Season 1: Episode 4

Tearing Down the Digital Divide, Brick by BRCK

Consider this irresistible. I recently had a conversation with Erik Hersman, an African instigator, entrepreneur and innovator whose work is widely recognized among the technology, development and humanitarian communities. And, I’m inviting you to join in. As luck would have it, I was ‘carrying’ (a recorder) at the time and so captured our conversation which I’m now sharing with you.

For those of you who don’t know Erik, he co-founded the heroic open source project called Ushahidi (which means “testimony” in Swahili), a crowdsourcing site which launched in 2007. Ushahidi was instrumental in mapping the violent attacks that were taking place during the Kenyan crisis. In 2008 Erik was named a Pop!Tech Social Innovation Fellow and has become a Senior TED Fellow.

In March 2010, Erik co-founded iHub, an open space for the technologists, investors, tech companies and hackers in Nairobi. It’s now the core of the East African startup ecosystem. Since then he’s gotten even more ballsy is running a new company. What they are raises hairs.

The backdrop to our conversation for the show is Erik’s latest project: BRCK – a ‘portable, rugged, on ramp to the internet for the many who as yet aren’t connected. The team is bringing the internet to some of the remotest regions of Africa and beyond that to us all.

After raising $1.2 million in July 2014, BRCK has become one of the leading tech hardware startups in Africa, enabling people to get online in both remote and urban areas.

A New Reality

Part of what drives Erik, is his seeming fearlessness to take on big hairy issues. His bias is toward rapid, positive societal impact and his weapon of choice is ingenuity, patience and humor. With BRCK, he and his colleagues are solving for Africans by Africans which in itself is disruptive. Their business model and community approach is innovative certainly. But, what shook me about this company is that I realized that we in the West have been drinking our own exhaust. We believe that we invent and then scale our inventions to places like Africa. Welcome to a new reality, kids! Africa is filled with pathologically ingenious people who have learned to thrive in unpredictable and hyper-challenging environments. I have the strong sense that we are entering an age when developing communities will routinely unveil their genius to the West and will reorient our global economy and along with it historical biases.

Although a lot of our conversation here focuses on what it takes to takes to foster and sustain a successful entrepreneurial culture and ecosystem, Erik also gives an insight into the passion and drive that is driving African instigators to build teams and products that are scrappy, resilient and well, rugged. You’ve really got to hear this…

What Erik and his colleagues are doing is of real significance: this is an African tech start-up creating a product for Africa. In bringing this story to you, I hope it will help celebrate the work they are doing as well as also inspire you to find new ways of doing things.

Never miss another episode

My conversation with Erik continues in next week’s show where Erik shares an insight into the real world impact BRCK is having in education in Africa. If you haven’t subscribed to the podcast, I encourage you to do so whether you use an iPhone or Android device. That way you’ll get the next episode and the continuing story of how Erik and his colleagues are instigating major change in the technological profile of Africa.

Be sure to connect with Erik on Twitter.

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