Obama Sees Kenya As A Hotbed Of Innovation — Not Terror

Obama Sees Kenya As A Hotbed Of Innovation — Not Terror


By Aryn Baker | From Time

Africa “is on the move,” President Obama told the world on Saturday. Speaking in Nairobi at the U.S.-sponsored Global Entrepreneur Summit, Obama told an audience of international innovators, investors, businessmen and government officials that the continent’s best route out of poverty and away from extremism is through supporting entrepreneurship. “It’s the spark of prosperity. It helps citizens stand up for their rights, and push back against corruption,” Obama said, after greeting the audience in Swahili, one of the languages of his Kenyan-born father.

While Obama said that his trip to Kenya, a first for a sitting American President, was in part personal—“there is a reason I am named Barack Hussein Obama,” he quipped to a roar of laughter—one of the principal drivers of his visit is to increase security partnerships in a region threatened by terrorism. Innovation and opportunity, Obama said, are the antidote. “Entrepreneurship offers a positive alternative to the ideologies of violence and division that all too often can fill the void when young people don’t see a future for themselves.”

Obama launched the Global Entrepreneur Summit in 2010 to encourage young innovators with mentorships, training and funding. As co-host with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Obama highlighted several Kenyanstartups that are already changing the world, from crowd-sourcing platform Ushahidi to mobile banking innovation M-PESA. There are many more, he promised, and “each has the potential to be the next great Kenyan innovation.”

Obama didn’t have to look far for examples. In the audience was Erik Hersman, the American-born, Kenyan-educated co-founder of BRCK, a palm-size device that is changing how the developing world gets online. It’s a sturdy, battery-powered, portable server designed to deliver access to the Web for the estimated 800 million people in Africa who live off the Internet grid. The BRCK captures mobile phone signals using a data SIM card (which can be purchased anywhere in the world), and broadcasts it like a WiFi hotspot, even when there is no electricity. It’s water resistant, dust-proof and can survive being dropped on the ground. It will work wherever there is a signal, but is made for remote areas, as the logo printed on the back points out: If it can work in Africa, it can work anywhere.

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