By Natalie Madeira CofieldAs a chamber of commerce in Central Texas, a function of our core responsibility is to connect with national and global marketplaces to attract and promote the City of Austin. As the African American Chamber of Commerce,our goal is to accomplish this objective by connecting with the global African Diaspora in industries of focus and value to our local economy.
This year our outreach has focused primarily on cultivating deeper inroads with the growing African technology hub of Nairobi, Kenya (Silicon Savannah) through relationships with notable VC’s including the Savannah Fund and iHub, a Kenyan accelerator. It has also included a trip to Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa where our outreach efforts came full circle during the 2013 SXSW Interactive Festival, providing an encouraging story of how Austin-based inspiration is impacting growth within the African technology landscape.
In 2006, Gareth Knight a budding tech enthusiast from South Africa attended SXSW Interactive for the very first time. Recognizing the enormous untapped potential of the African technology ecosystem and fresh from Austin, he founded Tech4Africa with a goal to establish the premier mobile, web and emerging technology event, bringing global perspective to the African context.
Essentially he wanted to bring the SXSW experience to the continent. To market the conference, Knight and team decided to give away an iPad as part of a competition to enthusiasts who tweeted about the conference. The winner was a young teen in Nairobi, Simeon Oriko.
The iPad was his first computer. And, in true entrepreneurial form, the hardware served as the launch pad for his first tech startup, The Kuyu Project, a digital literacy initiative aimed at teaching African high school students how to use social media to make a positive impact in their own communities.
This year I attended the Tech4Africa conference as part of our chamber’s continentwide outreach strategy and connected with Knight who raved about SXSW in his closing conference remarks.
In researching African attendance at the 2013 SXSW Interactive Festival with Director Hugh Forrest we uncovered low attendance from Kenya, the chamber’s identified market, and as such in partnership founded the CCAACC/SXSW African Diaspora Fellowshipto connect disadvantaged African technologystartups with the Austin marketplace.
In 2010, Knight shipped the iPad used to inspire thousands to Nairobi and never met the winner. That is until last Sunday when we all sat down for drinks in Austin.
And as Oriko so eloquently put it in his blog , so there we were – Natalie, Gareth and I – engaged in conversation stunned that the sum aggregate of our actions had come full circle! The dots had connected! In a sense, our actions contributed to the growth of each other’s initiatives that in turn made an impact on us and the people around us.
Oriko was also a recipient of the Dewey Winburne Award at this year’s conference for his digitaleducation outreach to more than seven thousand youth throughout East and West Africa made possible by that iPad he won. Seven thousand youth, thousands of inspired conference attendees, two fellows and an iPad, all started by one awesome trip to Austin!
Natalie Madeira Cofield (@ncofield) is President & CEO of the Capital City African American Chamber of Commerce (@capcitychamber) in Austin, Texas, which recently founded the Black Technology Council to help Austin realize its potential as a ‘Mecca’ for Blacks within the technology sector.