Design and innovation flow through all of Fjord, as we endeavor to create big and innovative ideas, products with purpose and experiences users love.
We worked with ‘Ensemble Pour La Difference’, a social business incubator in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to bring Internet access to the remote island of Idjwi. Covering costs for technology, design and implementation, we also provided Ensemble with our service design methodologies, teaching them how to use these when training local businesses.
A major challenge was designing at a distance. The DCR was too dangerous to go into so we met Ensemble in Kenya to better understand the conditions we’d be designing for. We quickly realized this was bigger than ‘just’ bringing Internet to Idjwi – connectivity would have a massive impact. It would enable islanders to check weather reports to safely sail to the mainland to sell their goods; check if they were getting fair prices for tungsten; and keep in touch with family outside of the island which was near impossible.
Another challenge was designing for users with varying online literacy, where many had little or no previous experience of the web. We had to put ourselves in the shoes of the islanders without any first hand experience of Idjwi. To overcome this we worked closely with Ensemble as they know the people and their situation very well, and designed posters (translated into Swahili) explaining what Internet access would give the community and to educate people on keeping safe online.
The solution needed to be low-cost, locally maintainable and accessible to everyone, regardless of literacy, age, financial means and gender. Researching innovative solutions in similar challenging places, we discovered ‘Internet Mesh Networking’. Using this complex technology and academic approach as a model, we created a plug-and-play version that can be installed and run with limited technical knowledge.
Costs couldn’t be a barrier for access, but the network had to become self-sustainable. Fees were set proportional to people’s wages and we have a Pay-as-you-go plan for the limited few who already have devices. For as little as $1 per month people can now get online, and any profit goes back into the project.
Once the net was installed, we handed the ownership to the islanders. The Pamoja Net (Pamoja means ‘together’ in Swahili) is looked after by a stewardship –Ambassadors – that includes the island King, representatives from the Women’s co-operative, and volunteers who help run and maintain the Kiosk where people can access the internet. These keep spreading the word about the value of the web and conduct local research to inform expansion and future solutions.
Through Project First Light we’ve connected one of the most remote parts of the world – referred to as ‘Africa’s most forgotten island’ – and empowered people through service design. We’ve given them a sustainable way to boost their trade, education and quality of life. Our work with Ensemble continues as we look for new ways to develop and improve the lives of the people of Idjwi.