Mind the Gap

July 29, 2009

Those of you who have travelled around London on the underground will be very familiar with these words …

The “gap” I am talking about here is the one between the global website and the local issue.  How can a global website, or a new technology like mobile meet the needs of local communities?

The workshops I ran in South Africa recently highlighted this as one of the key challenges to the success of the Betavine Social Exchange.  One comment I recorded was “technology is global, issues are local”.  I guess there must have been many an interesting blog on this topic .. but I am new to this area so I cannot point to them.  Another comment I recorded from Andre was that technology suddenly arrives in South Africa, or the developing world in general, as it is normally created elsewhere and so the local population have to catch up quick.

It was suggested that organisations like eRiders are springing up to help address this “gap”.   If you know of others please comment on this post!

The basic concept behind Betavine Social Exchange is to bring together 2 distinct communities;  the local NGO community with their knowledge of issues on the ground, and the global developer community (which includes local developers).  So, global solutions meet local problems – or do they?

Ilan Copelyn, who is currently doing some work with Sangonet, has also given me a few ideas on this issue … he wrote:

I see BSX being very active in:-

  1. Design – being the official forum where techies involved on the Mobile Social Development Solutions (MSDS) can seek advice and share experiences
  2. Implementation – clearly – though it’s a bit hard to swing in the early stages of a funded project – they would rather you find your own developers, get a quote, pay them and have someone accountable to timelines/milestones.
  3. Deployment – perhaps in terms of building a community of in country tech. supporters who would like to provide their service? I’m not sure about this…
  4. Long term operational support – I see a big role for OS developers picking up and extending the lifespan of MSDS. Mobile tech moves rapidly – there’s a very real chance of today’s solution being technologically obsolete in a year or two.  Also it is very useful to be able to extend a good app with new features, and with mobiles especially there is the need to keep extending the application to run on more handsets. The cost of this technological risk cannot be bourne by funded projects – it requires indefinite commitments to funding.  An open-source community could be ideal for this role.

If the Betavine Social Exchange is to be successful we must find a solution to bridging this “gap”.  It may come down to networking and partnerships in order to deliver solutions on the ground.  It is clearly the case that solutions are delivered locally, however or whereever they are created.


BSX workshop output

July 28, 2009

The Betavine Social Exchange workshops in South Africa were run by giving small groups key questions to answer.  The output was captured on flip charts – which I carried back to the UK and then created mind maps.

Cape Town Workshop output in a mindmap: BSX Workshop Cape Town

Johannesburg Workshop output in a mindmap: BSX Workshop Joburg

NOTE: you need to open the page and then double click on the image to view the mindmaps.

I also took a number of photos on my trip, they can be viewed on my Flickr page:  Steve Wolak Flickr

A few vidoes in Joburg:

Matthew de Gale from Sangonet

Joburg Workshop in action

A few videos of the partcipants at the Cape Town workshop:

Wesley Nitsckie, Free Software Innovation Unit (FSIU)

Andre Manual, The Colour Manual

Beverley Schafer, The Democratic Alliance

The Betavine Team are now fully engaged with developing the new BSX website and we are planning our pilot with Vodacom to start in October.  Please sign up here:  http://bsxpilot.eventbrite.com.

I was on my own on Wednesday evening on the Waterfront, Cape Town … I asked for the best fish restaurant and “Willoughby & Co” was suggested.  Well the food was good but what was even better was the large table they sat me on and the people I met and spoke with!

Sunrise on Table Mountain

Sunrise on Table Mountain

On Thursday I held the BSX Cape Town workshop at the Breakwater Lodge, near the Waterfront.  We had around 19 participants, representing around 12 NGOs.  The workshop ran from 10am to 4pm and I am really grateful to the participants for working so hard for the full period.  As in Joburg I got a lot of input.

BSX Cape Town workshop in action

BSX Cape Town workshop in action


  • link to ICT support networks in each region / locale e.g. eRiders
  • create a map of mobile phone populations around the world e.g. penetration levels of each device
  • target funders to gain interest in the BSX
  • BSX website should emphasise discussion areas and workspaces
  • ICT guides and walkthroughs .. human online guides
  • local NGOs and resources directory
  • matchmaking NGOs with similar needs
  • search on geographic location, sector, NGO etc.
  • rate developers


  • technology is global, community issues are local
  • ICT support in rural areas – use mobile?
  • ICT support in general for NGOs

The main issue that surfaced was how to bridge the gap between the NGO community and the technology community.  Only the larger NGOs will have access to ICT support.  It is not just an issue of creating a solution, the biggest problem may be in operating and maintaining technology solutions – requires ongoing ICT support.

The pilot starting in October will explore these issues and help us to further develop the concept.

Moyo on Monday

July 22, 2009

Matthew very kindly agreed to take me out on a Monday evening … to Moyo near the Zoo in Johannesburg.  OK, it was a little quiet on a Monday evening but the food was good and the guy with the guitar did not bother us too often.  I had the flattened chicken and Matthew had an animal tail.

I was in Johannesburg for the Betavine Social Exchange workshop.  I was keen to hear what people thought about the idea and get some valuable input – I was not disappointed.  I spent the morning at the Sangonet offices in downtown Johannesburg.

Matthew de Gale on Sangonet

Johannesburg from Sangonet Boardroom

Johannesburg from Sangonet Boardroom

Then we had lunch in the News Cafe at Joburg Theatre before the workshop began at 2pm in the Penthouse room.  The workshop was followed at 6pm by the first Netsquared event in Johannesburg.  I met some very interesting people and really enjoyed both events.

Joburg Theatre

Joburg Theatre

We had around 20 NGOs represented at the workshop and I got a lot of valuable input.   I will summarise some of it here.

BSX workshop in action

BSX workshop in action


  • open discussions to mobile internet
  • find local discussions / solutions
  • link to mobile active directory of resources
  • put BSX link on Prodder
  • local language support
  • put case studies on Sangonet, Mobile Active etc.
  • list of recommended OS developers / past performance
  • assistance in finding pre-existing solutions would be valuable to NGOs


  • who owns the BSX projects?
  • need an MoU betweeen parties
  • quick response needed to initial ideas
  • accountability
  • who gets credit if idea flies?
  • solutions need to be costed
  • NGOs like face to face / voice contact
  • cost of operation of solution

More on the Cape Town workshop soon.

The Betavine Social Exchange project is progressing well .. we are getting very good response from around Vodafone and also externally.   We are now at a stage where we really need to review the concept and our ideas with the communities who will use it.

Our pilot project with Vodacom is plannned to start in October 2009.  Next week I shall be in Johannesburg and Cape Town running workshops with local NGOs to discover more about their world and how the Betavine Social Exchange can best serve them.

Thanks to Sangonet , Meraka and Marlon Parker we have around 25 participants in each city already signed up.

I shall be posing the following questions around “community challenges”:

1. Name 3 specific challenges that are important to your community?

2. How does your organisation currently address these challenges?

3. Can  you envision a role for mobile technology for any of these challenges you work on or that your community faces?

4. If you determined in discussing question 3 that there is a role for mobile technology, please write a short couple of paragraphs describing the challenge and the role of mobile tech. as you see it.

I shall also be posing the following questions around “solutions”:

1. How would you normally find support / help for you ICT / mobile solutions?

2. How could BSX advertise its existence and features to reach organizations and groups like yours or those that are able to take advantage of the services offered?

3. What features of BSX would make it attractive for your organisation to use?

4. What would you expect to get from the BSX?

5. What are some of the barriers that might prevent your organizations from taking advantage of something like BSX?

6. How would you choose a solution for deployment?

Info about the workshops can be found here:

Johannesburg workshop

Cape Town workshop

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