Bongo Hive of Activity (Part 3 of 4: Innovation in Zambia)

“I’m the king of bongo, baby, I’m the king of bongo bong” (Manu Chao – Bongo Bong)

Zambia’s Bongo Hive is a startup incubator, meeting place, and nerd den. It feels like home.

We talked to several of the founders about UNICEF’s innovation work – and realized that the Bongo Hive journey and that of Project Mwana had historical connections. When our team was first building Project Mwana in 2010, it was the Bongo Hive community who suggested Andre as a software developer (he’s building uReport Zambia today), and they still remember working with our team almost five years ago.

Andre gets interviewed about uReport (Fabian)

At some point, Lukonga Lindunda was looking at me with a funny smile – I asked him what he was thinking.

“How do you guys build projects these days?” he asked.

“Agile, iterative, and built at point of need,” I said. I’m well prepared, after three days of filming.

“Sure, but what does that mean exactly, for something like uReport?”

“Well – it’s built by Andre and the team here, based off globally available source code- but adapted for Zambia by him. More than that, it’s built with the users – they tell UNICEF what features they want and we build it. If we did it any other way, it wouldn’t work.”

“That’s why I’m smiling – because that sounds entirely different from how you used to work.”

It was wonderful to have a time capsule into our recent past. These principles which seem so easy and obvious now weren’t part of our discourse in our early days and so many of them were first fully articulated in Zambia.

I talked to Merrick Schaefer  who, along with Kieran Sharpey-Schafer  were responsible for much of the original work around Project Mwana, and he confirmed how much we had learned in its development:

“Mwana more than any other project [that the Innovation Unit had done until that point] embodied the principles fully.

1) we threw a local software dev event to introduce it to the local community and hire local devs prior to the project starting

2) we did gap analysis with the clinics (nurses, officers in charge, community health workers, district and province reps) to determine the problems the facilities themselves wanted to address rather than come with a solution

3) we trained the local devs and brought them on as full members of the team and kep them on as staff

4) we built the solution in Mansa over 2 three-week periods working with the clinic staff on almost a daily basis to check every design decision we made with the users using the system

5) we were extremely iterative both in the micro cycles, ie. day to day, and in the project design, ie. build-test for a few months-build

6) we use an global open source tool (RapidSMS)

7) we used full on user centered design principles to explore the CHW community and design the local incentives correctly

8) and man was it collaborative!

Bongo Hive had just been established at that point and wasn’t really involved other than in the community functions.  The local user linux group was much more involved.

…it is exactly because we did those things right that the project succeeded.”

Lukongo Lindunda warms up the crowd for me (Fabian)

I gave a talk at the Bongo Hive that afternoon – and it was a huge honour to be surrounded by the best and brightest in Zambia. The whole time, though, I was wondering a bit about how much we’re learning, and how quickly… what strange smiles we’ll get a few years from now, and how different we will sound when we talk about making global change.




20 March, 2014


Related Stories:

“Mwana and the Bongo Hive”* (Part 1 of 4: Innovation in Zambia)

Reducing medical test delays from 30 days to 30 seconds (Part 2 of 4: Innovation in Zambia)

Revolutionizing HIV response among adolescents in Zambia through the use of mobile phones

Newest UNICEF Innovation Lab in Zambia

See our principles for Innovation and Technology in Development here

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with “required.”