All over the global South, urban and semi-urban areas are growing at a furious pace. Great swathes of mega-regions – places where large cities blend seamlessly into smaller towns and villages creating a giant economic hub – are becoming key economic and opportunity drivers in developing countries. One of the downsides of this rapid growth and economic vitality is the chaos and confusion brought by frenetic change. Into this busy landscape steps the fast-moving new world of everywhere computing, where computers exchange information with almost everything in the environment. A Ghanaian information technology pioneer and entrepreneur is changing perceptions about Africa by using the new technology of Semacodes – and proving a semblance of order can arise from the chaos and bustle of the street.
Semacode – a smart 2D barcode – was developed by Canadian Simon Woodside and is a tool to make everywhere computing a possibility. It works by embedding a web address into a 2D barcode called a tag which can be affixed to buildings, street lamps, and other landmarks. If one would like to know more information regarding the area they are in, all they need to do is find the nearest Semacode and use their internet-enabled camera phone to scan and read the code. A camera phone containing the Semacode’s Software Development Kit (SDK) detects and decodes the tag and sends the user the web address using the phone’s built-in browser. The user quickly learns what businesses and services are in the area and what the current street name is.
With code developed in Ghana called Semafox, one can create Semacodes for objects and contexts using a web browser – (http://sohne.net/semafox/). It is now being adapted by Ghanaian entrepreneur Guido Sohne to solve the common African problem of chaotic cityscapes brought about by rapid change, high turnover of businesses and changing street names. This handy tool has the power to revolutionise how people communicate and do business in the South, and a rival technology using a similar concept – QR code – is already widespread in Japan. Semacode also has its own user-contributed community website, Semapedia, to produce semacodes for any object or building.
Sohne is a computer code developer working for CoreNett – a Ghanaian electronic transaction processing company – and has been working on developing the code underlying the semacodes, and also piloting its application on the streets of Accra, the capital. Sohne (a former Kofi Annan ICT Centre for Excellence developer-in-residence), is an excellent example of how an IT innovator in the South is linking up early in a new technology’s development to help develop and evolve it.“It is rare to find African-created technology being used today in Western cyberspace,” concludes Sohne. It “is indeed a step forward for African technology as well as an indication of the benefits of collaborative development based on liberal software licensing such as open source software.”
Published: June 2007
You can download the Semacode reader software, here. This includes software for mobile phones and computer servers.
The latest stories and updates on Semacode can be found here.
A thorough explanation of rival technology QR Codes and their impact in Japan and how they work, can be found here. At present, QR Codes are used in a variety of ways, from linking to content and advertising in magazines and newspapers, to food product labels, public transportation signage, and as a way to communicate between people on the street.
We were able to identify numerous trends that were at the time being overlooked or under-reported; trends that could radically re-shape international development. This included the rapid rise ofmobile phonesin the global South and their powerful impact on economic development, the rush to cities and urban areas that was turning the world into a majority urban place, and the shift to greater South-South trade, investment and contact. Whereas the past involved people always looking North for inspiration, capital and business and trade relationships, this was shifting to South-South arrangements. And there were plenty of inspirational, modern, 21st century examples of economic, social and human development achievements across the global South to report on. By consistently tracking and chronicling a quiet revolution underway in the global South, the e-newsletter was able to draw attention to a rising 21st-century global innovator culture being shaped by the use of mobile phones and information technologies. Few at the time had grasped how much this was going to reshape the international development paradigm.
To start, the e-newsletterDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions(begun in 2006), was used to gather together as many stories, data, trends, and contacts as possible and get this message to as wide a group as possible. Luckily, this coincided with the very moment whole swathes of the global South were coming online, either through connecting with mobile phones or through the Internet. Quickly, it became clear there was not a lack of inspiring stories and innovations and solutions to share, but a lack of resources to communicate them. One solution was to utilise a new publishing tool that emerged in 2007: crowd-powered news services. It became a great way to bypass the stranglehold on news and information held by traditional media. Read more on this here:http://www.scribd.com/doc/251968773/Southern-Innovator-Summary-of-Impact-2011-to-2012
In particular, the e-newsletter caught the eye of those looking for inspiration in the wake of the 2007/2008 global economic crisis:
“Great economic and business reporting! Very helpful for us.” Africa Renewal, Africa Section, Strategic Communications Division, United Nations Department of Public Information
“I just went over your June newsletter. It’s very well done and far reaching. Congratulations!” Violette Ruppanner, Director, 3D -> Trade – Human Rights – Equitable Economy, Geneva, Switzerland
“Just to let you know I enjoyed the newsletter a lot – it was interesting to learn about things going on that I would never otherwise find out about, and also the listing of future conferences and events proved very useful.” Ian Sanderson, Deloitte, Geneva, Switzerland
“Congratulations on another great newsletter that’s packed with fascinating information! I really enjoy getting it each month.” Whitney Harrelson, Making Cents, Washington D.C.
2008: Development work begins on the concept for a book on innovation in the global South. Attend an Africa trade-focused meeting in Switzerland just as the global crisis breaks. Witness attendees dash from the event as they get frantic calls from London and New York. Undertake Cuba study tour with the BSHF.
2010: Begin working with graphic designer and illustrator Solveig Rolfsdottir and graphic designer Eva Hronn Gudnadottir in Reykjavik, Iceland on the initial concepts for what would become Southern Innovator. The working title for the new magazine is Creative Sparks.
2014: The fifth issue ofSouthern Innovatoris launched at the Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo) in Washington, D.C.. Southern Innovator has always tried to inspire others to take action and this has turned out to be the case.
“Beautiful, inspiring magazine from UNDP on South-South innovation. Heart is pumping adrenaline and admiration just reading it”
Once blazing a lonely trail, there are now many places to find stories on global South innovation (The Guardian, SciDev, Devex, Business Fights Poverty, Zunia etc.). Mainstream media have also woken up to the energy and change sweeping across the global South, disrupting its regular diet of negative news stories focused around war, disasters and failure (unfortunately, still the majority of what most people see on their TV).
“I liked your latest Southern innovator! Always inspiring.”
“Btw, I really enjoyed reading them, impressive work & a great resource. Looking forward to Issue 6. My best wishes to you & your team at SI.”
“The magazine looks fantastic, great content and a beautiful design!”