Fjord Makeshop In Nairobi – December 2015

We feel very humble to have been part of the advance party on something we hope will become much greater than the sum of its current parts. We hope that the project will mean many of us can take this forward into the field.

Nairobi is certainly a colourful place. On our first day there, we were introduced by Mike to Espoir, our IT colleague, and to Patrick from Ensemble Pour la Difference and were taken on a tour of Kibera, Kenya’s biggest slum. According to Patrick and Espoir this was a fairly good representation of the conditions in the area of Bukavu in which they work.

We then had three solid days of Rumbling and Makeshopping with our friends from the DRC. It was challenging but amazingly rewarding – by day three Patrick and Espoir had fully embraced our service design methods, and we loved seeing them get up and sketch their ideas, think through service blueprints, and bring user-centred thinking into everything we did.


We walked away from these sessions with a really concrete action plan to move the project forward. For both of our focus areas, the building started the week after our visit to Kenya. We started with loading up a set of laptops and tablets with an open source patient medical records system. Mike then handed the devices over to Dr. Pascal at the end of January 2015, together with a welcome pack and training materials that the Fjord team had put together.  


We then proceeded to prototype a basic app for simple feature phones that would bring essential news and information to the people of ‘Africa’s forgotten Island’, Idjwi, via a long-distance mesh network. Mike showed this prototype to the Island’s king in early February this year, and got the approval and feedback from local people. We then used a Makeshop to physically map out the nodes of the mesh that would carry the internet connection south from Goma to Idjwi.


Both of these focus areas will become broader platforms that can then host more advanced services. We generated a big range of service concepts before refining them and mapping them out. These we  incubated and have been developing over the past 4-6 months.  These concepts include a marketplace for finding ultra-local casual labour, essential communication tools for local traders and miners, security-oriented social networks for dangerous slum neighbourhoods, and a motorbike ambulance system for the catchment area of Dr. Pascal’s hospital.


When we arrived back in London, we had much to do. We had to prototype the Internet antennas, so that they could be installed on Idjwi earlier this year. At the iHub, we met Kenya’s flagship innovation company, “Brck” – their rock-solid router-antenna-battery solution was going to be perfect for schools and Pascal’s hospital, and the Makeshop also helped us understand the requirements of bouncing a signal long distance.   


Once this was done we had to design micro-operational services at the base of each antenna station – this would allow local people on Idjwi to make calls, have access to the full internet between the hours of 8pm and 8am, and generate some money by supplying power and internet to local people. Everyone in the area now have access to the cached content during the day via a Raspberry Pi kiosk.

Altogether, it has been an incredible experience Following our trip to Kenya, Mike was very happy, so the rest of the team were as well. Many thanks to you all in the help and advice we received before the visit.  You can read all about what happened next on Project First Light elsewhere on this blog. 


Many thanks to Ricardo, Dan, James, Alex, Nour, Anneli, Anthony, Michele and all of you for your help and advice so far.

We think that Africa provides the kind of design challenges that can focus and drive our practice forward. The needs are so tangible, and the solutions are well in our reach. The opportunities feel very real, ready to be hunted! Let’s do this!!