BarCamp Diaspora '09 - More work to follow, it's time to move
After the success of BarCamp Ghana '08, I dreamt of a similar event in the US. It took a while to bring the planning and organization together and last weekend, the dream came true in the form of BarCamp Diaspora '09. The event, themed 'Investing our talent where it counts', took place at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins' University in Washington, DC on July 25. BarCamp Diaspora was a free event that brought together people interested in using their skills, talent, and resources to benefit Africa. The event went on smoothly and judging from the feedback of the attendees, I can call it a success as well.
BarCamp Diaspora was a free event which had about 100 registered attendees and about 70 people showed up to the event. It was 'tweeted' through Twitter, you can search #bcdiaspora for related tweets. The event was also streamed live online through ustream which had viewers in Ghana, Burkina Faso, the UK and the US, amongst others. These were put in place to allow people outside the venue to participate in the event which worked. Questions and comments were submitted through these media which were communicated to the BarCampers present. One attendee volunteered to record video for the whole event and many attendees took digital photos. Since, we couldn't get the funds to support a longer event, BarCamp Diaspora took place between 12 and 6pm (as advertised) with a short snack break (plantain chips, donuts - bofrot, atsomo, water and soft drinks).
The keynote speaker for the BarCamp was Ashifi Gogo, CEO of Sproxil.com and co-founder of MPedigree.org and a 2009 World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer. He spoke about various ventures he had been a part of (including Odadee.org) and his present project which is fighting counterfeit drugs. Ashifi is a PhD Innovation Fellow at Dartmouth College and the service is taking off in Nigeria and Ghana. He also talked about the challenges and intricacies involved with doing business in Africa and mentioned mobile communication, microfinance and big agriculture as what's hot in Africa at the moment. Ashifi mentioned that there were many opportunities back home and advised those who wanted to return to Africa to pursue enterprises or businesses ('do something') to have 5 year work plans and save before returning. He also talked about having friends there and keeping in touch in classmates. He stated how his colleague from his alma mater Presec had now become the deputy minister of information. I loved Ashifi's presentation, it was educational, funny, and told his story really well.
In order to foster the BarCamp spirit, we had zero panels; only breakout sessions. A lot of sessions were suggested and we ended up with 9 sessions over 3 time-slots, hence 3 ongoing sessions at each time. They were Microfinance & Mobile technology (Derek Koranteng & Benjamin Lyon), Healthcare in Ghana (Maame Sampah), Innovative technologies for rural communities & Mobile apps (Molly Mattessich & Jackie Adhiambo), Creativity & the Arts (Seyram Avle), NGO's (Aida Manu), Gender, education and technology (Henry Barnor), Scientific research in Africa (Akua Akyaa Nkrumah), Using technology to connect communities (Raquel Wilson), & Blogging & Social media (Jemila Abdulai). Most of the sessions were round-table style and ensured participation from as many as attendees as possible. These sessions were tweeted as well and notes were taken, which will be provided for the public soon. The brainstorming and discussions in these sessions were great and gave birth to many ideas and promoted projects/businesses that were working on those ideas. Attendees learnt about blogging, and many organizations and projects which are fostering African development.
The organizing team took care of the opening and closing remarks, as well as the agenda building session which helped decide the breakout sessions. The opening session talked about the idea behind BarCamp Diaspora - bringing together intellectual and enterprising minds to dialogue and discuss African development in whatever sector or discipline they were interested in. The agenda building session allowed attendees to share what issues were most important to them and which discussions would dominate the business of the day. The closing remarks summed up the day's agenda, the ideas generated and the need to consolidate the thoughts, ideas and solutions for future use. The plan is to draft some policy papers around some of the discussions to be presented to various organizations who can push for their implementation. One attendee, Kofi Ntim, had a lot of helpful information about receiving funding for start-ups and enterprises and he gave a short presentation at the end of the BarCamp.
Most of the attendees were Ghanaians, especially those who lived in the DC, Maryland, Virginia area. This was a result of the network that the organizing team had available. Unlike BarCamp Ghana, the ratio of women to men was much better and ladies represented in full force. There was a good mix of students (both in undergrad and grad programs) and professionals. It obviously showcased a youth movement, since more than 75% of the attendees were under 30. Barack Obama called on young Africans to take charge and some of them were at BarCamp Diaspora. I don't remember anyone mentioning Barack Obama at the event even though we were right in his backyard (DC) and he had just been to Ghana. Like one attendee said, the attendees were busy talking about what they could do for Ghana/Africa and not thinking of what Obama or the West needed to do.
Many thanks to the organizing team for the putting this together. The GhanaThink Foundation was the main sponsor and provided funds for event material and food and drinks. This allowed us to make the event free. JHU-SAIS' African Studies program sponsored by enabling us to use the Kenney Auditorium, four classrooms and other spaces for free. Judging by the amounts we were quoted while looking for a venue at the start of planning the BarCamp, JHU-SAIS did us a huge favour. In the future, we'll like to enlist more forward-thinking organizations like GhanaThink as organizers & sponsors so as to keep the BarCamp event free, increase the network from which the attendees come and provide more for the attendees. There is still a lot of room for improvement, with note-taking, better live-streaming, documenting and promoting ideas, etc.
When you are having trouble getting people into different sessions to stay with the schedule, it may not a bad thing. It may be because attendees are busy networking and discussing future plans, which takes a little longer than short breaks. We hope to see many ventures and initiatives started out of this event. One lady who needed help with a business plan sat Kofi Ntim down to get as much information as she could, that makes for fulfilling and valuable time spent. If your attendees are fulfilled, then your work is fulfilling. 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 time to move. Less talk, more action. Let's begin to invest our talents where they count.