Tuesday, December 23, 2008

BarCamp Ghana 08 - It's only the beginning

When I first heard about BarCamp from my GhanaThink buddy, I was apprehensive. What is this BarCamp that I have never heard of before? I still don’t know why it’s called BarCamp, even after helping organize BarCamp Ghana. What I do know is is that the concept of a BarCamp is excellent. It has almost everything I want in a gathering of minds, hands and people. BarCamp Ghana 08 came off yesterday, December 22nd at the Kofi Annan Center of Excellence for ICT – AITI. Ever since I arrived in Ghana on Tuesday the 16th, I’ve had many ideas of a blog and subject matters to write about, but the excitement that is BarCamp generated for me trumps all.

My first real experience with BarCamps was BarCamp Africa. It was organized by a group of people, mostly non-African who were passionate about or had some interests in Africa. Google sponsored the BarCamp, giving us a whole building for free – an auditorium, a kitchen/bar with free food all day (yay!) and more than 10 rooms all with internet, power, etc. Attendees were charged $25 which was a bargain fee, considering how much the HBS ABC costs, or even SABF. (Google these). When I first got to the Google premises, the organizers were wearing T-shirts, yes tee-shirts, not suits, smart casual shirts and slacks, but the same attire I slept with the other day. They gave me one and some info, and I proceeded to the auditorium. More people there were wearing these white T’s (you’d have thunk we were going to break to partake in some hip-hop video.

BarCamp Africa had some keynotes, presentations, panels and my favorite – breakout sessions. I am the biggest fan of breakout sessions at the moment. It was the best conference I had been to so far, the jury is not yet out on BarCamp Ghana though. BarCamp is even called an ad-hoc unconference so maybe it’s unfair to compare all the conferences I’ve been to with it. I realise I am talking too much about BarCamp Africa, something I should have done in October after I attended. Let me segue into BarCamp Ghana and share my thoughts, experiences, memories, et al.

To organize the BarCamp, we needed funds aka kawukudi aka dough aka luuchi. We used paypal as a medium for online donations which worked out well but I don’t think we got as much funds as we would have wanted/needed. I want to thank all those who believed in what we were doing and supported us. We drafted some sponsorship letters for a few firms in Ghana, including AITI, who ended up giving us the auditorium for free. A big shout-out to Dorothy Gordon and AITI for the support. Eventually, we got some money from Internet Research, K-Net provided internet for free, WasteCare Ghana gave us some luuchi too, as well as support from Museke, Suuch Solutions and Kasahorow. We couldn’t have done the BarCamp without their support. Most of our budget ended up going into our own sexy BarCamp t-shirts which were mostly funded by GhanaThink. We couldn’t sell them 200 all off, as hard as we tried but they shall find owners. Say amen.

We chose a theme – Fuelling Ghana’s Business and Tech Renaissance. Communicating this theme to others was not entirely difficult but it gave a sense of an ICT conference. Big mistake. The ratio at the BarCamp was abyssmal. The attendance was below my expectations as well, but we found a dynamic manageable group of attendees numbering about 150. We had two panels – social media and mobile technology, three keynotes – Herman Chinery-Hesse, George Ayittey and Estelle Sowah, a Tsooboi! Session where we showed two videos about the awesome African Leadership Academy, an agenda building session for the breakouts and three different timeslots for 12 breakout sessions. We provided water and drinks as well as some small chops at no cost to attendees. Did I say the registration was free too? Ask me how we managed to provide all this satisfectellentness for free. It’s not cocaine money I can assure you. A big round of applause for all our sponsors again, whose logos are adorned spectacularly on our T-shirts.

We had a great mix of Ghanaians abroad and Ghanaians at home. The organizers had the same mix so our tentacles spread almost evenly amongst these two groups. I loved how these two groups were able to dialogue nicely and not point fingers at the other like sometimes happenes. To borrow the words of one of the BarCampers “You guys sit abroad and come and tell us what to do”. “But you guys, we have come here to help you a, this is what you are doing to us”. The synergy and energy amonsgt these people was marvelous. When we had our speed dating (backspace about 7 spots and type networking) sessions, people were so enthused that they didn’t want to end. I envisioned a group of people who will be encouraged by all the work the attendees were doing and it showed. Now, we are praying for more collaborations, more encouragement and even more BarCamping.

The social media panel was great, I think all the panelists were based in Ghana. We touched on selling the Ghanaian brand, broadcasting experiences and getting our stories online. In the wake of all the negative publicity Africa continues to get, social media is our way out. Some people have started it, but this needs to be viral. The mobile technology panel opened our eyes to the mobile solutions that our citizens are drawing up and what is already in place. We are brilliant, people, we are doing great things. Find out and broadcast these to those who don’t know. Be in the know. Let others know. Let’s challenge ourselves to do better. We need a healthy dose of good news to encourage us. If our politics fails us, we must not fail ourselves. We can all make impacts, even outside our communities in our own little ways.

The breakout sessions we had included Data and Common APIs, IT outsourcing, Mobile technologies, Ghanaian NGO’s, Health and technology, Computer Science education, Social Networks in Ghana, Climate Change and Sustainable Development, Globally adaptable software from Africa, Human Computer Interaction, Entrepreneurial collaboration and Ghanaian brands, Python and Women in Technology. We had note-takers for all these sessions and we shall make them available for the public later. We also took a lot of pictures and recorded video that would be public too. Our friend Twitter was not left out of the action, about 50 people follow BarCamp Ghana. The keynotes were excellent too, the speakers generated a fanbase right after. But we gots to keep on moving, since we were trying our very best to stay on schedule, which we very much did. It’s possible people. Ghana Man Time is a myth, you can actually challenge the status quo. Yes, you can. It’s Obamable.

Most attendees told me they loved the BarCamp and that is how I like to judge success. If your attendees are fulfilled, then your work is fulfilling. This same idea should apply to business, NGO projects, welfare projects etc. People didn’t just take BarCamp Ghana T-shirts, but they took away contacts that would prove useful now and forever. One thing many people harped upon was partnerships, we have to band up and achieve together. I established partnerships after BarCamp Africa and wil be working on others after this one. It’s only the beginning. Thanks to all our organizers, sponsors, our volunteers, our attendees and our broadcasters. Tell a friend to tell a friend to tell a friend. It’s only the beginning.
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