Liz Gannes

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Ushahidi’s Juliana Rotich: The Greater Global Lesson Is Local “Context Intelligence” (Video)

After emerging from an ad-hoc group of technologists and bloggers around Kenya’s contentious and violent 2008 elections, the nonprofit organization Ushahidi now provides open-source tools for crowdsourced mapping that are used around the world. And that includes for Kenya’s largely peaceful 2013 election.

juliana_rotich1Ushahidi is a small organization that has had a global impact, with more than 44,000 public crowd maps created so far around environmental monitoring, corruption, election and crises. Contributors come from over 159 countries, and the platform is available in more than 33 languages.

Juliana Rotich is co-founder and executive director of Ushahidi, and she says that perhaps the most important lesson to learn from her experience at home in Nairobi and abroad is the notion of “context intelligence.”

We’re reposting the full video from Rotich’s D: Dive Into Mobile session today.

What does Rotich mean by “context intelligence”? Essentially, it is using a deeper understanding of and appreciation for different market needs and local culture to build relevant products.

For instance, the mobile advertising company InMobi pulled out of Kenya last year. Rotich said the problem was that smartphone penetration in Kenya wasn’t yet at the level to support a traditional mobile advertising business.

But a less traditional approach is actually working much better, Rotich said at Dive Into Mobile. She told the story of a company called FlashCast, which displays advertisements on local buses using a simple GPS chip that target particular locations. So what’s the mobile play? People riding the buses can earn FlashCast points by texting a number shown on the ad.

That’s not to say that global brands aren’t effective in Kenya, or in Africa more broadly; Rotich pointed to the strength of WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter at finding real markets and monetization in Africa.

She also said she sees lots of mobile technology opportunities ready for the taking, especially around payments and open APIs from mobile carriers. Watch the full interview for details on which local technology efforts she thinks are most promising.

Rotich also previewed the BRCK, “the backup generator for the Internet,” which is Ushahidi’s first hardware device. That project is now on Kickstarter, where it has raised $105,000 of its $125,000 goal.

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