Changing society through computer systems

Adapted from The Standard
Published on27/12/2010
By Fredrick Obura
During a recent continental competition, dubbed Apps4Africa, a young woman from Kenya submitted her project and was ranked second runners up.

The competition builds on US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Civil Society 2.0 initiative, and aims at helping civil society use digital technology to connect to their communities and develop innovative solutions to shared problems.

Twenty-five-year-old Jamila Abass developed a Constituency Development Fund (CDF) tracking and mapping website for the competition that brought together various talents from across Africa.

The young innovator saw the need for a CDF tracking mechanism after various lobby groups called for a system through which use of CDF could be monitored.

And the website is already in its pilot stage in Lang’ata constituency. In Kibera area, the system engages residents through community-based organisations (CBOs) to track CDF projects.

The CBOs have administrative access to the website, which allows them to take photographs of various CDF projects and upload them on the website. Any other relevant information is also included.

Jamila explains the rationale behind the move: “The actual projects on the ground are then contrasted with the information officially reported by the local leader to the public.”

Jamila says the evidence-based monitoring combines the communication power of maps and the web to serve as a powerful advocacy tool for improved accountability of devolved funds in the country.

“In the pilot project, we have partnered with Kibera Community Development Agenda (KCODA) to track different CDF projects within the constituency,” Jamila says.

KCODA monitors and submits detailed reports on the real status of projects.

“The aim is to allow the public to keep track and question the use of CDF. This in turn helps in promoting accountability among leaders,” she adds.

Alongside seven students, the Limuru Girls High School alumni won a scholarship to further her education at the Abdel Malek University.

“Initially I wanted to study medicine. I read one of Dr Ben Carson’s books “Gifted Hands”, which roused my interest for medicine,” she says.

“Seven of us went to Morocco and we were all promised to do medicine. But when we arrived there, we were shocked to hear only one person would join school of medicine. I had to choose another career path from scratch.”

She goes on: “After extensive soul searching, I decided to take computer science.”

Upon graduation, Jamila returned to the country and was offered a job by Kenya Medical Research Institute/University of Washington as a system developer.

Her job entailed building medical record systems to enable the research institution run its operations efficiently and smoothly.

In mid-October, Africa Virtual University approached her to work for them in the same capacity.

In Nairobi, Jamila is part of AkiraChix, a group of young women influencing change in the society using ICT as a tool.

They build various Internet and mobile phone-based applications to address gaps in the society. In October this year, together with a group of friends, she won the top prize of Sh1 million in the inaugural IPO48 Software Application Development Competition hosted by Strathmore Enterprise Programme (SEP).

They developed an application dubbed M-Farm, which delivers real time information to farmers on current market prices of their product through mobile phones.

“M-Farm gives farmers more negotiation power and they get to know what their neighbours are selling their produce for,” Jamila explains.

The service also provides farmers with weather alerts in addition to helping them connect with other farmers. It can also be accessed in Kiswahili.

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