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“The Boy who Changed the World” ICTworks Interview with Simeon Oriko, Founder and Executive Director of The Kuyu Project

By Kelechi Edozie-Anyadiegwu on April 8, 2011

Simeon Oriko is a young entrepreneur, age 21, who is the founder and Executive Director of The Kuyu Project, which is a digital literacy initiative aimed at teaching African high school students how to use social media and other digital tools to effect social change in their communities.

His very interesting blog can be found here .

1) Can you tell me a little bit about your background in the ICT4D field? Did you have formal training?

My foundation in ICT4D began at the University of Eastern Africa, Baraton as a leader of the computer science student organization. We organized an ICT literacy drive targeted at high school students and teachers in schools around our university. A certain experience then introduced me to the ICT4D spectrum. A young girl wanted to know how to be a pilot and I took out my phone and we Googled for information about the topic. I later taught her how to use the internet to look for information and she used that skill to achieve her goal. She is now learning to be a pilot at a college near her home.

It is from this experience that I learned the value of technology for development. So quite honestly I have never had formal training in ICT4D. My work in the field is purely based on passion.

2) What is the mission and the goals of the Kuyu Project?

The mission of The Kuyu Project is to teach African High Schools how to use social media and other digital tools to effect social change in their communities and also to achieve their own objectives.

We strongly believe that by doing this, we are fueling the dreams and ambitions of these young people which in the long run may turn out to be the solutions and innovations that change Africa and the rest of the world.

We hope to get kids to learn the value of technology and how to use this to seek out opportunities for themselves and their communities.

3) What inspired to create the Kuyu Project and what aspects of your upbringing motivated you to see change?

My personal experiences with technology inspired me to create The Kuyu Project. I grew up as the world wide web was evolving and had been amazed at how simple and easy it was to accomplish many things through the Internet. Activists were using the Internet as a tool to organize. Businesses were using the Internet for marketing and transactions. Many others were using the Internet to connect, to create, to collaborate, to learn and to share.

I figured if we taught people about the tools and techniques of using web tools to achieve the above, then we could effectively create a ready avenue for people to achieve their objectives and to better themselves. I later came to single out high school students as the best target group to train because students at this age, age 14 – 18, are at a creative peak in their lives and that this program would help tap into that potential.

4) What do you hope the Kuyu project will do for rural communities? for Africa as a whole?

My hope lies in the realms of self reliance and sustainability. Most communities are able to define their needs, their problems and been outline solutions for them. The one thing they do not have, is the resources or methodologies to implement these solutions. I hope that through the trainings and other initiatives of The Kuyu Project, these communities will be able to use digital technologies to achieve their objectives.

As for Africa, I believe that this initiative will help many youth to bring their ideas to life so as to effect social change and also create innovations and solutions that will change the continent.

5) Where do you hope the Kuyu Project will be in 5 years? 10 years? How do you see the Kuyu project expanding?

It is my hope that in five years, The Kuyu Project will be putting technology in the hands of our trainees and in ten years, to be in a position to aid students to practically implement their ideas and to grow them.

We believe to expand our focus on our target audience to include a more global outlook. We also hope to expand our mission to include trainings in other technologies other than the Internet.

6) What impact do you currently see the Kuyu project making in the communities implemented?

The strongest indicator of impact is a shift in our students mentality. On a number of occasions, we have gone out to various high schools to conduct digital literacy camps and we’re met with a somewhat pessimistic outlook from the students. Very few of them believe they can be an agent of change in their communities let alone their continent.

After teaching them how technology can aid them in their endeavors, a number of the students realize the potential they have and even go ahead to experiment on achieving various objectives using the tools we have taught them to use.

7) Can you talk a little bit about the StorySpaces project?

StorySpaces is an initiative of The Kuyu Project. It is a social network anchored on the idea of translating global online conversations into practical offline initiatives. It stemmed of an idea of communal learning where everyone is encouraged to ‘teach each other’. The social network is primarily mobile web based with an Android app as well as a desktop web version. The app is still in development.

We hope that people will be able to use the tool to converse with their own communities and others outside of it with the aim of learning and practically applying the newly gained knowledge.

8) What challenges have you come across in trying to implement the Kuyu project and StorySpaces?

The major challenge we come across in implementing our programs is resistance from the parents of our target audience. A number of these parents strongly believe that technology is more of a distraction than an aid. Most parents rightfully argue that they took their children to schools to be learn and not to waste time on the internet. A number of parents have gone a step further and have pulled their children from schools that have computers. Some school administrators also side with the parents.

Our greatest challenge is to convince the parents that digital literacy is as valuable as any other education.

Other major challenges have to do with logistics including lack of computers and other equipment and lack of electric power in certain school.

9) What kind of impact do you see ICT’s making on the youth of Africa.

ICT’s in my view are enablers. By enablers I mean that these tools and technologies provide a means for an objective to be accomplished. In the light of this I strongly believe that ICT’s will provide African youth with a means to carry out their missions and achieve their dreams.

10) Last but not least, your tag line reads “the boy who changed the world” do you forsee the Kuyu project changing the world, if so how?

My tag line stemmed of a monicker I picked up as a child that meant if I was going to be different from the rest of the world, them i had to make different decisions than the majority of the world was making. One such decision led to starting The Kuyu Project.

In line with my own personal mission, my plan with The Kuyu Project is to grow it into a catalytic role for enabling African youth to achieve their dreams.

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I am currently an undergraduate student at Michigan State University, majoring in Media and Communication Technology with specializations in African Studies and Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D). My interests include ICT4D and Human-Computer Interaction for Development (HCI4D). I am very passionate about the ways in which ICTs can be used as a told for social and economic upliftment in the third world.My dream is to have a role in socio-economic development of African countries, to discern how greater technology adoption in Africa could aid in achieving social and economic development. I would also like to see an Africa where youth have the same life chances as their counterparts abroad. making this dream a reality calls for the mobilization of African youth, to help them build the tool that they need to enter and become successful in a globalizing economy.
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