Safaricom Innovation Board, the reality checks

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At long last the long awaited Safaricom Innovation Board got constituted. If you can remember at the beginning of the year, I listed it as among the failed tech ideas of 2010 here. Although some of my views about the board still remain intact, my hopes rest with the fact that the Board is constituted with some of the greatest minds in the land and I believe they know what have to be done.  More to them later

Innovation…innovation, and innovation, what exactly are we talking about here?  Believe me it is one thing to talk about innovation and it is entirely a different story for it to happen.   That is why it is not an easy task for the Board. For example how will we measure their success or failures?

I will leave that for the tech public to decide but for me the following facts have to be considered by both Safaricom and the Board members

Fact 1: Safaricom has to start behaving like a real big Daddy

It is called Safaricom innovation Board but wait a minute who are we innovating for here. There must be a clear line between the interests of Safaricom and those for the innovators.  As a big daddy Safaricom should consider itself the big Lake Victoria full of life while the innovators would be the rivers flowing to the Lake while others starting from it.  Perfect ecosystem if you are getting the picture. The story of being everything in the tech field  is a no no no and no in this case. Daddy never compete with kids…..thank you

Fact 2.  The Board must create conducive Innovation Atmosphere

Innovation on its pure sense requires thinking outside the ordinary. That is not the end , on top of unconventional thinking , innovation a times requires trials and error.  I think the required atmosphere might not work well with Safaricom’s  structural procedures and internal rules.  If for example someone is developing  a system to work with Mpesa,  will Safaricom provide its platform for testing of the new system or will they say, you know what be sure first?  For this to work the Safaricom and the Board have to be open to anything that makes sense.  You never know what might be the real thing.

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Fact 3: Creating Trust and openness is a must

Stealing ideas. Ok it might be a tired line, but the reality is many people have complained before that their ideas were stolen by big companies, Safaricom being one of them.   As much as some people  think that techies and entrepreneurs should not be cry babies, I Believe that shitty behavior of just sitting there and waiting for someone to come up with ideas then you run away with it should stop. Ranting aside, the tech community, Safaricom and the Board must work to create an environment where trust and openness is the order of the day.  If you like an idea, then pay for it or borrow or partner but don’t just pick it without the reference to the brain behind it.

Fact 4: The Challenge..Target

It is over 40 years since independence and as a country there is nothing we can say that this was made  or created in Kenya.  Ok that is too hash we have Ushahidi. How about Mpesa?  Naah , big success in Kenya but the origin is in UK.  The thing is we have very little to show off and I think the problem lies with the lack of challenge. As Nation what are we working to achieve, what are some of the radical challenges out there for the people to solve?   Shame on the current Leadership, I start to think that Former President Moi was/is a better thinker.  You might have hated Moi because he outlived his welcome but think about it for a second, the guy had ambition for Kenya. You remember the Nyayo Bus?   That was a super idea but was mismanaged.

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Now that we know that the current political class has no visionaries. It is upon somebody else to give a challenge to the Nation. May I challenge the Board to Challenge the Nation.

Fact 5: Debates About the Issues

From where I sit, it is obvious to me that most techies are bloggers. That make them dangerous weapon against  Safaricom. I know for sure that most media houses don’t allow journalists to criticize Safaricom, Airtel and the likes because of blackmail. The threat of taking ad business to somewhere else if something bad is written against Safaricom is  enough to make the media owners go kuku. Now it came to my attention after my friend Iddsalim wrote controversial article about pussy bloggers that bloggers are being censored too. Read about that here

The point is, for the Safaricom innovation Board to work, Safaricom  have to allow the bloggers , developers and techies to point out where there are problems.  It is a shame that when Idd Salim found out  that Mpesa can be hacked and did the right thing to talk about it publicly as a warning to Safaricom, they rewarded him by disconnecting his pay bill.  Seriously the guy deserve MBA, MBS and all those tittles Kibaki dish out during Public holidays on top of a thank you letter from Safaricom

Fact 6 Idea Support

We all know that Mpesa was a great idea right from the beginning  but it only became better with the support and marketing.  The number one priority of the Board should be how to source for funding for some of the creative ideas.   May be not funding exactly but getting or creating a supportive environment for the startups to thrive

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Fact 7:  Where are the innovators?

My fellow Kenyans, it is high time we rise up and do something.

Back to the faces constituting the Board

Al Kags – writer/poet

Worked with ICT Board before and was in the forefront in pushing for the creation of the Safaricom Innovation Board.  I think he understand what needs to be done in and out

Erik Hersman of Ushahidi and iHub,

Need no introduction. Perfect choice when you think about innovation.  I talked to EriK soon as after my post about the Tech Winners and Losers 2010 and his words made me believe that he would be a true representative of the tech community

Rehema Parmena  an IP Lawyer with RP Law

I listened to her once last year and I believe she will come in handy to shame the lazy types who steal other people’s ideas. No need to fear anymore

Mbugua Njihia-CEO Symbiotic

I have known him from way back to our high school days.  I call him innovator in Chief.

Joseph Sevilla of Strathmore

By now you probably know that Safaricom partnered with Strathmore University and Vodafone to setup the Safaricom Academy that will offer an Internationally recognized Master of Science in Telecommunication Innovation and Development (MSc. TID) Degree. According to @Mbuguanjihia’s blog

The academy will provide students with a link to the iLabAfrica from where they can get assistance with access to seed capital, mentorship programs, physical space and a variety of tools necessary for the development, testing and deployment of mobile services.

You get the connection?

Safaricom army

Other members are Fred Waithaka and Paul Mugambi both of Safaricom. Both Bob Collymore  (CEO Safaricom)  and Betty Mwangi-Thuo ( Chief Officer of New Products & Services division) are ex-officio members.

What is your opinion on the topic?
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