The Role of Technology and Youth in Kenya’s Just-Concluded General Elections

“A great democratic turnaround”

Joe speaking to MBA students from Kellogg School of Management/Northwestern University during a recent visit to YTF in Nairobi.

Joe speaking to MBA students from Kellogg School of
Management/Northwestern University during a recent visit to YTF in

Kenya has been going through a transition of power through a general election – a cycle that typically runs every five years – and in reflecting following the election, it’s clear the time has come for a new chapter for Kenya’s youth.

Throughout Kenya’s history, and even more so in recent times, youth have been viewed by politicians as people to be used and exploited. Youth are often told that they will be the leaders of tomorrow, so they should support political parties or politicians of today as they await their chance in the future.

Youth in Kenya are also considered cheap labor, without opinions of their own, so it’s assumed they will simply conform to whatever they are told by politicians. Case in point: During Kenya’s darker days in the early nineties when the country was fighting for multi-party politics, youth were given small incentives—often between $2 and $5—to throw stones at a rival politicians. Shortly after the politician was elected; he inevitably forgot the youth he rallied during the election, leaving them frustrated.

Today, it’s becoming clear that trend of manipulation is fast losing its grip on the majority of youth in the country.

What’s Changing for Youth in Kenya

The government over the years has set up youth empowerment programs that help youth cluster together so they are able to get small loans and grants to start businesses in groups. This has helped a great deal to counter idleness as more and more youth are engaged in useful businesses.

The easy availability of low-cost unsecured mobile phone-based loans by banks have also helped advance youth opportunities. These loans enable anyone subscribed to get small loans that are payable within a short period, sometimes even days or weeks, or at the end of the month. This access to short-term, unsecured credit has greatly contributed to the success story that we tell today.

Despite these advances, we still have an outstanding challenge, as youth in Kenya are still largely unemployed. Those who are not involved in meaningful economic activities that can keep them engaged and keep them off drugs, crime and violence need additional outlets and avenues to find success. This is where organizations like Youth for Technology Foundation come in.

The Role of Social Media in Keeping the Peace

Social media has also played an increasing role as an influencer to combat violence issues, especially during elections. Given that 90 percent of Kenyans have access to a mobile phone and use them as a connection to the internet, major campaigns have been channeled through social media to keep peace, and maintain a spirit of brotherliness. The Youth for Technology Foundation is proud to play a part in investing in Kenyan youth, teaching technology skills in Kenya like basic digital literacy, software development and programming.

One funny thing happened during the election that helped quell some major tension that was creeping in between our government’s party and the major opposition party – an occurrence that wouldn’t have been possible without social media.

On the actual election day a man by the name of Martin Kamotho was photographed holding a plastic bag with the githeri dish (maize and beans) while standing in the election que. The photo was posted on Facebook, where someone found it funny and took it one step further, photoshopping the man into different photos and settings. The #githeriman photoshopping craze went viral – he even found himself as the new fifth head on Mt Rushmore!

This poor city council worker who collected garbage became a millionaire practically overnight, spurred by media appearances and a shower of gifts, just for having a cheap amount of githeri in a plastic bag. He united Kenyans in hysterical laughter during an uncertain moment in our elections.

Technology Enabling Peaceful Elections and Sustainable Communities

The elections are now over and there was no violence this time. While there was an election dispute between the government and opposition, they decided to square it out in the courts instead of war on the streets.

We know technology plays a huge role in election fraud and violence, particularly in developing countries like Kenya. We are preparing the future generation to be more interested in how technology can be used to ensure even more peaceful elections by giving them the broad skills that they can then apply to create more sustainable communities for their fellow citizens.

While we are not yet there in democratic electoral maturity, we are on the right track. Given the direction were going in, it is just a matter of time before electoral violence become a thing of the past forever.

Joe Kamau Macharia is YTF’s Country Lead based in Kenya.  He writes from Nairobi where he is responsible for building partnerships with the public, private sector and civil society. Joe is using his passion for youth and technology to help young people achieve their personal goals and become leaders in their communities.

HackforGood 2017: Our Hackathon in Nigeria

Five teams had three days to create technology innovations to solve specific problems in their communities at our recent HackforGood hackathon in Anambra State, Nigeria. The cohort came with diverse experiences and skill sets, as captured in this summary of applicants.

Dig in to the final prototype ideas below!

Team Hack-botics Designed and Constructed a Robotic Arm Manipulator (Hackathon Winners!)

3d Africa Hackathon winning team

Summary: The group designed and developed a compact and cost effective robotic arm manipulator that could be modified to fit into different industrial situations.

How it works: The team used servomotors as actuators (Arduino based robotic arm with 6 degrees of freedom). A specific application idea of this product is in bakeries for lifting bread and placing it in the oven. Materials used include wood and Polylactic acids (PLA), with about 40 percent of the parts created through 3D printing. Due to time constraints, maximum payload of the arm was 100g. The design could be modified to lift heavier loads. The device could also be upgraded to use remote controls.

Team Create Good Developed a Road Traffic Accident Alert (Winners of Open Mic  Africa!)

Hackathon team open mic africa winners project accident detection

Summary: The group developed a device that detects and informs relevant authorities of critical conditions affecting vehicles and victims on local roads for a quicker emergency response.

How it works: When an accident occurs, the impact generated is measured by impact sensors attached to the device. The impact sensors generate signals which are channeled to a GPS module that generates GPS coordinates at the site of the accident. The GPS signal or coordinates dispatches the distress alarm in 10 seconds to the authorities, in this case the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) central control at Abuja. The central control would transmit the emergency response to the local FRSC station nearest to the scene of the accident for a quick emergency response. False signals can be interrupted by a pushbutton on a dash board to prevent the dispatch of a distress signal.

TeamTechkers Created A Hybrid Solar Wind Power Generation

Hackathon team techkers group photo

Summary: The group designed a hybrid solar wind power generation system to avoid the hazards associated with the use of fossil fuel such as green house effect and global warming.

How it works: The system consists of solar powered panels and a wind turbine. The two systems are interlinked with a charge controller that controls or regulates power generation. The solar system works during the day and wind system works during the night. Both systems are controlled by a timing circuit that helps to effect switching through the aid of transistors and relays for DC and contactors for AC. These charge controllers are designed using various electronic devices and are interlinked with the help of a TM electronic module.

Team Humanity Created Green Lens Crop Disease Detector

hackathon Team humanity crop disease detector

Summary: The group developed a device that helps farmers diagnose plant diseases.

How it works: According to cropsite, 40 percent of farm yield are lost before harvest yearly to pests. Nigeria recently experienced a devastating tomato disease caused by the pest Tuta absoluta which destroyed over 80 percent of tomato farms in the country within two months. This new device comprises an image acquisition module, microprocessor and a display. Through the image acquisition module, the farmer could acquire the image of the plant which is to be diagnosed. The image is then automatically processed using computer vision algorithm and Artificial Neural Network (ANN) running on the processor. The result of the test is displayed on the screen or an audio message is played in the farmer’s local language. The results may also be sent to organizations like International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) for awareness in order to prepare for a possible epidemic outbreak.

Team Vision 3D Created Eco Farm Monitor

hackathon team vision 3d

The group developed a sensing device that can monitor real-time temperature and humidity in a poultry house. This addresses issues like unfavorable weather and climatic conditions that could lead to high mortality and low egg production rates. The components include an Arduino board, DHT sensor, LCD, and battery.

project graphic

We’re grateful for our judges and student ambassadors for making the event a success, and Ventures Africa, the Guardian and for their coverage.

A special thanks to our partners and sponsors: HP, Merck, Autodesk, Makerbot, and Women in 3D Printing, and Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University for hosting.

Find out more about 3D Africa and other YTF programs.

Girls and Geeks Take a Two-Day STEM Journey

An enthusiastic group of middle school girls gathered near our headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky last week for a two-day STEM summer camp, hosted in partnership with Best Buy’s Geek Squad at the Louisville Central Community Center.

Each day was jam-packed with different classes, giving the participants a variety of experiences with new STEM-related concepts and equipment. Guided by instructors, the girls experimented with 3D printing, html coding, online and technology safety, film making, and BB-8 robotic programming.

Before digging into courses, the girls divided into teams and chose names. We loved hearing their creativity come out even in this opening task. Groups landed on LOL Cats, Geek Girls, Megapixels, Digital Divas and Code Chicks – all aptly-named teams for a summer camp full of empowerment, inspiration, and STEM.

3d pag computers 2

Makers Gonna Make

“I enjoyed learning SketchUp for 3D printing. I thought it was cool because I never saw a 3D printer before,” said 11-year-old Paola.

In the 3D printing class, girls referenced systematic instructions for their tasks projected on the front wall. A 3D printer in the middle of the room worked on a product designed by the Geek Squad instructors to show the students how their models on the computer could come to life.

The girls began navigating the free SketchUp program through an introduction to architecture as they learned to build a house. They learned to turn a rectangle shape into a 3D image by using a push/pull function, and created a roof by learning where to place other shapes.

The instructor used a cardboard box to show a physical example to the students as they followed his step-by-step instructions on their screens.­

As the camp progressed, students worked with smaller objects and more details. They were able to model a table or a chair, and add color or different shaped designs on the object. Girls learned how to create a design with specific dimensions and explored more advanced capabilities of some of the tools.

As soon as the students got a grasp of the basics, they had a chance to play around and use their creativity to build the rest of their object, whether it be a house, a table, a chair, or something of their own creation. The instructors also recommended practicing with SketchUp in the future as it is free software.

Through the 3D modeling in SketchUp, students applied key math and science concepts, such as geometry.

“I’ll use this in my STEAM class at school because we are also taught 3D printing in that class,” declared 12-year-old Tiza.

3d pag computers 1From Film to Robots: Digging in to Unique Skills

A Film and Script class produced young movie-makers out of every student. Girls were invited to create movie ideas and act out the parts. They could barely contain their giggles as they watched their acting on film during the editing process, which was completed at the front of the room for everyone to see.

During the Web Know How class, Geek Squad instructors taught HTML coding and set challenges for the students to instill competition and encourage creativity at the same time.

“I can code now and make my own website,” announced 12-year-old Imani.

In the BB-8 Programming class, the girls started out “programming” humans to do simple tasks like making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. They learned that they had to be very specific when giving commands. Then they moved onto programming BB-8 droids to complete different routes like squares and Xs, and avoiding obstacles by changing speed, direction, location, and duration.

“I enjoyed the BB-8 droid programming class because I got to play with the droid and chase people with it,” said 13-year-old Juliana.

The students saved their final creations for many projects on flash drives, allowing them to show their parents at home what they worked on at the camp.   

A Digital Compass class rounded out the camp, encouraging safety when using their knowledge in technology.

“I know now how to be safe online and why it matters,” said 12-year-old Ava.

3d pag group

Hope for a Promising Future

The Geek Squad instructors created a fun, summer mood as they filled the two days with chants and shouts. As soon as anybody said the word “cool,” a Geek Squad member replied with “very cool!” To cap off the camp, instructors handed out graduation certificates to recognize the girls’ new STEM experience.

“I can be ahead of what’s coming next,” reports 10-year-old Kassandra.

We hosted this camp to inspire young girls and show them a wide range of STEM-related opportunities they can pursue in the future. We are thankful for the support of the Geek Squad instructors, who gave affirmation when the students did tasks correctly and coached the girls to accomplish functions on their own. We saw a promising group of young ladies become accustomed to using their girl power, taking a critical step to help change their futures and their world.

This event would not have been possible without an incredible group of sponsors and supporters. Our gratitude goes to Metro United Way, Louisville Central Community Centers and Louisville’s first Gigabyte Experience Center, University of Louisville Society of Women Engineers, and Best Buy.

Looking Back at the Year That Was

Dear Friend,

As 2016 comes to a close, I am truly amazed and humbled by the great work we are accomplishing together. We have spent the last 15 years working to empower youth and women living in the developing world and low-income communities by providing them with the technology to achieve life-changing results in education and entrepreneurship. 

  • With your support, YTF doubled our investment in monitoring and evaluation for impact. We know that a major threat for economic development and global stability, particularly in Africa, is the mismatch between skills demanded by the private sector and those that the workforce can supply. A 2014 study by PWC stated that 96 percent of CEOs in Africa, compared to a global average of 63 percent, are concerned about the lack of skills. YTF Academy is designed to bridge that gap. We are especially proud to share Deborah’s experience as an intern while enrolled in YTF Academy. In 2017, we plan to unveil our recommended solutions on the skills gap conundrum to address youth unemployment. You’ll want to stay tuned.   
  • With your support, YTF continued to develop programs in partnership with private sector companies that invest in the success and sustainability of women-owned small businesses. This work wouldn’t be complete without providing entrepreneurial education in the form of business skills, technology acumen and financial literacy alongside mentoring and networking. Afoma, one of our program participants, introduced e-payments into her business, “Hair Wizard and Spa.” She now employs over 30 people in her business and is a role model for other young women and aspiring entrepreneurs in her community. 
  • With your support, YTF test-launched 3D Printing Academy for Girls in Kentucky, with hopes of fully expanding the program in the U.S. market in 2017. In West Louisville, where YTF’s offices are located, the likelihood of youth participation in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields is lower than other students enrolled in area public schools.
  • With your support, YTF made a Commitment to Action at the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting in New York this September. Our commitment is around education and entrepreneurship, specifically using technology for at-risk girls in Nigeria. You can learn more about the exciting commitment in the press release here. (Plus see the photo below!)

Your support makes it possible for YTF to continue to transform lives, every day. Please consider making your year-end gift today. Every gift is one step closer to helping us make the most impact in countries where we work.    


On behalf of everyone here at YTF and the youth and women who are at the center of our work, I wish you and your family a prosperous and peaceful new year.

To Impact,


YTF Njideka Harry with girls who will benefit from CGI Commitment to Action

YTF’s President and CEO, Njideka Harry, pictured with girls from the Obi-Orodo community in Nigeria where YTF is implementing its Clinton Global Initiative commitment to action. Between 2017 and 2019, YTF is committing to providing education and technology skills to 6,000 girls at risk of human-trafficking across Nigeria.





All About Digital Education: A Technology Summit in Ghana

YTF Academy students at the Wezesha Digital Village, Nairobi, Kenya

YTF Academy students at the Wezesha Digital Village, Nairobi, Kenya

For two days in September, a group of high-level individuals are gathering in Accra, Ghana, for a summit with a mission: furthering the rights and interests of African women and girls through technology policies. The Youth for Technology Foundation’s (YTF) President and CEO Njideka Harry is participating as a panelist for “Digital Education and Skills,” lending her voice and expertise to help shape the conversation and provide actionable insights.

The “Africa Summit on Women and Girls in Technology,” taking place September 13-14, focuses on four areas: affordable broadband, women’s rights online, digital education and skills, and digital entrepreneurship.”

“Young people need more comprehensive education that responds to labor market needs,” said Harry. “A complete absence of skills of youth in Africa is a problem too, but skills mismatches seem more relevant.”

Harry continued, “We know estimates suggest that by 2020, over 60 percent of new jobs created will require skills that less than 20 percent of the workforce possesses. Since women and girls make up more than half of the world’s population and outnumber men in university attendance and graduation, they can make vital contributions to bridging the skills gap. But only if the right enabling environment exists.”

This event’s topic is a sweet spot for YTF. As an organization that uses the power of technology to transform the lives of disadvantaged people in developing countries, YTF knows that accelerating the achievement of gender parity is not just a fairness argument but an economic imperative. It is key to building a better world. Over 17,000 girls and women benefit from YTF’s education and entrepreneurship training programs in Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda in 2015.

This is the first summit for the collaboration between the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), the World Wide Web Foundation, the Ghana-India Kofi Annan Center of Excellence in ICT (AITI-KACE), the African Development Bank and UN Women.

A Message to the YTF Community


July 11, 2016

Dear Supporters:

We know you are dedicated to giving children, youth and women, of all backgrounds, the skills they need to unlock their potential. In light of the events that occurred last week in the United States, we want to take a moment to reflect on the affected families and communities and to thank you for your continued investment in our collective future.

Our education model is one of cooperation, appreciation and learning to constantly improve. These are not only skills for a successful professional life, but characteristics that enable the next generation to value the experience and perspective that each person brings to their work, to their community and to the world at large. Together we are making tremendous impact to under-represented youth, particularly girls, and women with high quality education and entrepreneurship programming. Your continued support is helping to model for future generations, how to work with one another and value the experience each person brings.

As a community, we serve thousands of youth and women everyday and together they represent the beautiful diversity of the world we live in. Please know that you are appreciated for your continued support and the change you are helping to bring about.

To Impact,

Njideka Harry
President & CEO



GirlsRock! is an after-school technology and health education camp for displaced girls in Soacha, Colombia. It is a program within YTF’s Soacha Digital Village. Soacha is located in the rural outskirts south of Bogota, and is home to as many as 6.8 million displaced people.

The last five decades of continuous internal conflict and violence have resulted in over six million people to be displaced or forced from their homes in Colombia, disproportionately impacting women and children. Many children are living in unsafe, violent communities and are at real risk of being forced into armed warfare, crime, sexual abuse and exploitation, and violence.

GirlsRock! integrates real and relevant issues in health, personal safety, and reproductive rights with the use of technology, teaching technology skills as well as empowering girls to better understand issues that can negatively affect them. Both result in increased confidence and personal empowerment.

Colombia has the worst teenage pregnancy rates in Latin America with higher rates for displaced girls. In Soacha, 30% of displaced girls ages 13-19 have been pregnant at least once. The minimum age for marriage is 12 years for girls and 14 years for boys. Child marriages and early pregnancies have a serious detrimental effect on the health, education, and development of the girl child. These are violations of the UN Committee of the Rights of the Child and of Colombia’s girls and women.

GirlsRock! is for girls aged 12-20 years. Girls learn how to use technology to research, document, and disseminate information on issues related to sexual abuse, exploitation, reproductive rights, sexually-transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS, teen sex trafficking, and adolescent pregnancy. It improves academic performance, competencies (communication, teamwork, time management, problem solving, and confidence) and positive learning attitudes through the use of e-learning and digital research tools. It promotes emotional well-being and intellectual growth of girls to take ownership and responsibility of their lives in a learning environment that fosters no bias in attitudes towards girls.

Through YTF’s innovative curriculum, they learn how to use technology to create positive change.

Kenya blog posts

August 2017: The Role of Technology and Youth in Kenya’s Just-Concluded General Elections

May 2017: The Team Behind YTF: One Staffer Brings Design Thinking to Kenya

March 2016: Pledging for Parity for women like Bilambo and Kanini 

September 2015: Creating a New Future: Innovation and Hope from President Obama 

June 2014: Kibera: Youth + Technology = Hope 

August 2013: Youth, PeaceOpoly and Kenya