An Interview with Darlyne Komukama, Founder of Shakai Media
eLearning Africa: Please tell us about your personal journey: what was your most influential formative educational experience as you were growing up?
Darlyne Komukama: I have always loved to read, as far back as I can remember, I have had some sort of literary fiction in my hands and this all started with the very first book my mother bought me, Thumbelina, which I started and finished right there in the store. I was about five years old.
eLearning Africa: Why did you find this to be so influential?
DK: This love of reading has really opened up my mind and my world and given me a curiosity that I have found to be very useful to me as an early adopter of the Internet.
eLearning Africa: What was it that inspired you to start Shakai Media?
DK: I started blogging in 2004. Over the first three years, the bloggers in Uganda built a great community that would meet up every month. This was my first foray into social media so naturally I took to Facebook and Twitter like a fish to water and I saw how easily social media could be leveraged as a means to a wider audience.
Honestly, a lot of it was selfish. I wanted to be able to engage with the Ugandan brands that I was using and I was disheartened by how few of them were online. I decided to start Shakai Media to help them figure out how to use these tools that were already there to allow them to talk to people like me.
eLearning Africa: Please tell us how you influenced Shakai Media since it was started?
DK: Seeing as I started it, that would be the first way I influenced it. To date, I have been in charge of the business end of things but I am still able to pitch in on the creative side.
eLearning Africa: Can you give us an example of the challenges you have faced in the process of initiating Shakai Media and how did you overcome them?
DK: The biggest challenge would have to be slow adaptation. Even as using social media is a relatively inexpensive way to keep in touch with an audience, the public was slow to gain awareness. This has changed drastically since I started the business. There are a lot more companies offering the same service now in the Ugandan market and even more have added it as a department in itself. This has led us to concentrate more on the SMEs and get them using social media too.
eLearning Africa: How do you think technologies can best help build sustainable human development across Africa?
DK: I think that it’s important to adapt technologies to the reality on the ground. I am especially excited about technologies coming out of Africa, being developed by people who’ve lived the problems they’re working to solve. A great example is WinSenga (winsenga.wordpress.com). These young Ugandan men modified the traditional Pinnard horn used by midwives [to measure the heart of a foetus during pregnancy] and created a Windows Phone application that reads the information it collects. It’s important to avoid simply transplanting technologies that have worked in one place and thinking they’ll apply anywhere they’re introduced.
eLearning Africa: What do you think is the most significant change that needs to happen in order to tackle the education and training challenges that Africa faces?
DK: Speaking as a Ugandan who grew up and went to school here, I think there needs to be a major paradigm shift. Our education system is not training people for the jobs they’ll realistically have or the jobs that are even available. A lot of emphasis is placed on white collar professions at the expense of all others. In turn this breeds a sort of resentment for any jobs that aren’t in the corporate sector.
The streets are full of recent and not-so recent graduates looking for jobs that just aren’t there. A spirit of entrepreneurship is lacking in a lot of them and some of the blame for this goes back to the schooling system. The tide is slowly starting to turn and I hope that in my lifetime, I will see some significant changes.
eLearning Africa: What do you consider to be the most transformative, innovative and exciting initiative currently taking place in technologies and education, skills development and lifelong learning and training in Africa?
DK: I am following closely the progress of Fundi Bots (fundibots.com) here in Uganda. Fundi Bots is working to introduce students to, and get them excited about, electronics and especially robotics. It has already won a Google RISE grant and I can’t wait to see the scientists it produces. It holds sessions at schools across the country and it really is something to see the joy on the kids’ faces when they make something they’ve built move!
eLearning Africa: What is the most significant lesson or piece of advice you would share with others seeking to follow in your footsteps?
DK: Don’t be afraid to fail. That is the most important thing I have learned. All my failures haven’t been total because there’s always something to take away from your mistakes.
eLearning Africa: Looking forward to the next 5 years – what do you see on the horizon in terms of influential changes, transitions, technologies and trends that will affect the integration of educational technologies in education, skills development and lifelong learning landscape in Africa?
DK: Already, mobile has proved itself formidable on the African market. I see this growing even more over the next five years. Access to affordable smart phones will increase the number of African apps in the marketplace and I can’t wait for some of these innovations.
eLearning Africa: What will Shakai Media contribute to Africa’s human development over the next five years?
DK: We will continue to get as many people on to social media as we can. As Tim Burners Lee said at a TEDX event that happened in Kampala, and I am paraphrasing, the most important thing is to get the content on the Internet. The more information we have, the more we’ll be able to do with it. Shakai Media will continue to do its small part in helping this happen.
“Don’t Be Afraid to Fail” is one of the twelve opinion pieces featured in the eLearning Africa 2013 Report. To read more about the annual publication, please visit: http://elearning-africa.com/media_library_publications_ela_report_2013.php.