Startup Weekend Education Nairobi
25 Jun 2016

Guest post by Douglas Ogeto

A dire need to revolutionize education drives Startup Weekend Education Nairobi — the one and only in East Africa

Startup Weekend Education Nairobi 2016, Kenya, was a startup event unlike any other in the world today. As an organizer, I was overwhelmed by the tenacity, passion and empowerment I experienced. The event saw 15-year-olds, students from Africa’s largest urban slum, as well as public and private school graduates compete. It is the only Startup Weekend in East Africa, and the only other Startup event in the whole of Africa.

Carlton Mungai, a 15-year-old, summed it up with his gung-ho, can-do attitude, “Just do it, and you will succeed”. His team, Busta Nerve, consisted of fellow schoolboys from Nova Academies who gave it their best shot and persevered through the 40 hours, competing against others up to 15 years older than them. Indeed, the team was the first up in front of the panel of judges with their idea of making learning more interactive and introducing much needed life skills for children who simply don’t have the same educational opportunities that we have. They presented with a confidence and eloquence that was quite remarkable given they had never done anything like this in their whole lives.

Another stand-out example was from Africa’s largest urban slum, one of the biggest in the world. Patrick from Tunapanda Institute in Kibera, drew on his experience, “What scares me most is chaos of setting up a business. It’s more of an art than a science, you can never be sure of anything really. You have to be really flexible as your ideas mutate.” Tunapanda was set up by two American brothers to give young people from marginalized communities a chance to express themselves. It exists to spread dignity, respect and freedom through learning for creative problem solving and builds skills in digital technology.

These groups astounded me. I had a privileged education in England, and a mother who was a primary school teacher, receiving opportunities that these young people will never have. Yet, I was blown away by this group of young people: their hope, intelligence, creativity, passion and tenacity to see it through. I don’t think I could have done any better.

Melissa Mathu, a confident, perky female spokesperson, and her team, perceptively raised the challenge of educating corporates and communities about protecting the environment as Africa becomes the next target for major development. While sustainable development has become a key political debate in most developed countries, it is not yet considered important in African countries who want the riches the West has already experienced. “We’ve learned to come up with something doable. You have to do a lot of work, market research and speak to a lot of people! I expected a challenge! I got it! All part of the fun and learning.”

The ultimate winner was ‘The Guardian’, a platform that is able to display progress for students in schools. Many parents don’t have enough time to monitor their kids’ performance. It plans to be an easy and convenient communication tool between students, teachers and parents. It won because it demonstrated a real need for the community, combined with a solid business model and a genuine impact on education.

Gender Equality, Not a Given

Another reason this event was remarkable was the number of girls and women involved. Gender equality is one of the world’s big Sustainable Development Goals. It might be a given in Europe and North America that just as many girls would attend Startup Weekends. However, in Kenya, girls still don’t get the chances that their male counterparts do to go to school or build meaningful careers. Most drop out of school at an early age to raise children or get married. With this in mind, the numbers were incredible:

  • Female judge (2 of 4)
  • Female facilitator
  • 3 out of 4 SWEDU organizers were female (75%)
  • 26 of 65 participants were women (40%)
  • Female coaches: 7 of 18 (39%)
  • Sponsor promoting female entrepreneurship: SHE by Spark, an accelerator program for women entrepreneurs, will choose 3 promising female team leaders and provide them with entrance to the accelerator, mentorship for 1 year, and a possibility to pitch for up to $25,000USD post-accelerator.

Why is Africa, and Nairobi In Particular, Such a Hub For Passionate and Vibrant Entrepreneurs?

Africa is the next growth hub of the world. It’s a continent that is developing hard and fast. According to the African Development Bank, Africa’s fast-emerging middle class is now comprised of over 300 million people. And, within East Africa, Nairobi is Africa’s next powerhouse — a business hub and headquarters for many international NGOs.

Startup Weekend Education Nairobi enables local businesses and communities to create inclusive and financially sustainable solutions to pressing education issues. A recent World Bank study found that only 35% of public school teachers in Kenya demonstrated basic knowledge of the curriculum they teach. Access to and quality of education are very low; 15–25% of school kids are still not enrolled in primary schools.

Kenya does not yet provide youth with sufficient transferable skills to succeed in the 21st century job market where innovation, teamwork, flexibility and communication are valued. Startup Weekend Education provides aspiring entrepreneurs with experiential learning opportunities and entrepreneurship skills that enable them to create businesses, as well as enhance their employability. Social entrepreneurship is an effective and sustainable alternative to the highly criticized concept of aid.

Why does Kenya display such a thirst for social entrepreneurship? According to Allice Hocking, one of the authors of Social Enterprise in a Global Context: the role of Higher Education Institutions, all higher education institutes in the Kenyan report are working with social enterprises in some way. It’s seen as essential curriculum for everyone.


The last words: people and technology

Wes Chege, co-­founder and growth­ hacker at OkHi, is extremely affable and driven. OkHi is building the next generation address system that will enable inclusion and access to services for the four billion people without a physical address globally. He’s passionate about two things that he believes will transform Africa; people and technology. “I want to be at the intersection of those two things by driving innovative technology that improves lives and helping develop people skills”.

His personal guiding mantra is “No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up”. That’s what 65 entrepreneurs, 18 coaches, 8 volunteers, 4 organizers, 3 investors and 4 judges did during a moving and unforgettable Startup Weekend Education Nairobi 2016.

Originally posted on Techstars blog

Nick Vilelle

Director of African Initiatives

Nick is GEN's director for Africa Initiatives.