has been a real movement of social entrepreneurs developing technological solutions to complex social problems. Naturally, I had to learn more. I storified what I've learned over the past few weeks along with some of my favorite readings and videos from the course. Enjoy!


Technology Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship

Highlights from the Institute of Technology and Social Change's (TechChange) inaugural course on Technology Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship. For four weeks, we explored social media, mobile phone applications, and crowdsourcing tools for policy, advocacy and development.

Storified by Justine Yu · Thu, Nov 01 2012 22:19:23


We kicked off the course with an introduction to social entrepreneurship, deconstructing the term and exploring the current landscape. The article below from the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) is one of my favorite readings from the course. Making a case for a definition that sets clear boundaries as to what and what does not constitute social entrepreneurship, it's a great introductory read for anyone just beginning to learn about the sector.
Social Entrepreneurship: The Case for Definition (SSIR)Nonprofits The nascent field of social entrepreneurship is growing rapidly and attracting increased attention from many sectors. The term...
An interesting question was brought up by the TechChange facilitators and moderators: Does the financial model of an enterprise necessarily determine whether or not it is an example of social entrepreneurship? In other words, does social entrepreneurship need to have a profit-generating business model? Some responses...
JUSTINE: "I’m not sure if a profit-generating business model is necessary to qualify an enterprise as an example of social entrepreneurship but I do think that financial sustainability is vital. How an enterprise achieves this (through profits, grants, etc.) is another question. It’s essential that a social enterprise be financially sustainable so that it may do its work without disruption. If, according to the article, a social entrepreneur aims for “large-scale, transformational benefit that accrues either to a significant segment of society or to society at large”, then his or her enterprise must have the financial means to do so. I’ve worked with a number of non-profit organizations that, relying on conditional grants and inconsistent donations, have been burdened with financial hardship and their programs have suffered as a result. It would be difficult (impossible??) to create large-scale social change without a financially sustainable enterprise!"

MANUEL: I have often thought of social entrepreneurship as using business-acumen to fill in the gaps where government infrastructure and provision is failing in order to deliver public goods (e.g. energy, water, healthcare, and education).  In addition, social enterprises should operate with a vision to achieve social impact.  In fact, I tended to hold the view that the enterprise needed to generate a self-sustaining profit, without which they would simply be classified as a nonprofit.
As many of the students in the class are interested in starting their own social ventures, we also discussed the importance of mission statements. Below is another interesting article from SSIR that advocates for organizations and enterprises limiting their mission statements to eight words. I'm a huge fan of Shakespeare's "brevity is the soul of wit" so I'm all for this...though I'll be more lenient and give a ten word allotment!
The Eight-Word Mission Statement (SSIR)Don't settle for more. Whatever windy drivel they might put forward as a corporate mission statement, mainstream for-profit businesses ha...
...and here's Jessica Jackley, co-founder of Kiva, on her experience starting up this wildly successful social venture. It's a wonderful TED talk and just full of Jackley's optimism.
Jessica Jackley: Poverty, money -- and lovetedtalksdirector


Design thinking--an approach totally unknown to me before this course--is all about using design techniques to tackle complex social problems. It's about working closely with users to usher innovations from the bottom up. Reminds me of Eric Ries' Lean Startup.
Design Thinking for Social Innovation (SSIR)Designers have traditionally focused on enhancing the look and functionality of products. Recently, they have begun using design techniqu...
A really insightful presentation and chat with Adam White, co-founder of Groupshot, about technology-based solutions for social problems.
TC108:Adam WhiteTech Change
SocEnt and Tech- TechChange and Amani.pdf - Google Drive


We explored various social innovations in the field...all tackling very different social problems but all leveraging technology for solutions.
Digital Green:
Digital Green in ActionAdam Booher
tem_computer_0608.pdf - Google Drive

TC108 Katy PetersTech Change
Social media and advocacy
Katherine MaherTech Change
mGovernment (mobile government) initiatives
Parliament Watch:
Gregor HackmackTech Change


Though we covered high level technological solutions, our class also shared simple, everyday tech tools that we could all use to run our nonprofits and social enterprises more efficiently. Nick kicked off the discussion with a run down of the tools he and his team use at TechChange.
6 Tech Tools for Growing Your Social EnterpriseTech Change
MAX: Evernote is another great one, not just for remembering things, but also for keeping a real-time updated set of notes between team members. We created a username that several of us had access to and could put down anything important we thought of using our smartphones. People at home can log in and check anything we’ve added on computers as well and add their own notes.
- Fluid Surveys: Wonderful survey tool; more functions than SurveyMonkey if you are using the free version.

– Lucid Chart Very quick way to produce flow-charts if you don’t have MS Visio!


- Salesforce Chatter for collaboration and communication

- Ning groups to manage relationships with some customers and partners

- Skype and other VoIP technology to cut communications costs

- WebX for presentations and demonstrations

- Twitter and WordPress for micro-blogging and blogging

- LinkedIn for recruiting (and Twitter)

- Drupal for content management, Intranet


- Google Drive/Dropbox: We’re a pretty dispersed team of people. We’ve got team members working in all corners of the globe so having our working documents on the cloud is essential.

- Google Analytics: Fantastic way to keep track of stats and analytics for our website. Gives us a great understanding of how visitors our using our website: where they are clicking, their paths throughout the website, and how long they stay on the site or when/where they drop off.

- CrazyEgg: This one goes hand in hand with Google Analytics…the tool specializes in eye tracking, generating heat maps for our website showing us where people are looking and clicking.

- Zoho: We are currently in the middle of implementing this CRM software. Before this, we’ve been working to keep track of applications and trip participants through a clutter of Excel files and Google spreadsheets. Hoping this will make our work flow a lot smoother and a lot less frustrating.

- Facebook/Twitter: These two social networking sites have been vital to our success. Our biggest referral source for applications has been through word of mouth and Facebook especially has been an incredible tool to facilitate that. 

- Hootsuite: Use this amazing tool to schedule Twitter posts in the future so that I don’t have to sit on my computer tweeting all day every day. As a dashboard, it’s also a great way to keep track of all the conversations going on about topics we’re interested in as an organization.

- Vertical Response: Email marketing tool.

- We post jobs, internships and volunteer opportunities here.

- Causevox:  A great fundraising tool that gives each person a unique and interactive fundraising page.


- Social Media: Twitter, Facebook, WordPress blog

- File-sharing: SugarSync, Dropbox, GoogleDocs, Jing (for screenshots and image sharing)

- Design: InDesign

- Research: LinkedIn. I admit that’s a strange choice but I find I use LinkedIn extensively to research people I’m meeting.


Armed with this knowledge, we're now off to apply our learning to the real world and begin cultivating our own social ventures. Another tech tool to help us on our way is Ashoka's Changeshop, a global marketplace where anyone with an idea for social change has the opportunity to track their progress, connect to new funding opportunities, and highlight their achievements for the public. Here are some of the inspiring ideas and projects members of the class are implementing...
Terah Crews' Access Elite
Access EliteAccess Elite
Manuel Peralta's Partnering for Vocation and Engagement
Partnering for Vocation and EngagementMy idea is to start an online vocational training/civic engagement match program with multinational corporations (MNCs), universities, an...
Aldo de Pape's aswegrow
aswegrowBuilding Classrooms for Quality Education #aswegrow believes each child has the right to a proper education that matches its needs and ef...

In Egypt, Applaud the People...Not Facebook or Twitter.

I've been glued to my laptop and television for the past few days just watching the events unfold in Egypt, devouring all the photos, articles, videos, and tweets that come my way. It's absolutely riveting to witness the bravery and spirit of the Egyptian people as they take to the streets to fight for their rights. And I'm so deeply moved to know that a people can come together, irrespective of class, age, and religion, to push for change that is so desperately needed.

Why yes, those are people praying. (Scott Nelson, NYTimes).

It's funny though because as I listen to the news and hang out on Twitter, one of the most prevalent themes about the recent uprisings in the Middle East is the role of social media in mobilizing the people. Pundits left, right, and centre have been quick to assess the role of Twitter and Facebook in igniting these revolutions. And overly enthusiastic social media evangelists are in a frenzy to call the uprisings a "Twitter revolution". I think it's rather silly though to frame the situation in this way, completely disregarding the political, social, and economic issues that are essentially at the crux of this revolution. And I think it's sheer naiveté to believe that Facebook and Twitter are the only means by which people on the ground are organizing, as if their only point of contact were in cyberspace and not physical space. The buzz surrounding social media has truly been overwhelming and as Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his infamous New Yorker article, "where activists were once defined by their causes, they are now defined by their tools". 

Of course this is not to say that the role of social media should go unnoticed or downplayed. I do believe that it has played a critical role in the developments in the region, not only by helping to organize internally within the country, but also by getting information out into the world with such ferocious speed, energy, and urgency. Jared Cohen of Google Ideas captured my sentiments best when he described social media as "an accelerant". These tools have undoubtedly changed the media landscape and the implications are significant. After all, the mere fact that the government of Egypt felt it necessary to shut down the Internet and mobile communications is testament enough to its importance. There's no dispute there.

But let's not let the allure of these new technologies overshadow the bravery of the people. Yes, digital media and communication technologies have made it profoundly easier for ordinary citizens to mobilize, organize, and coordinate their efforts and that's certainly nothing to scoff at. But at the end of the day, it is the people who are the driving force of this (and any) revolution. And Facebook, Twitter, cellphones, telephones, fax machines, telegrams, or whatever the current technology of the day is, are only tools that people have at their disposal to use. In the end, it is still the people who must take to the streets and risk their lives for a better future. And as we grapple to understand these new technologies, I hope we don't lose sight of this very basic truth.

(Emilio Morenatti, Associated Press)