Alec Hogg interviews Ory Okolloh…
See interview credits towards interview end
HILTON TARRANT: … You’ve been made one of the global technology leaders for this year, 2010, and the first time any African has ever made it onto that esteemed list. Ushahidi started in Kenya – but you have a South African flag next to your representation here. Have you guys moved the head office to South Africa?
ORY OKOLLOH: No. I am pretty much the only person in South Africa. The idea came to me when I was in Kenya – I am Kenyan but living in South Africa at the moment. Most of the time it’s based in Kenya and the US, but I continue to head the organisation out of South Africa.
ALEC HOGG: It’s an incredible honour, and I saw today you were sitting next to Evan Williams, the founder of Twitter. So there you’ve got an African company, now a South African company, Ushahidi and Twitter speaking in the same breath.
ORY OKOLLOH: Yes. And I think it’s a testament to the work that the team of Ushahidi has done and what we are all about, both the team and the volunteer developers who work for us. It’s more demonstrating that Africans can build world-class technology. And a lot of times South African companies focus on the local markets or on the regional markets, maybe, and we are trying to demonstrate that if you build a technology that will work anywhere, if it works in Africa it will work anywhere. And we are showing that we can be competitive.
ALEC HOGG: The application started with the violence after the Kenyan election.
ORY OKOLLOH: That’s correct. At that time I was covering the elections on my blog – I blog quite actively, well, not as actively any more … and there was not enough coverage of what was going on by the mainstream media, and so I became one of the main sources of information on my blog and I opened up my blog for citizens to send me reports of what was going on, and I quickly became overwhelmed with the volume. I thought rather than being a choke-hold for the information, what if people could send this information directly to a website and if we could map it, so that there is contact. One of the problems with Twitter, you just see a lot of the same reports and you don’t know if it’s in Jo’burg, in Durban, or where the person is reporting from, what’s going on. So combining that speed of information with a map that gives it a bit more context is how Ushahidi started off originally.
ALEC HOGG: And, Ory, you’ve taken it into many other applications – the xenophobic attacks in South Africa, part of them also in Iraq, and North America. What’s next for this business that you started?
ORY OKOLLOH: I think what’s next is just to keep on improving. We’ve still a long way in terms of making the application easy to use and install, so working to a hosted version so you can set it up just as quickly as a blogger account, to try and partner with more humanitarian organisations so they can integrate our reporting into part of the information that they pull in terms of crisis, and to continue to work with other partners in terms of reaching more people.
ALEC HOGG: Ory Okolloh, the executive director of Ushahidi.com. Go and have a look at it – fascinating insights there, and it’s our own African technology leader.