Profiles of main tech parks, accelerators, hackathons
For years what could be considered Somalia’s ‘innovation hubs’ or ‘tech parks’ was limited to the rapid and ambitious developments within the private telecoms sector. Private companies have led global trends when it comes to mobile money, e-wallets and platforms for managing remittances. International organisations have also sought to encourage technological innovation. The World Food Programme has been experimenting with e-vouchers that enable recipients to purchase food from WFP-registered shops (WFP 2017). The 2017 elections in Somaliland also reflected both local and international innovation. As the first in the world to use iris biometrics as part of the voter registration process, this reflected both the Somaliland (and the people of Somaliland’s) willingness to experiment with cutting-edge technology despite sensitive issues of identity and biometric identification. Questions of data protection and privacy had minimum public discussion.
News organisations, such as Al Jazeera, have also experimented of ways of using mobile phones to encourage participation and reach communities that are affected by conflict and whose voices are marginalized. The long term effects of initiatives such as “Somalia Speaks” are unclear beyond one-off events. There have also been some new initiatives by the civil society community. In 2017 the first tech incubator opened in the capital, Mogadishu. iRise Innovation hub has sought to nurture a community of young entrepreneurs and innovators by fostering a co-working space and advising on start-ups. Similarly there have been other spaces emerging, particularly where young people have sought to create a platform for innovative ideas and expression, including TEDx Mogadishu (an independently organized TED event) and the Hargeisa Book Fair. While the latter does not focus on the use of new technology it has sought to blend old and new media, local Somalis and diaspora Somalis and create a unique space for innovation and collaboration. It has also been remarkably sustainable (compared with other initiatives) and has grown over the years.