Bringing Geeks To Nairobi: Request For Comments

[Update: a clarification here, based on thoughtful feedback: this idea is something I discussed extensively with local tech people in Nairobi when I was there. All of them were very enthusiastic and excited about this idea. I don’t want to give the impression of, as one commenter put it, White Saviorism. Kenyans do not need honkies to teach them the way. They are badasses. I simply want to share the benefit of America’s tech scene’s longer practical experience with building startups.]

So I’ve got a clever scheme, and I’d like your feedback as to whether you’d support this financially (via crowdfunding) or in other ways.

I want to arrange to bring a group of Americans to Nairobi, Kenya, to do a six-week intensive sort of bootcamp on how to run a startup project. (Not how to run a startup business, which is not my specialty, but how to run a project, commercial or nonprofit.) The idea is to bring people in four categories – programmers, project managers, UI/UX designers and system/server admins – who would help teach their Kenyan counterparts the practicalities of actually building projects from conception to launch. Two weeks would be intensive classes, and four weeks would be dedicated to building a specific community-based project, to be determined by a panel of people (probably including, among others, myself and Jimmy Gitonga from iHub, whom I’ve spoken to about this), which would have value to the Nairobi tech community or larger community at large.

This would not be a class for learning how to code, design, etc. Students would be expected to be at least intermediate in their respective fields. This class would be rather to teach practical, on-the-ground stuff — the quickest and cheapest way to deploy servers, free tools for project management and how to use them, best practices for handling customer support, etc.

It is my experience, visiting Nairobi, that the people who comprise Kenya’s tech scene are well-educated, smart as hell, and capable of hustling in ways that a lot of American tech people could learn a lot from. The only thing we really have on them, over here, is just experience: we’ve been doing this a lot longer and we have a lot lower barrier to gathering information and collaborating, as we simply are more familiar with what’s out there. Kenyans have access to the same Internet we do, but they’re not necessarily versed in where to look for information. And they don’t always know the quick-and-dirty tricks we know.

I would get volunteers to teach the classes. They would be unpaid, but their expenses for travel would be paid, they would be hosted for room and board by local nerds in Nairobi, and we’d arrange a per-diem for them to cover other expenses. We’d also arrange fun field trips and the like on weekends, to make the experience a meaningful and awesome one. The students would not have to pay, but would apply for the classes and be chosen based on their experience, etc.

I would like to do this during the Northern Hemisphere summer, sometime between May and September, after I finish my book about tech in East Africa. I’ve got people in Nairobi willing to help arrange the practicalities and do the legwork there, and everyone I spoke to there about this sounded genuinely excited about the possibilities. I’ve also got folks on this side of the pond who are interested in helping me with logistics, assembling a curriculum, and volunteering to be teachers as well.

In addition, I’d like to work with students to become teachers after completing the course, so that this could continue without needing to bring folks over every time, or as many. I’d like this to be an ongoing project, maybe quarterly or every six months.

I’d like to raise the money for the expenses (airfare, materials, etc.) using crowdfunding or corporate sponsorship, which I have no ethical problem with in this case. I haven’t crunched the numbers, but my guess is it’d probably run about $40-50K, depending upon how many teachers we eventually brought over, etc.

Is this something you’d be interested in supporting or being involved in? Would you throw a few bucks our way? Do you have suggestions or criticisms? If so, let me know on Twitter (@jzellis) or Facebook.

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