Launch Day at YWI!

Today is Launch Day at Young World Inventors Headquarters!  We’ve been working hard since May on an all-new website and five stories that I recorded last winter with Elijah and Abisae, our first African shooters. Today we also launch our Indiegogo campaign, to fund editing and shooting in Africa. Donations are tax deductible, plus you can score some fun perks. We’d be thrilled to get you and a couple of your friends involved in this growing community.

Last winter we shot footage of seven new startups and existing teams. We began collaborations with Kilimanjaro Film Institute and Land O’Lakes International/USAID. We set our sights on broadcast venues and began conversations with three companies in Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya.

I return in September to profile more inventors. One of our inventors is Payan ole-MoiYoi. After graduating from Princeton, this half-Masai inventor got restless in the USA and moved back to Kenya to create the Kenya Stove. The Kenya Stove burns cleaner, helping to reduce lung disease, the second most deadly disease in developing nations, after AIDS. We’ll share more of his story on the blog in coming weeks. Last winter we also met with Sam Zizinga, who’s creating animation with limited tools for a kids’ TV show in Kigali, Rwanda. We shot village women with no education inventing solutions to their in the poorest areas of Tanzania. A series of these broadcast shorts could make invention contagious, with your material and moral support.

You can learn more about the campaign, and our other inventors, at our Indiegogo campaign page. Your financial support will help us hire local shooters and edit the new stories. For field updates from Africa, sign up and donate at Indiegogo. I’ll send exclusive blog posts and video messages to all supporters this fall.

It’s been too long…

It’s been far too long since I shared news from YWI Headquarters. I was on the road in Africa in January and February, following five new inventors with camera teams in Kenya and Tanzania. Cameraman Abisae Maeda from the Kiliimanjaro Film Institute shot with Jodie Wu and with her best solar sales woman, Upendo. KFI  are our partners in  a village invention series we hope to produce Tanzania. Our first story there, “Village Innovation Opens Minds,” (below) stars our own Bernard Kiwia, whom we have filmed since 2011.

We partnered with Land O’Lakes International/USAID to do this story and bumped fiercely across potholed roads for three days with the LO’L team to learn that women who can’t read can become inventors in months, with the right coaches (Bernard and Noela).  Then we went to Rwanda to meet the visionaries at GirlHub. We plan to find new stories with their guidance in September. We want to train a shooting team there and make a deal with TELE10, the newest TV station in Rwanda, who say they want to broadcast our stories. Finally, we expanded our production team in Nairobi, Kenya to include Pete Murimi and Elijah Kanyi. Elijah will come with us again to shoot updates on Cyrus and Payan in September/October.

I came home to Boston in March to look at footage and hire a stellar edit team and web producer. Now we are looking at content and story arcs and planning where to expand stories and which media partners to develop this fall. Ta-dah!

And for this very week, we have breaking news! More on that later…

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YWI Snapshot – Turning on a Dime

It’s been a packed three months!  In following our teams, we’ve seen that innovation is hotter than ever in Africa!
YWI tells the stories of innovative entrepreneurs, who, by definition are ready to pivot on a dime and lead the charge in a new direction. Here’s an update from a few teams we’re following in the field.
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“Young World Rising” – Rob Salkowitz and Social Entrepreneurship

“Every entrepreneur who creates employment and opportunity where it’s needed is a social entrepreneur,” says Rob Salkowitz, author of the book Young World Rising.  “Young world entrepreneurs show a particular genius for finding market opportunities in developing solutions to social problems,” he adds.

The rapid spread of computer technology around the world has allowed for tremendous growth in innovation and local social entrepreneurship opportunities in developing countries.  In Africa, Internet access, especially through mobile phones, has created a new generation of “cheetahs” who are no longer waiting for government to solve their social problems.

This so-called “Cheetah generation” is taking matters into their own hands: through the Internet, Cheetahs are learning to Continue reading

Africa: Rewarding Responsibility

While I was visiting family last week, my sister-in-law reported attending a party in Germany with some international CEOs who said they wanted to bring business to Africa, but they couldn’t, since “Africans don’t like to work.” How much like “Americans are rich” is that one? Standard biases about “darkest Africa” may be robbing many of investment opportunities.

Here’s some welcome news about how mobile technology is transforming the continent, from a March New Yorker magazine. Reporter Auletta says that Sudan-born Mo(hammed) Ibrahim’s “mobile-phone company, Celtel, contributed to the development of civil society across the continent, and he’s now spending the money he earned to try to change the values of the dictators, megalomaniacs, and thieves. Each year, he offers the Ibrahim Prize, which bestows five million dollars on an African leader who is elected to office, promotes democracy, does not steal from the people, and cedes power peacefully. He has also created the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, a numerical ranking of Africa’s fifty-three governments. With citizen revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, Libya, and elsewhere, Africa is undergoing perhaps its greatest political convulsion since the end of colonialism, and few private citizens have done as much in recent years as Ibrahim to push for the kind of democracy that people are demanding in the streets. Ibrahim’s message is that Africa needs to take responsibility for itself, and it needs to start by jettisoning its awful leaders.”


Back from Africa! Spotlight on Hehe Ltd.

I traveled to East Africa for a month to track the progress of recently launched business and development teams and spent two days with HeHe’s smart, articulate and ambitious team, all still students.

HeHe, Ltd is a brand new Rwandan company, born of the cross-cultural learning between Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) and MIT’s AiTi program.  Not only did MIT students inspire KIST students to create new mobile phone apps, one team, HeHe, Ltd., has won two high profile Rwandan clients. Taking their new roles even further, HeHe co-founders graduated their own class of 11 students at KIST, celebrating their course completion on February 4, 2011.  They have done all this in six months, since their six-week MIT course in Kigali last summer, 2010. Continue reading

Voices of Kigali, Rwanda

Tonight’s party, which began at 3 this afternoon, is for Taylor’s students, since he leaves in two days to go back home. His students made shishkabobs on the grill outside (with a homemade baster made of grass; Africans make anything they need from whatever is at hand) after feeding on the pasta salad I and another young housemate made. In consideration of my short night last night, they have just shut off the rap music brought, amplified, sung and danced to by dozen lanky Rwandans, and moved to the lower garden. Taylor asked the party to move away from my window so I could sleep. Without prerecorded music, though, they immediately started an even more engaging and lively musical program, making their own karaoke, each one shouting out a song… Continue reading

Innovation in Arusha

Today was a holiday, and all the shops were closed to celebrate the liberation of Zanzibar in 1964 from Arabs and Indians. The rest of Tanzania won independence from the British in 1961. Last week the opposing party marched through town to protest voting injustice and paid with a few lives. The Vice Mayor of the ruling party resigned, but not the Mayor, after we heard they kept the polling place a secret from the opposition. Liberation of minds and hearts is an ongoing process, as we see, in Arizona and Arusha — no matter our culture, party, nation or religion. Continue reading

Arusha: Tell Us Your Stories

Last night I arrived in Arusha, Tanzania to find a slower pace and approachable Africans and foreigners full of news: there was a demonstration yesterday, and three police and a couple of demonstrators were shot and critically injured—unusual in this peaceful country. The authorities have cooled their jets and dropped charges (for peaceful demos!), to calm things down. It was a case of falsified election returns, and the politicians in power wanted no argument, as I hear it. Continue reading

Nairobi New Year

It’s midnight in Nairobi and the fireworks are burning the sky, crackling through the croton and bottlebrush trees we peer through from the Beeclan Guesthouse. Dogs across the city are crazed, making their own howling celebration. I arrived just 12 hours ago, and it’s already clear that this is a NEW YEAR for Nairobi, for innovators of all kinds in small businesses (low to high tech), and for Young Inventors worldwide, but in East Africa, especially. Continue reading