Aidex Voices

Digitisation is not a goal in itself, but rather a tool to effectively reach the 17 SDGs globally.

Across 12-13 September 2018, over 500 delegates, expert speakers and exhibitors gathered at the Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, for the region’s leading event for global aid and development. The comprehensive conference programme explored the digital revolution and how technology can contribute to a positive social impact.

Day one overview

AidEx Event Director Nicholas Rutherford kickstarted the conference with enthusiasm towards Kenya’s vision to become a beacon of technological innovation and progress.

All seats were filled for introductory keynote speaker Adrian van der Knaap, the World Food Programme’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, who presented a futurist view of aid and development and the role of digitisation.

Knaap emphasised the importance of democratising innovation, and urged the need for a mind shift where crises were treated as opportunities as opposed to problems and beneficiaries as clients.

The opening panel discussion that followed delved into how technology provides opportunities for success of the SDGs; how data can be used to enhance transparency, accountability and close the information gap.

Audience listening

Managing Director of Bridge International Academies in Kenya, Andrew White explained how their organisation’s data system has enabled them to track their schools’ activities and consequent learnings, which has supported the constant improvement of their programmes. White also however raised the irreplaceability of human resources, stating:

“We can use tech to ensure students are in class for instance, but you will never replace teachers. Tech is the foundation to help us achieve what we want and resolve intractable challenges, but must be used appropriately.”

On a later topic provoking thoughts on how to achieve digital inclusion, Dan Church Aid’s Global Advisor of Technology and Innovation, Priscilla Chomba pointed out that digital inclusion transcends internet access, saying, “you can have as many phones as you want, but if you don’t know how to use them you will remain excluded.”

When people have access to information, organisational accountability can improve, argued World Vision International’s Digital Advisor Eric Kiruhura, highlighting the importance of digital literacy.

Successful global digital inclusion panel

Panel  discussion on the requirements and building blocks needed to ensure successful global digital inclusion for more people

The outcome of the session concluded the development of technology based solutions should be guided by the needs of beneficiaries, as preserving these individuals’ dignity is integral to aid distribution. A client-service provider approach between the recipients and donors can be argued to enforce dignity in the process, resonating Knaap of WFP’s ideas that were shared earlier.

Senior Advisor at the Good Financial Grant Practice Program Michael Kilpatrick, referenced shocking findings that for every $100 that goes into the aid pipeline, less than $15 comes out the other end. The digitisation of funds, Kilpatrick believes can prevent fraud and corruption and ensure the aid dollar is used for what it should be. Challenging this view however in an audience question was whether curbing corruption is more dependent on changing cultural and societal thinking than technology.

In the afternoon of the first day of AidEx Nairobi the audience were awed by kick-starter Yolk’s solar cow, which makes electricity charging accessible, affordable and sustainable.

Solar cow

Sen Chang presenting Yolk's Solar Cow

On the topic analysing how digitisation can empower women and girls, Kenya Country Manager of Afroes Games Gathoni Mwai, shares her experience of how, “games can unlock unlimited opportunities for young women; equip them with skills, shape mind-sets, motivate them to do good. Games that can help to educate young girls on gender-based violence for instance”.

Irene Alenga of Ushahidi described how, “Ten years ago the tech space was nowhere near as vibrant as it is now. Lots of innovative start-ups like Ushahidi and iHub have catalysed capacity-building amongst women and girls. Designing user-centred tech enables non-tech savvy people to make the most of it.”

Philip Thigo

Philip Thigo delivering the keynote address on how digitalisation can enable better SDG results 

Speaking on the importance of building partnerships and peace, the first day of AidEx Nairobi 2018 was closed by Philip Thigo, Kenya’s Deputy Prime Minister’s Senior Advisor of Data and Innovations.

Day two overview

Opening the second half of AidEx Nairobi 2018 was the British Deputy High Commissioner to Kenya, Susie Kitchens in conversation with Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship and Former Permanent Secretary of Kenya’s Ministry of Information, Bitange Ndemo who shared their insights on the extent to which technology can help accelerate innovation and improve aid and development efficiency.

Audience question

Professor Ndemo expressed his excitement and confidence in AI which he says, “can support varied learning capabilities of children and enable them to work at a pace that works for them”, as well as helping to predict things like weather which can reduce the damage of humanitarian crises. 

During the following panel, Belgium’s Ambassador to Kenya, Nicolas Nihon considered the benefits of blockchain, stating how it means “sensitive data is not at risk to being hijacked, and it can be used and shared by different agencies, making it an inclusive solution.”

Nicolas Nihon

Belgium's Ambassador to Kenya Nicolas Nihon speaking during the panel discussion on how digital solutions can unlock new opportunitities for finanical inclusion at scale

On the topic of financial inclusion, Genevieve Leveille, the Vice-Chair of techUK and Founder and CEO of AgriLedger asked:

“The internet is improving access to markets, but how do we extend the reach for producers to go beyond local means and participate in the global economy without having to leave their local presence?”

While digital solutions unlock opportunities for financial inclusion, the panel agreed financial inclusion is only part of the solution to poverty reduction.

Irene Alenga Prgram Engagement Officer how digital transformation can empower women and girls

Irene Alenga, Program Engagement Officer at Ushahidi speaks on empowering women and girls through tehcnology

In the harnessing potential of big data session, CEO of Microclinic Technologies, Moka Lantum stressed the importance of varying data sources for balanced analysis:

“The school of thought suggests ‘we see what we look for’ may mean a bias in data. We are in a transition phase where data is limited because we chose what to ask and what data to collect.”

Offering a solution to the problem of accessing end-users who are not reachable by technology, Jennifer Nyanju, Global Director of Technology at One Acre Fund suggests empowering the people who are reaching into those communities. “Use field officers to tap into community centres”, she says.

Audiene front on


Event Director Nicholas Rutherford wrapped up the conference by stressing the necessary transformational element of the aid and development debate, which is why the AidEx conference’s success is measured by the subsequent implementation of solutions to problems discussed during the event.

The key message taken from this year’s regional event over the two days was how digitisation should not be a goal in itself, but rather a means of effectively achieving the seventeen sustainable development goals. Fundamentally, from cash flow projects like M-Pesa to blockchain systems of operation, basic robust structures must be in place for new technology to enable positive results.

Audience clapping

Take a look at our photos of AidEx Nairobi 2018 in our gallery here.

Register for our upcoming flagship event in Brussels on 14 and 15 November 2018 here.