By Tapiwa Marume
The Shoko Festival Hub Unconference at the Harare City Library came to an end on Saturday the 24th of September. The conference addressed issues related to new media, citizen journalism, activism and technology. Panel discussions and presentations on the first day delved deep into areas such as the state of the internet in Zimbabwe, digital lockdowns, the digital explosion among others.
Panelists and presenters where drawn from Zimbabwe and around Africa. These included Limbikani Makani (TechZim, Zimbabawe), Declan Galvin (Editor, Sahara Reporters, US), Sherifah Tumusiime (Zimba Women, Uganda), Kenny Tonga (CEO and owner,Power fm, Zambia) and Tom Shore (In place of War, UK) among many other high profile individuals.
The first session on this last day was moderated by Lorraine Bgoya and the panelists were Tafadzwa Makura (Mazwi), Tawanda Chikosi (Road Rules) and Tehn Diamond (Tisu Ngoda Dzacho) all from Zimbabwe. They discussed about their experiences in making their startups attract revenue (monetizing the businesses), challenges and opportunities available through using technology in this prevailing economic meltdown.
Tafadzwa Makura who owns a business effort that does digital and physical distribution of books said they had used technology to give the market more options as way of trying to improve business performance. “We charge $3 for a single download which is more affordable than buying a hard copy of the same book from a publisher which costs around $10”, he said. With the availability of affordable smartphones and better internet access in the country many people settle for digital downloads. The use of technology also ensures that more people are reached across the country and beyond.
Tehn Diamond proposed that there was a need to define one’s market segment and focus alone on that rather than wasting resources and effort on other segments that would never bring positive business in terms of buying products or services on offer. “Since there is no culture of reading for pleasure or relaxation in Zimbabwe because of the current economic conditions, people only read or study to pass an exam and this led us to distribute texts books for students at primary and secondary schools only”, said Tafadzwa Makura in concert with Tehn.
Tawanda Chikosi of Road Rules a startup that developed an app that helps individuals for preparing for their provisional tests said also that they had to partner with the Traffic and Safety Council of Zimbabwe to help them solve trust issues as potential clients thought that there were a fake organization out to dupe them of their hard earned money. “Some people would actually call us and ask for the activation code before they paid the $2 fee required”, he said.
“The Untapped Opportunities in the Digital Space” was presented by Ruth Daniels (UK), Teresa Bean (UK) and Lauren Bgyo (Zimbabwe). Ruth Daniels pointed out there were tools available online that could be used creatively to make businesses that would bring in money. “Innovative ideas have to have people at heart, the kind that brings the community together, for example Facebook”, she said. It’s quite clear that Facebook is now worth billions.
Teresa Bean reiterated that there was need to develop networks both local and international for those involved in activism and citizen journalism. She further said digital media gave people an alternative source for news which covered news that might have been ignored by mainstream media, for instance the Media ninja in Latin America.
An equipping session for journalists, citizen journalist and bloggers followed and the panel comprised of Boldwin Hungwe (Journalist, Zimbabwe), Declan Galvin (Editor Sahara Reporters, US) and Teresa Bean (UK). They shared tools and tips they use to make their articles make the grade. Teresa Bean opened the session by stressing that it was the duty of the journalist or blogger to practice responsible reporting all the time and that information had to be checked and verified before publishing or broadcasting.
“Journalists need to engage the audience by writing stories that cause people to reflect on what is happening in the world around them”, she said. She continued saying that journalists and bloggers needed to create networks around the world where they could ask for advice and help when needed. She also said that journalist had a responsibility and duty to the world to share the knowledge they had about what was not obvious to the ordinary man.
Boldwin Hungwe encouraged bloggers to package stories so that they could win audiences by using catchy headlines. He also said bloggers needed to use quotes more, views from opinion leaders and statistics from polls to substantiate views and points. He also gave a list of some of the applications he uses when blogging such as buffer, dig digg and many others. He emphasized the importance of posting content regularly on one’s blog page and writing a comprehensive biography as well so that the audience will know the blogger better.
Declan Galvin covered methods of protecting the identity of sources of information which is an important principle for practicing journalists. He also stressed the significance of using credible and valid documents to support stories and expose corruption.
Caroline O’Donovan (Journalist, US) added more material in a presentation related to the above. To attract a wider audience she advised journalist from mentioning specific places or areas in the headlines for their stories. She said journalists needed to define their audiences so that they would be able to develop relevant content. Scheduling is also an important aspect to reaching your audience. “Some people say that Sunday is the best day to publish long articles, because people will be at home and relaxed, during the other days people will be busy with work and they will have time to read short articles and not long ones”, she said.
The most important discussion was on experiences and lessons learnt by startup founders. Nigel Gambanga (Zimbabwe) was the moderator. The participants were Kenny Tonga (Zambia), Tawanda Chikosi (Road rules), Tafadzwa Makura (Mazwi), Sherifah Tumusiime (Uganda). They all agreed that setting up a business was not an easy task. It demands time and total commitment and a lot of sacrifices along the way. Tawanda Chikosi pointed out that setting up and running a business could actually disrupt social life.
Kenny Tonga recounted that it took him 3.5 years for him to secure a radio license to broadcast in two provinces in Zambia.” The delay was attributed to red tape and a lot of background checks so that the government would be sure they were not awarding a license to someone from a particular political party and so forth..”, he said. “Even after getting the license we operated for nine months under test transmission meaning that the business was not making any money and I still had bills and salaries to pay”, he continued.
Tafadzwa Makura emphasized that patience was really important during the early stages when the business is still setting up and there seems to be no money coming in. He said that it was important to surround yourself with people who will offer you support and help. Constantly planning was key to success all the time, Kenny Tonga added.
Tawanda Chikosi (Road rules) had the opportunity to demonstrate the phone application that he developed to aid individuals who want to prepare for their provisional license tests effectively. The application works on all smart phones and it is available on google play for free download. He explained that the application had diagrams and notes coupled with effective exercises at the end to test the user in preparation of the actual tests at the VID. The application has many other features. The application has free 15minutes for a trial after which it requires an activation code to continue which costs $2.
The last presentation was about Facebook Zero a platform that is attempting to bring internet access to around two thirds of the world population which is still not yet connected. Facebook Zero allows one to browse the internet for free, but one can only view basics such text without pictures, videos, graphics and java. Costa Nyanzero (Zimbabwe) the presenter said that this was ideal in an environment characterized by the use of bundles sold to mobile users to access only certain parts of the internet instead of all the internet. Businesses which sign up for this service will expand their reach, he said.
On the sidelines of the UnConference was the Virtual Reality (VR) lounge which was managed by the guys from Comexposed. Here visitors could come and experience what VR is all about through the use of multiple applications.
The Hub UnConference closed on a celebratory note with the Hub Awards ceremony for best individuals /organization with the best pitch idea.
There were 4 categories:
The Women Arising Category which was won by Shepherds Tent an organization that empowers young girls; Shepherds Tent offers a study hub for young girls aged between the ages of 6 and 18 giving them a place to study and even do their home-work.
The Fix up/ Clean up category was won by Fadzai Kativhu from Dzivarasekwa who is involved in an organization that mobilizes volunteers for clean-up campaigns. He is on a mission to clean up dump sites around Harare.
Your Voice award went to Nigel Ndlovu from Bulawayo of Urban Culture;
and best Citizen Journalist award went to Tatenda Mapfumo of Tipster also from Bulawayo.