Africa’s Silicon Valley becoming a reality

Amolo Ngweno of Digital Divide Data/FILE

NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 13 – Kenya’s Information and Communication Technology sector has grown in leaps and bounds in the last few years as demonstrated by the number Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and broadcasting stations that have penetrated the market.

Liberalization of the mobile cellular market has facilitated the development of innovative ICT technologies such as the mobile money transfer system that has catapulted Kenya onto the global technology stage, with industry heads already dubbing it Africa’s Silicon Valley.

The ICT sector’s growth has outperformed every other sector in Kenya, expanding by 23 percent annually during the last decade, and is proving to be a viable contender in the country’s economic growth and attracting foreign interest.

Only five months young in the Kenyan market, US-based non-profit organization, Digital Divide Data (DDD) is living up to its name by bridging the digital divide with the primarily goal of creating jobs for talented youth in developing countries; already operating in Laos and Cambodia for the last 10 years.

After recruiting Amolo Ng’weno, veteran Kenyan entrepreneur, as the company’s Managing Director, DDD set up shop in its first and only offices in Africa at Paramount Plaza in Nairobi.

The social enterprise that operates as a for-profit company in Kenya, offers business process outsourcing (BPO) services, including data entry, electronic publishing, and back-office administrative tasks to customers in East Africa as well as international markets.

With several thousand people employed in the BPO sector in Kenya, Ms Ng’weno, who was co-founder of Africa Online, Kenya’s first internet service provider, says she hopes DDD Kenya can build up the sector in the country.

“We really hope that we’ll be both riding a wave and creating a wave for the BPO sector in Kenya, and that it’s really one of the pillars of the economy of the future of Kenya. I’ve personally visited Bangalore and seen total transformation of the whole city that ‘s been due to the BPO market there.”

DDD Kenya has 35 employees most of whom are recruited from Nairobi’s slums and low-income areas.

Twenty-two year old John Njenga from Kariobangi Estate is a Data Management Operator at DDD Kenya, whose typical day involves, an hour of typing training, data entry and optical character recognition.

John’s vision which is to offer consultancy and financial services to the East African community; was a far cry from his life doing odd jobs at Kariobangi Light Industries to support his mother and younger brother; until he found a way out.

“A friend of my mother came with a form from DDD, for me to fill. I filled the form and at that time I thought it was a scam. After some time I received a call and was invited for a placement test and later was confirmed. In DDD I’ve learned a lot when it comes to IT,” he said.

Now equipped with a variety of IT skills and an opportunity to further his education John says for the first time in his life, his future is promising.

“I can see my future is going to be bright, because in DDD we have a promise to get back into school, where if I were out, I couldn’t because raising the fees for Tertiary education is a lot. With no job in Kenya it is hard to pay your school fees, pay rent and take care of family. DDD is helping Kenyan youth come out of poverty,” he said.

With Kenya’s ICT sector now being recognised domestically and globally, Ms Ng’weno says there is no better time to invest and maximize on opportunities in the field.

“I think there’s been a dramatic explosion of creativity, and Kenya is now known as a worldwide centre for ICT innovation. We are a fairly small country, so we can’t win on scale in the international market, but we can win on quality, creativity and innovation. I think we are at the beginning of a great cycle and take off.”