Interview with Aape about Mobile Apps Developer Community

Mr Aape Pohjavirta was the guest speaker of the Mobile Apps Developer Community workshop at COSTECH a couple of weeks ago. As a result of that workshop the TMAC (Tanzania Mobile Apps Community) community was created at a subsequent meeting on April 3rd. In order to share Aape’s message to those who couldn’t attend the workshop, I decided to do an in-depth interview Aape (and you can also download his presentation slides in pdf). Here are some of his thoughts.

Aape speaking at the MAPC workshopBrian: What was your goal for the workshop?

Aape: The goal was to help a new community to be born, the community that will be the visionary, the doers and the creators of the industry that will realize mobility and mobile at the very heart of the Tanzanian community.

So I spoke about the world running out of oil, and we should stop burning coal. In order to move away from this past age the transition (transformation) age will be driven by digital services, on the global scale the most important thing is to create new jobs, that add sustainable value to the society, especially in those areas that grow, and by growth, it means both population growth and economic growth; and Tanzania is one of the great example of something like that.

From the start of this year, I have been a board member of DTBi, the business incubator, but coming from Finland the mother of open source thinking, I have been actively involved for the past four or five years in the birth of our own entrepreneurial ecosystem. That is build around the development of new companies and new business around digital and especially mobile technology.

So we talked about what is required from a community, how a community is formed, and what things are important in the community, and I spoke a lot about trust, because according to world science and research and also anybody understands that trust is very important in the community if you want to do trade and most importantly innovation, and because of the fact that, according to scientific research, large part of the income gap between Africa and the rest of the world are the result of slave trade some centuries ago, so it’s essential to build the community based on trust, and in that community there should be simple rules, that the community belongs to everyone, and the community rules itself, and any meeting that takes place is the right meeting, and all the people who attend that meeting are the right people.

So with this in mind, at the workshop we initiated the birth of a new developer ecosystem, and there were almost 100 people who were there for hours. Preparing the speech itself was very challenging, because these are the things that I am very passionate about, and I spoke about 2 hours. The people were there, and the community decided to meet to get themselves organized, and the good thing is that DTBi, the business incubator, actually understands and respects its position and wants to make itself part of this community without the desire to rule. All in all it was a great event, and it shows all the work that has been done here, is bearing fruits and the future is very bright, and I will be happy to participate in this development in the future.

Brian: You have talked about concept of trust, can you elaborate more on this?

Aape: The importance of the component of trust was also new to me, I came across it about two month ago, and I have now been in contact with one of the leading researcher in the world, who has committed to be involved in process of creating a mobile app, a solution that will create trust. But from being a parent, a father of three children, my role as a parent, I know that, in order to develop trust you have to be consequent. You have to be there, you have to be yourself all the time, you have to be honest, you have to be transparent and you have to be truthful. This means when everyone in the community starts to behave like this, then the community becomes inherent with trust, where everyone is trust-able and is trusting. The one thing that kills trust, is greed. Greed does not create wealth, greeds takes away from someone. Thus when you are creating incubation/ innovation environment, the factor of greed is not allowed to enter the game, because it kills trust. Then people starts thinking and looking around that who is planning on taking something away from me, or from others, and instead of being open and looking at the future, they need to focus on protecting their today, which itself transforms our society or that community into a defensive mechanism, and defense mechanism erase innovation.

Brian: During your talk, you talked of two types of communities, one with strict rules and another one, a very laxed one, and you said both are necessary. So in a given environment, how do you know which one is the best for the situation?

Aape: My answer to the question is you never know, because the only certain thing about future is that you will not know what will happen. So any decision you make now, its based on the situation there and then, so the context defines the act.
Now, the role of the innovation or the coaches is to push people beyond their comfort zone. You need to make them feel uncomfortable, make them feel bad, that is the only way that they can become better, you don’t become better by being in your comfort zone. There has to be a coach, or someone who pushes you to become better, and it hurts, as you haven’t done it before, but simultaneously the environment which the coaching happens has to be very secure, very comforting, and has to be very trusting. So the two types of communities have to coexist, there is no one without the other. And the person who is acting like a coach has to have a feel for it, and guide the people, and push them outside their comfort zone every now and then, and shelter them when you see that it is becoming too much, but you have to make them learn, push them to learn, because without that push they will just remain themselves.

Brian: On the light of the explanation, what is the role of the community?

Aape: The community defines what the community is. There is no way to define what the role of the community is, because the community defines its own role and whatever the role that the community play, is the right role for that community, and it must allow other communities to develop, coexist and also die. Because the lifecycle of things is that, things will start, things will grow, things will blossom and become very good, and also die and the community has to cherish more those patterns, it has to understand that things come and things will go, but the community will remain, and the communities will remain, Its like the same patterns that families have existed or religions have existed, and have evolved. Time will change but the community will always remain, and the community is what the community makes of itself, and if that community is not good, then some within the community are allowed to go and create another community. But these communities need to collaborate because they are both communities in a larger community, this is the ecosystem thinking, because all of these things are interconnected together.

Brian: How about ownership of ideas?

Aape: Actually this is something that we have talked about. One of the challenges in Tanzania is that intellectual property is not recognized, the way for example back home in Finland it is recognized. If I make an invention, then you cannot take it away from me, it’s my invention and it belongs to me, and my rights to that invention are recognized by the society, and I can trust that society, and I know that no one can come and take it away from me, because the community recognizes an invention, and this is something that needs to implemented into your legislation, your policies, your culture, that the one who makes the first idea, is the parent of the idea, the owner of the idea. This is also in the open source community, that the definition of merits is your intelligence plus your efforts. So you can’t have ideas, patent them and do nothing, because that is wrong, as you are blocking other people’s freedom to work on them. But if you get a brilliant idea and you really work on that idea and keep on working on the idea, then the community will follow you, and become users of the idea and that makes the idea more powerful. So yes, first you have to recognize intellectual property from day zero, second recognize the ideology of open source that the inventor has to do something about the invention. So one can not just keep on inventing, and patenting ideas.

My suggestion to the community, the first thing, is for the community to write a letter to COSTECH for them to go to the policy makers to work on the subject of intellectual property now. Because intellectual property and the right of the inventor, in the future, when life is about ideas and their realization in digital world, that is the core, that is your soul, the heart of the new economy. You need to respect it.

One last advice for the Innovation Space: Keep on doing the good work!

UPDATE 30.4.2013 14.48: Added Aape’s presentation slides for download.

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