Bongo Hive, a Technology Hub and Hivos partner in Zambia that began as a series of informal meetings by a group of technology enthusiasts, is starting to bear some sweet results.
The hub, which was formally launched in May 2011, has created a space for open innovation to take place by hosting events where programmers and other tech enthusiasts are encouraged to work together.
“We realised there were many young people passionate about technology but there was no place where they could come together to share ideas and create solutions using technological tools,” says co-founder Lukonga Lindunda, “that was part of the impetus that saw us set up Bongo Hive.”
An IT graduate from the University of Port Elizabeth in South Africa, Lindunda, returned home to Zambia after completing his degree only to find that he could not find work in his line of study. “I ended up getting an IT networking job and soon got frustrated with it,” he recalls.
He reluctantly got a job with a USAID project which focussed on the educational sector, and it was in this unlikely place that the seeds of thought that led to the birth of Zambia’s first technological hub started forming in his mind.
The project gave out ipads loaded with educational materials to community schools in rural Zambia. Lindunda was inspired by the results he saw, as students at these schools who traditionally had great difficulty keeping up with those from other schools, started performing at the same level or better than students in government schools.
“I realised that technology was a really powerful tool,” he says.
He then moved to another non-profit organisation, VVOB, which also worked in the educational sector, but more with college students and teachers, aiming to improve the quality of education for the teachers with the hope that this would result in better education for students down the line.
While at VVOB, he and some friends started meeting after hours at the organisation’s offices to see if they could find ways to use technology to take the work that the organisation was doing further. These meetings quickly spiralled into discussions about using technology for other challenges that the country was facing.
In May 2011, Bongo Hive was started, modelled on successful tech hubs further North in Kenya and Nigeria. The idea was to bring young people who were passionate about technology together to fire each other up about the possibilities that technology presented in accosting the day to day challenges of life in Zambia, be they health, education, governance or business related.
The energy, enthusiasm and potential that the hub had was evident for all to see, and partners like Hivos, Afrilabs, Google for Entrepreneurs, The Indigo Trust, GitHub, iConnect, Microsoft Bizspark and The Sparkman Centre soon came on board to facilitate certain initiatives that the hub embarked on.
To date projects like the Zambia Draft Constitution App for smart phones, a Women’s Rights App, an African Languages translation app called Bantu Babel and a continent-wide project to get African tech hubs to work more closely together called AfricaHubs have been born out of Bongo Hive.
Numerous other sparks and ideas are still being digitally hammered, chiselled and sculptured under the Bongo Hive hood.
The hub has evolved to become a place where not only techies meet, but where young Zambians from all walks of life gather to find and share inspiration. From talks where young people can meet with entrepreneurs and captains of industry to workshops on teaching methods, from hackathons where apps are built in one weekend to make-a-thons, where actual working prototypes of gizmos and gadgets are built.
The Hivos partnership with Bongo Hive is part of its ongoing support, under the Expression & Engagement Programme, for initiatives that promote innovation and entrepreneurship . Other tech hubs supported in Africa include Kenya’s iHub, Hive Collab in Uganda, Kinu in Tanzania and HyperCube Hub in Zimbabwe.