Kick Starting the Tech Community in Tanzania

The tech community in Tanzania is still small, but there is growing interest in the potential of technology to stimulate economic growth and contribute to social change.  Indigo hopes that it has begun to contribute to this ecosystem through awarding a £30,000 grant to KINU, alongside Google Africa funding to support a locally initiated innovation/Hacker and Pre-incubation space.  What impressed me the most about the team, is that they have already successfully mobilised the tech community to some extent e.g. 300 people attended their Bar Camp (which sold out in 2 days) and a similar number attended a Hackathon they arranged.  They also encouraged Apps4Africa to come to Tanzania, brought in industry experts on climate change and ran a follow up session to provide support with submissions.  A Tanzanian entrant eventually won, which astonished East Africa (who naturally expected the Kenyans to win).  We wish them every success in the early stages.

COSTECH, a government institution (which focuses on the practical applications of science and technology) has freely provided the space for a new innovation hub (about 6 months old), which is being supported by TanzICT, a Finnish-Tanzanian government bilateral project.  In addition to running the innovation space, TanzICT are responsible for renewing national ICT policy, building capacity of the Ministry of Communications, Science and Tech and running an innovation programme (which the space is a part of) to help with access to market, entrepreneur awareness, trying to encourage students and entrepreneurs to think practically, linking the tech community to NGOs and the private sector, providing seed funding and pre-incubation.  They run several events including Mobile Mondays (MoMo) monthly and an MIT group.  They really want to focus on stimulating self-belief and encouraging people to take initiative.

COSTECH on the other hand is responsible for macro level issues such as information storage and dissemination and research coordination.  They also run a centre for tech development and transfer which focuses on entrepreneurship, innovations, incubators and a cluster of 13 Research and Development committees.  They are interested in linking ICT with other sectors and in identifying ICT solutions from other countries which can be adapted to Tanzania, particularly to support development outcomes.  They are trying to encourage the government and private sector to collaborate more effectively and link them to the informal and academic spheres.

Smaller institutions which are supporting techies are also springing up in Dar Es Salaam.  I met with Peter Lubamsi of Unyayao who has provided 10 students with software development training and has selected the 4 most promising to work on not-for profit projects aimed at tackling social problems.  These include a school data storage platform which can store data locally without the need for the internet, an open database where they hope to add citizen data in a central place and a platform which connects Drs and patients to make appointments.

Learnit is training students to apply ICT practicallyfor business solutions.  They are also encouraging students to become entrepreneurs and view this as a key challenge as most are forced to prioritise full time employment.

It will be interesting to see how the tech community in Tanzania evolves as these organisations support their needs and we look forward to keeping our eye on the social applications being developed in Tanzania.