Living in Silicon Valley, we naturally pride ourselves on our innovativion skills. From one end of Silicon Valley to the next, the Valley is a virtual beehive of innovation.
On a recent trip to Nairobi I found myself in the happy situation of having to revise this first-world-centric view of the world.
The fact that Kenya, and especially Nairobi, is so advanced in mobile is not a coincidence. It is usually explained by the fact that Kenya has gone directly to mobile, bypassing land lines.
While that is true, it ignores the traditional Kenyan innovation skills, which has allowed mobile startup companies with very slender resources to create advanced mobile apps running on Feature phones and using SMS and USSD in truly ingenious ways.
M-Pesa, which is a mobile-phone based money transfer and microfinancing service for Safaricom and Vodacom, is currently the most developed mobile payment system in the world. And implemented on old-fashioned feature phones.
The Nairobi transportation system with matatus, public minibuses/commuter buses, conveys tens of thousands of commuters from the suburbs to downtown Nairobi. They in turn feed into motorcycles that carry the commuters to and from their homes to the bus stops.
A light-way and highly efficient transportation system.
Instead of pedestrian tunnels or bridges on the highways they often implement speed bumps that allow pedestrians to cross the highway between the speed bumps.
And when parts of the Nairobi airport burnt down recently, they quickly built up a new terminal by using a city of tents, for banks, the police, stores and waiting areas. All built up in a matter of days and all functioning surprisingly well.
Innovation doesn't have to involve large amounts of venture capital and advanced computers. It actuallt exists all over the world, with often highly interesting results.