Monday, February 14, 2011


When was the last time you had a conference call that made you want to throw fist pumps and mule kicks? Personally, February 14th, 8 AM ET.

Our magnificent client today shared with us revelatory insights into the issues that are driving the problems we aim to solve. The scales fell from my eyes, and I threw up my hands and said Amen. Fortunately, the call was on mute at that point. Brace yourselves and I'll lay it on you.

Consider government institutions with end-to-end responsibility and authority over the various aspects of people's lives which are assigned to them. Population registry, education, voting, immigration, licenses and permits, birth, death, etc. Every topic has its institution, every topic collects its data - historically on paper, more recently in silo-ed databases, each founded for the purpose of fulfilling its ministry's mission.

The data fragmentation is natural and understandable. No institution has the mission, budget or political will to encourage, let alone force, these information repositories to build upon one another or even occasionally synchronize. No one set out maliciously to silo the data, it's just a default process that occurs in lieu of any other imperative.

Now, concentrate the portals to that data geographically and in a non-automated fashion, i.e. clerks in a capital city. Force the entire population to do their business in person with these clerks in a large country with poor transportation infrastructure. Require interaction with these agencies in order to progress in life, career, entrepreneurship and basic transactions like land registry.

Imagine the plight of the peasant who in furtherance of their own situation sets off to the capital at significant cost to both their meager cash reserves and the inconstant means in which they earn them. They succeed in their trek to the proper office only to be told that their paperwork is mildly but fatally insufficient, though of course this problem could be solved with the proper gratuity rendered to the humble civil servant on the other side of the desk. The petitioner is already straining their existence by having arrived at this point, and does not have the wherewithal or the resources to extend this transaction with extended appeals. And without the successful registry of their information by the conniving clerk, maybe their child cannot sit for matriculation exams, maybe they cannot begin the small business that would have provided the first boost out of poverty for them or their family, maybe they cannot seek a government job or run for public office. Our citizen is faced with the unenviable quandary whether to further leverage their tenuous financial position, take a principled stand which may jeopardize their condition further, or simply throw their hands up and withdraw from the system altogether thereby solidifying their place in the underclass.

According to our client, it is this last option which occurs far, far too often, and is a hidden but insidious and widespread drag on upward social mobility in Kenya.

Kenya struggles mightily against corruption at the highest levels through an independent and rightfully cantankerous anti-corruption commission but they have only truly been constituted for 5 years, and their task is vast. I would be shocked if they had the bandwidth to go after every teller who supplements their income with a few hundred shillings here and there while they're still hunting big game graft.

Imagine instead, we were encouraged, integrated access to those same critical government services through a single portal that references a common repository of master data. Disperse that access from regional headquarters, post offices, and mobile phones. And relegate the role of the bureaucrat to that of verifier instead of gatekeeper. The sense of democratization and empowerment is palpable and the ability of the corrupt to coerce and confine dissipates like a puff of cartoon smoke.

But that integrated access does not happen without the backing of the legal and regulatory authority to mandate and monitor it. Role changes encounter opposition from even the well-intentioned who question whether the disruption to the system will do more harm than good. Our mission is to create the set of archetypes and key principles for the legal and regulatory policies that will make these centralized repositories with decentralized access the de facto and de jure norm, and hopefully initiate the process that will loose the bureaucratic shackles from the hands of those striving to build their country.

Cue fist pumps.


  1. Nice!

    I don't know how long it takes to change a culture, though: anytime there are rules, there will be folks who will apply a tremendous amount of effort in figuring out how to bend them to their advantage. I hope that this work will set the stage for long-term improvement.

  2. change management....who's gonna do that?

  3. Ah yes, I was having a similar reaction on my side of the phone when Dr. Getao was laying out these use cases. Let´s go and try to do something!

  4. Can I just say I'm insanely jealous that you get to work on such a cool project. Also if you happen to see any miniature collectible spoons in Kenya, I'd love to add one to my collection!