Kuyu Project to steer social change In Kenya

Digital Content

An innovative Kenyan social network project, which combines crowd sourced stories and citizen reporting, is set to be rolled out in a few weeks. The Kuyu Project is aimed to enrich local content and empower the youth through story sharing.

It's a digital literacy initiative, which aims to use the Web to revolutionise East African social media through the networking site – StorySpaces. StorySpaces was demonstrated at the Media 140 conference in Barcelona. It is a mobile-based social networking site where youth can share stories and search for important news logged on other young people's accounts.

The concept is based on the idea that Internet users want to participate in their community rather than just consume information, and that Facebook and Twitter offer limitations to documenting full-length stories.

Rassina Hassan, director of strategic development of the Kuyu Project, claims the recent revolutions across Africa highlighted the disaffected youth momentum gathered by social networking sites.

Digital conversations are transformed into practical offline actions and the ability of the Internet in empowering the youth to become citizen journalists cannot be underestimated, she notes.

She says: “We witnessed a symbiosis of social media and action; and it is important we captivate the capabilities of social technology being able to produce social good.

“There are six million more youths that will have electoral vote by next year's election in Kenya, a very powerful figure, which could sway the leadership contest.

“There is an awareness of technology and social change that has never been seen before on the grassroots level. A lot of Kenya's youth are very politically savvy, so it comes as no surprise that social media has automatically led to political discussion and engagement on various platforms. We want the youth as citizen journalists to become information disseminators.”

StorySpaces, holding a collection of multimedia story snippets composed of relevant topical themes, would better enable the youth to make their government and society more accountable by detailing experiences, photographs and video at the click of a button.

Young people, aspiring journalists, and other users can add a post/story without having to set up a blog and without constraints, promoting transparency, security and ease-of-access.

As more people across Kenya are utilising their mobile phones to connect with people across the globe, they will now be able to take this a step further by mobile blogging as citizen journalists.

Once StorySpaces is fully functioning in the next few weeks, the youth will be better able to connect with others seeking to effect positive social change. While Facebook has its own meaning to culture and youth, it does not set out to encourage promoting stories of social good.

Simeon Oriko, executive director of the Kuyu Project, says: “I believe Africa's future greatly relies on technological advances and brain-gain currently driven by social media and mobile technology with increasingly-connected African youth and diaspora recreating and re-imagining its immense potential by deviating from existing story lines to establish a new powerful vision of change across the continent.

“Social technologies such as the one we're building at StorySpaces are radically changing the narrative and fuelling the dreams and aspirations of young minds which might lead to the innovations and technologically driven solutions that will change and benefit Africa and the world.”

The StorySpaces site is accessible for both Web users and mobile handset users, with a StoryDroid Android app, iOS and SMS/MMS capabilities. The mobile app will allow people to subscribe to news feeds and to search for news stories by keyword and download the stories.

The project commenced in June 2010 after Oriko conducted numerous digital literacy camps in various high schools in Eastern Africa. The camps were designed to teach the youth how to use Web-based tools such as Google, Wikipedia and Wolfram Alpha as part of their education.

Oriko was inspired by one girl from the camps who used Google and social networking sites on her mobile phone to seek out information to achieve her dream of becoming a pilot. He says the children he was teaching quickly learnt of the technology's advantage in seeking new opportunities for effecting change and in achieving their personal objectives.

As the camps grew bigger and more popular, he integrated personal objectives and social change into the training and materials.

Taking place over a full day for 14- to 22-year-olds, the camps now consist of digital skills tutoring in the areas of citizen media, hacktivism, youth empowerment, government transparency and accountability.

Even as Facebook and Twitter users in Kenya grow by the numbers, StorySpaces seeks to claim a piece of the pie, while at the same time transforming lives by informing decisions of young Kenyans.