See update at the bottom.
Yesterday, was an eventful day at Safaricom. It was the day when the Safaricom Academy was launched – a partnership between Strathmore University and Safaricom.
In the event, the character of the new Safaricom CEO was illustrated clearly by how he began his remarks: by apologising for the “appaling service” over the past 1 week. This is for me most refreshing.
The less publicized event that happened yesterday is that the Safaricom Innovation Board was kicked off to begin building better relationships between Safaricom and developers, content aggregators and entrepreneurs. Bob Collymore said yesterday, “In no limiting terms, the board will play a liaison role of interacting with the innovators and guiding them on how to actualize their ideas. It will guide application developers on how to refine their applications and how to commercialize them. The board will also identify those who require further learning or exposure to increase their skills by exposing them to the Safaricom Incubation Center”
The process of setting up the Safaricom Innovation Board has been a long one and has involved a lot of reflection and discussion between Safaricom and several representatives of the industry including Jessica Colaco, Erik Hersman (iHub), Rehema Parmena (IP Lawyer – RP Law), Joseph Sevilla (Strathmore), Moses Kemibaro (formerly Dottsavvy, now Dealfish), Karanja Macharia (Mobile Planet), Mbugua Njihia (Symbiotic) and myself. It has also involved a lot of reflection within Safaricom’s strategy, Value Added Services, Commercial, Legal and other departments involving closely such people as Michael Joseph and Bob Collymore, Betty Mwangi-Thuo (Chief Officer of New Products & Services division) – who have been leading the process, Nzioka Waita, Fred Waithaka, Paul Mugambi, and many other Safaricom staff.
It is laudable to see a company take innovation so seriously and think on it so deeply to make sure that when it starts, it is going to have 100% lasting impact on the sector rather than agree too quickly and fail to sustain it. Its also a good thing that they have opened the doors for consultation.
At this time, the Board members are Rehema Parmena, Erik Hersman, Mbugua Njihia, Joseph Sevilla, Fred Waithaka (Safaricom legal), Paul Mugambi (Safaricom New Products and Services division) and myself. Both Bob Collymore and Betty Mwangi-Thuo are ex-officio members.
The role of the board is to act as the middle ground between the tech community (with ideas) and Safaricom to set the policies and platforms that will enable the more transparent (not to mean indiscreet) and fair submission of ideas to Safaricom and to make sure that the community is prepared for the process. Some of the things that we shall see in coming days is a clear process, clearly published criteria.
Much is expected of the board by the community and we are all going to be engaging widely to ensure that there is synchrony.
I’m excited at the prospects. The new Innovation Board website is being developed and we shall move swiftly along.
UPDATE: As it turns out, The Safaricom Innovation Board is an experiment that did not work out – and not for want of trying. We met on numerous occasions and planned specific activities. Unfortunately, I think Safaricom was not quite ready to implement the activities of the board. We therefore met and agreed that given this dismal record, it is best to disband it. I am sure Safaricom will, as it reviews its policy relating to innovation and dealing with the ecosystem, constitute something that shall work – not only for Safaricom but also for developers.
As Chair of the board, I thank Rehema Parmena, Mbugua Njihia, Dr. Joe Sevilla and Erik Hersman for their commitment to this as well as the team from Safaricom that sat on the Board. These guys were very committed to this idea. Its a real pity that it didn’t work out.