Tapping into Kenya’s rich mobile phone innovation
It started with M-Pesa which has become a phenomenal success and showed the world that Kenyans can give the world something to be really proud of
A baby cries and immediately a cellphone placed in the room triggers a call or text message to the mother's phone metres away or in another room to alert her. This kind of mobile phone application has been developed by a lady who was eager to get a cheaper substitute for baby monitors which are usually out of reach for many mothers. The lady developed an application that uses low end phones which are affordable to many, to act as baby monitors. She is among several other developers enrolled at a new mobile technology training academy eMobilis located in Nairobi. The academy was started in 2008.
The centre, was launched by 36 year old Ken Mwenda and three of his friends and is churning out hundreds of developers every three to four months, effectively generating employment. Mwenda who had lived in Canada prior to his return four years ago worked at a technology company while living abroad and hence optimistic that in this field employment will never lack. “Kenyan youth are very tech savvy, sharp and willing to try new things. Most of them see their counterparts using latest technological gadgets and as a youth most of them do not want to be the one who is left behind,” explains eMobilis Managing Director Ken Mwenda.
Kenyans have come up with unique mobile phone apps that have helped to solve socio-economic problems in the country, a fact that has catapulted so many local developers into the international limelight. This, Mwenda says, is the basis on which the academy was formed, as he notes that there is so much potential in the country and that players in the industry have barely scratched the surface. “It all started with Mpesa which has become phenomenal and it showed the world that we (Kenya) can give the world something big.”
Development of mobile phone applications is a budding industry and therefore, Mwenda advices, this is the ideal moment for local developers to cease the opportunity and come up with ideas that no one has ever envisaged. eMobilis offers four main courses namely Mobile Information Technology/Mobile Technology Entreprenuership Program, Advanced MIT and Android program, Java for mobile and Integrated Program in Mobile and Cellular Technology.
The training schools has generated so many ideas some yet to be implemented that it has caught the attention of the World Bank. eMobilis won a World Bank grant to set up a regional mobile technologies laboratory that also trains young people from poor backgrounds in a bid to help them improve their communities and to create jobs for them. “The beauty of being a mobile app developer is that you can earn money both as a an entrepreneur, you can be self employed or you can work with the big firms in this business and it is very lucrative I must say,” notes Mwenda.
The training institution is popular with school leavers and established professionals who want to be multi skilled perhaps to improve their work environment or to solve work-related problems using these apps, reveals Mwenda. At eMobilis the number of female students is just as much as the males. According to Mwenda this shows the kind of potential this industry has so much so that technological gadget handling and app development which was previously regarded as a man's thing is now viewed more positively by women.
'The beauty of mobile phone application is that I can create an app today that a guy in Germany can buy through downloading tomorrow. You don't need a shop, capital it is so simple yet rewarding,” explains the director of eMobilis. To remain relevant, the training school ensures that before graduating each student develops a unique app that has not been done before and that is practical. To date, 450 people have graduated from the institution, 123 more students are currently enrolled in the various programs at the mobile technology training academy. In addition, the institution conducts one week long boot camps at various universities from time to time to train students on various technologies like the Android. eMobilis partners with several lawyers which it introduces to the pupils for purposes of advice on how to legally guard their ideas.
* To succeed as a mobile application developer, be committed to solving a real problem in the community. This way it will be meaningful and thereafter you will make your money but aim at problem solving first not money.
* Be innovative and different always. Do not copy no one wants what is already out there in the market presented under a different name.
* Read widely and follow the right people on twitter. Twitter is much more powerful than just following your friends, if you follow industry related people you get information on what new opportunities or competitions are out there.
* Do not just sit back and wait to be employed, create the jobs you want to see and mobile app development does just this; changes lives through convenient applications that solve problems and can be sold to stakeholders to make money for you the developer.