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Where did all the innovators go?

It has been said that necessity is the mother of all innovation. However, looking at Kenya today and in particular, at our youth, it looks like either we are satisfied with the status quo, or, there is not enough compulsion to encourage innovation. My take on this matter is that we as a nation have beaten out innovation with a stifling need for performance without the requirement of a pursuit for growth that comes with getting an education. It is, therefore, time to rise up as a nation and foster a culture that promotes critical analysis that allows an acute awareness of the needs of our time such that we are compelled to innovate.

Design thinking as a catalyst for innovation should be encouraged in our education system. Innovations in themselves should be 3 pronged; feasible, viable and desirable. Because innovations usually meet an existing need, you will find that they are very desirable/sought after, they solve a specific problem and therefore are viable, and finally, they can be brought into fruition using materials and physical conditions readily available within our environment.

ANU together with Design Thinking teams from Germany, Switzerland and Australia came together in July 2016 to explore Design Thinking. There were 7 tracks; Education, Food and Agriculture, Mobility, Health, Cosmetics, Finance, and, Security. Each track had two teams that addressed issues these sectors are encountering today in Kenya.

After a weeklong workshop on Design Thinking, teams have taken to work. Below is a small write-up on an undertaking by a group that was inspired by their experiences and learnings from the workshop.

The single adage that best describes Africans as a collective is, it takes a village to raise a child. Community to community you will find that this adage rings true and is more often than not the driving force behind most educational endeavours, as has been evidenced in a study conducted by UNESCO indicating that by 2001 community schools accounted for about 17% student enrollment in the greater Nairobi region. It is for this reason that the Africa Nazarene University (ANU) town campus IT club took to visiting a high school in Nairobi, Kenya, St. Nicholas High School, their way of contributing to the development and growth of the child.

The members of the IT club had participated in the Design Thinking workshop that was facilitated by Impact Week 2016, from whence they acquired a few basic design thinking tools, which they felt compelled to share. You see, a few weeks before the onset of Impact Week, club members had a met with their patron and had discussed the various ways with which they could bring about positive change in their communities. One of the ways they felt they could do this was by going to a number of high schools within Kenya and offering some programming lessons. However, after their experience during Impact Week, they decided that the best way to begin their outreach was by first introducing the concept of design thinking: understand the problem (interview), analyze, reframe, brainstorm (ideate), get feedback, and, finally prototype (be visual, use your hands).

The two things that stood out throughout Impact Week were the aspect of having fun even when trying to tackle serious issues, and, the importance of saying “yes, and...”, thereby building on other people's ideas. The fact that learning, just like innovating, does not always have to come from a place of ‘abject’ seriousness or overt self-consideration was such an eye opener for the club members that they wanted the high school students to share in this experience.

We, as the IT Club found that on sharing some of the Design Thinking tools, the high school students were encouraged to evaluate their future goals and how they intended to achieve them. It was a beautiful thing seeing these students open up to their amazing potential and future possibilities.

“With the experience that I had from Impact Week, the Design Thinking approach was the best way to make the exercise fun, encourage group work, improve creativity and help the students know that they can be part of the solution in their area of interest.” (Timothy Marube)

18 high school students in their 2nd year of study participated in our first foray as Design Thinking coaches. As the new academic term begins, the IT club members have been invited back to St. Nicholas high school. Plans are presently underway to have a few more sessions with these students. However, it doesn’t stop here. As a department, the Computer Science and Information Technology (CIT) Department at ANU are now joining forces with the IT Club to visit more high schools with the aim of introducing Design Thinking so as to better foster a culture of innovation.

Selfie with one of the groups of St. Nicholas High School students that participated

The ANU IT club, together with the CIT Department will be working together to ‘raise’ the children of Nairobi, Kenya and hopefully, even further beyond our borders. Watch this space, we will be endeavouring to keep you abreast to the happenings in this regard.


  1. Alex Kimani – Security Track (Team AD Backup)

  2. Joshua Minga – Food and Agriculture Track (Team Happy Farm – The winning Team Impact Week 2016)

  3. Timothy Marube – Health Track (Team Tabibu)

  4. Shabaya Deche – Health Track (Team Tabibu)

  5. Kendi Muchungi – Education Track (Team Impactors)