People first, programmes later: Lessons from Nairobi to Northern Ireland

People first, programmes later: Lessons from Nairobi to Northern Ireland

What happened at Unusual NI? SIX speaks with Melissa Mbugua, Innovation Engagement Officer from Ushahidi in Kenya, who joined us for her first Unusual Suspect Festival in Northern Ireland.

Ushahidi, which translates to “testimony” in Swahili, was developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election violence in 2008. Since then, thousands have used their crowdsourcing tools to raise their voice. They are a technology leader in Africa, headquartered in Nairobi, with a global team.

Melissa worked alongside Transformative Connections and the Innovation Peace Lab as part of the event ‘How can technology build peace?’ in Derry~Londonderry.

  • The festival is all about connections; can you tell us about your most meaningful connection?

Melissa: I came to the Festival to present our work at the session ‘How can technology build peace?’ at the Nerve Centre with the Innovation Peace Tech. It was fantastic to meet an organisation based in Northern Ireland who was using the Ushahidi platform. Our work is directly connected. Another connection that I really appreciated was with the Cape Town Partnership, largely due to their people-first, programmes- later approach. I loved that approach and it was amazing to see how effectively it works.

Throughout the entire festival I had so many insightful, interesting and engaging conversations with people who both hosted and participated in the various sessions. I particularly loved the session we had on the train from Derry~Londonderry to Belfast, which was characterised by brilliant, in depth conversation. We went as far as questioning political theory, the political order of the world and what that means and how social innovation, by definition, is a form of activism, rebellion and radicalness. We concluded this is the case, largely because social innovation is bottom-up, which means it is challenging the existing political structures. Needless to say it was an engaging train journey!

  • The Festival is about learning from people you wouldn’t normally cross paths with, to find innovative ways to tackle chronic social problems. Can you tell us more about what you’re taking away from the festival?

Melissa: The one thing I took away from Northern Ireland was a deeper global appreciation. There are so many different people from very different cultures and contexts whom are all thinking along similar lines, and who value the same things. For me, this is an indication of the future. I believe that this movement, this kind of network that SIX is operating, contains the type of people who are shaping the future of how the world will be.

After the Festival, I felt very encouraged to continue my own work; knowing I’m not alone, and even though there is a lot more to be done, there’s a lot more opportunity for collaboration across the world in the coming years.

  • What’s different about the Unusual Suspects Festival from other events and festivals?

Melissa: Just the fact that each one of the sessions was co-hosted by someone different and in a different venue. This gave each session a different flavor and each conversation became very contextualised for Northern Ireland. The issues being discussed and approached were from a very practical angle. I wish that all conferences were like organised like this. I loved the change of atmosphere, being embedded in the community, and hearing new and different things at every session. It was fantastic that the audience was different for each session; I loved that I couldn’t predict who would be in the room for the next session.

  • What do you think Kenya can learn from Northern Ireland? And vice versa?

Melissa: There is a lot of peace building expertise in Northern Ireland that I think Kenya can learn from. There are some really innovative peace projects that I doubt many Kenyans know. On the flip side, I think it would be brilliant if Northern Ireland could adopt Kenya’s willingness to become involved more heavily with the global community.

You can get in touch with Melissa @melmbugu
As interviewed by Duncan Collins-Adams at SIX.