About two weeks ago, following a strike by transport operators in Kenya, residents of the capital city Nairobi resorted to social media to solve the problem. The hashtag #CarPoolKE was a result of an emergent self-organised effort by Twitter users around Nairobi to find alternate transport to their destinations. The Kenya Red Cross amplified the call and the hashtag soon became the defacto choice for most people looking for transport to help them get to where they want or for people who were willing to provide transport on a pro-bono or paid basis.
Simeon Oriko the originator of the hashtag says “ I offered to make the connections between people offering help and those who needed it. A few people picked it up and managed to match them.” What started out in Simeon’s own network quickly got amplified and caught the attention of those who needed the information. “The assurance that people would respond to their distress calls or their offers, is probably the single most critical reason for the success of #CarPoolKE. The push from @Ma3Route and @KenyaRedCross was definitely helpful in getting the word to a wider audience and giving it the credibility it needed” he adds.
Crowdsourcing essentially is not novel to the Kenyan digital scene unlike other African countries. From Ushahidi’s role in redefining crisis mapping to the community organising itself to provide information during a fuel crisis (#FindFuel) to other underreported initiatives such as @WeHaveBlood by Wanadamu which grew from a mundane voluntary activity to Kenya’s biggest blood donor matching information service.
These are just some examples of how social media is positively impacting Kenyan society. Other noteworthy examples may include philanthropy and disaster response and a Minister of Finance crowdsourcing comments on the national budget or @ChiefKariuki who crowdsources aspects of the administration of his locality. The list could be endless, I am sure there are many undocumented cases of where social media has disrupted and brought changes in livelihoods. Dennis Kioko a technology journalist suggests that Kenyans have the resolve to unite when faced with a crisis; “Just like in the 1998 bomb blast, Kenyans do have a sense of togetherness and wanting to help each other out, especially in issues where Kenyans are faced by a problem which collectively affects them.”
Despite flashes of success being seen in urban centers, there still is a bit of pessimism with regards to crowdsourcing permeating to rural areas. Perhaps it’s an issue to do with figuring out the right interfaces to use. “Most of the initiatives use social media to expand their wings. What they do not consider is there are places where social media has not really kicked off” says Evans Muriu. Getting ideal bridges to social media networks and platforms via mundane technology perhaps would influence success.
What we are seeing in Kenya is a lot of passive innovation in the way real-time information is being used on social media or the way in which conversations are directed. It all seems to happen at random times albeit strongly attached to pertinent emergent problems that may occur at the spur of the moment. There seems to be no institutionalized directive from either public or private sectors to leverage on Kenya’s propensity to crowdsource. What is clear though is that it can be used to successfully solve problems. Time will tell, however there is a clear opportunity for tech firms to use Kenya as their crowdsourcing test bed.