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Kakuma Connected

A network of wifi hotspots that improves refugee access to online education and facilitates communication within and beyond the camp.

Photo of Joanna Zimmerman
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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

Approximately 160,000 refugees live in Kakuma Camp in remote northwestern Kenya where there is poor access to major Kenyan business centers. Kakuma represents a protracted refugee situation, one where young people and adults alike are confined to the immediate environment, with little opportunity to pursue education or employment outside of the camp. As such, almost all of the young people pursuing higher education and professional courses are enrolled in online programs that do not require them to leave the camp. However, internet connectivity is unreliable at best, nonexistent at worst, and expensive in any case. An entire generation is eager to communicate, share information and ideas, conduct business with and learn from communities as close as Kalobeyei and far away as Arizona. There are few learning centers in the camp, and because of Kakuma’s sprawling landscape, the centers can be quite far from where students live. This makes travel to classrooms and computer centers costly and time intensive. Additionally, these centers are crowded, the internet is unpredictable and they only operate during business hours where the heat is at its peak. This further complicates travel to and use of computer centers as the primary source of internet access. Because refugees in Kakuma camp have family and/or work responsibilities, students, businesses, and individuals need flexible access and reliable connectivity at a more affordable price. This will enable refugees to conduct online activities from their businesses, home, or neighborhood station at their convenience, whether day or night. As a result, members of the community can redirect the time, money, and energy they would have spent traveling to learning centers and other internet hubs. Finally, education institutions that have heretofore been limited by the capacity of computer centers can offer tertiary education programs to more students, increasing the skill level and livelihood potential of the camp at-large.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

Kakuma refugee camp is located in the Turkana District of northwestern Kenya, approximately 120 km from Lodwar (the nearest big city) and 95 km from the Kenya- South Sudan border. Opened in 1992 to serve Sudanese refugees, Kakuma is now home to refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia, DRC, Burundi, Eritrea, Uganda and Rwanda. Given its diversity, refugees in Kakuma are already adept at building bridges across linguistic and cultural divides. Kakuma is heralded as a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Our idea will enable refugees in Kakuma and members of the semi-nomadic Turkana tribe living just outside the camp to engage in commerce and therefore boost the mutual economic stability of the region more broadly. Providing internet supports the creation of new entrepreneurial activity, expansion into new markets, stabilizes relationships and harnesses the educational potential of an entire region that has been historically underserved.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

Human connection, the pursuit of knowledge and doing meaningful work are hallmarks of a dignified, hopeful, and joyous life. When a person is confined to a particular space, with no freedom to move around and pursue his or her interests, human needs are not being met. Though we cannot yet alter the restrictive policy of limited freedom of movement, we can build a bridge to the outside world through providing access to reliable and convenient internet. Refugees can then contact family members outside of the camp with regularity, can pursue informal and more formalized educational programs, and university-aged students who are interested can enroll in higher education programs that will provide them with the skills to be able to find meaningful and dignified employment such that they can later provide for their families, pass on a love of learning to their children, and pursue their individual passions and ambitions no matter where life takes them.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

Following the implementation of 8 total wifi hotspots (2 in each section of Kakuma) and the improvement of the 3 that are currently in operation, community members will i) have greater access to affordable and reliable connectivity; ii) have real-time access to learning content and other information; iii) have the ability to conduct online business transactions; iv) connect with family and friends with ease and regularity; v) create local jobs and build sustainable businesses; vi) enjoy quicker access to helpful information, especially concerning security and disaster alerts; and vii) partake in existing and relevant remote work opportunities. Additionally, several residents will be enlisted to manage the delivery of the service, earning them a commission-based employment opportunity. We will interview users before and after enrollment in the service, and understand how the ability to connect with others and information online has impacted their daily lives and future outlook.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

The ASU team met Innocent over a year ago, and we hoped to collaborate on an Entrepreneurship training for Kakuma Ventures employees and others who were looking for hands-on training and mentorship to get their businesses off the ground. Upon discussing trainings that ASU already offers in other parts of the world, we soon realized that our existing online content was too "heavy" for KV's internet- graphics and videos in the course placed too much of a load on existing bandwidth. On subsequent trips to Kakuma we repeatedly heard that students in education programs travel long distances to use the computers and internet due to the expanse of the camp. We decided to bring the connectivity directly to them, effectively reversing the existing process. It became clear that a solid internet infrastructure had to be built in order to offer university-level courses, reach more students, limit dropout and ease the burden of pursuing an education for those already dedicated learners.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

Kakuma Connected is the best kind of innovation- one that has positive externalities for those outside of the intended target audience. As long as someone pays the subscription fee- whether for the hour, the day, or the month, he/she can become a member of the "connected" community. However, the target users for our collaboration are youth between the ages of 17-35 who would like to pursue English language training, entrepreneurship training, or university preparation and undergraduate courses with Arizona State University. The learners we currently work with have ambition to be entrepreneurs, teachers, medical professionals, computer engineers, etc. We hope to provide them with tangible skills that can be of use no matter where the future takes them, whether that is home, Kenya, or a third country altogether. Solid internet connection is critical to ensure that we can provide learners access to the opportunity to excel in their studies.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

Kakuma Connected leverages local enterprise and talent to develop a sustainable solution to an infrastructure problem. Our idea also helps local businesses to expand by conducting business online and therefore reaching more people and building bridges between the community in Kakuma and the surrounding Turkana region. By employing local people to serve as “ambassadors” and managers of each neighborhood station, our idea also creates new livelihood opportunities for refugees involved. Due to the protracted nature of displacement for many refugees in Kakuma (most have lived there for over a decade), not only is the community well-integrated but most have a vast network of relatives, friends, and colleagues that have voluntarily relocated to other parts of Kenya, returned home, or have been resettled around the globe. Kakuma Connected serves as a catalytic innovation that will enable refugees to effectively utilize this already established network for both economic and emotional gain.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

Both Kakuma Ventures and Education for Humanity have strong networks in their respective industries. Kakuma Ventures uses the local Internet Service Provider SafariCom for the internet link and supplies to set up a neighborhood station. They also use Safaricom's mobile payment service Mpesa to receive wire payments from customers. We have a till number that does not charge subscribers for transactions on payments made to Kakuma Ventures. Education for Humanity is currently working with the Norwegian Refugee Council to provide English training to 78 learners in Kakuma. Internet connectivity is one major factor limiting scale, so if we were to improve internet in learners' neighborhoods, we could reach more learners through other organizations in the Connected Learning in Crisis Consortium, which ASU co-leads alongside UNHCR, the UN's Refugee agency. There are currently 23 members, with many of them also operating in Kakuma at this time.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Being on the move, crossing borders, and/or temporarily settled

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Systems design: Solutions that target changing larger system

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Pilot: We have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users. The feasibility of an innovation is tested in a small-scale and real world application (i.e. 3-15% of the target population)

Group or Organization Name

Education for Humanity and Kakuma Ventures

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

This innovation represents a collaboration between Kakuma Ventures, co-founded by Innocent Ntumba Tshilombo and Kurt Davis, and the Education for Humanity team at Arizona State University. From the Democratic Republic of Congo, Innocent has lived in Kakuma for over ten years and is the quintessential entrepreneur with an uncanny ability to see a need in his community and meet that need. Because of Kurt's leadership and Innocent's strong network and initiative, the Kakuma Ventures hotspot service averages nearly 50 daily, 40 weekly, and 30 monthly subscribers. With improved materials and greater support, we expect this number to grow exponentially. Education for Humanity provides refugees and other marginalized populations access to higher education programs that align with their individual ambitions by working in collaboration with local organizations, leveraging tech-enabled solutions. Our organization also advances refugee integration through university and workforce partnerships.

Website URL:;

Type of submitter

  • We are a formal part of a University or Research Institution

Organization Headquarters: Country

Kakuma Ventures: Kenya; Education for Humanity at Arizona State University: USA

Organization Headquarters: City / State

Kakuma Ventures: Kakuma Camp, Turkana Region, Kenya; Education for Humanity at Arizona State University: Tempe, Arizona, USA


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ikong James

Hello @Joanna Zimmerman thank you for this idea.

Internet connectivity is such an important infrastructure in a connected world we live in today. It leverages on business potentials to ease commerce, improve communication and an archive for information as mong other critical and important uses. This can benefit both host and refugee communities alike that may have been marginalised as stated.

I'm just curious learn more how this idea can go beyond the importance of Internet as an infrastructure to bridge other unique gaps besides those that the community is already over coming between host and refugee communities to sustain peace and equality.

Wish you all the best of luck,
Ikong James 

Photo of Joanna Zimmerman

Hi Ikong James , thank you so much for your support of our idea and your thoughtful question. A huge part of our concept is using internet infrastructure, once it is in place, to deliver educational content- specifically university preparation and undergraduate courses from Arizona State University. As you know, education is one tool we can use in order to maintain peace and facilitate equity amongst diverse community members. I would like to share a beautiful sentiment from one of our refugee learners about the impact of education from his perspective, which addresses your concern about sustaining peace: "Without education you cannot even connect with others. Like here, people from different tribes and different clans and different nations, you cannot meet them, unless you are educated. That is one of the importance of education. The second thing is education is open for you, the way that you can learn more about the world. Like, if you're not educated, you could not even know how to use a computer. That is through the knowledge of education... We have learned a lot of things. Different cultures and different beliefs, because we are doing education." This quote illustrates the way that education softens borders and boundaries that we put up between ourselves and others, and truly builds a bridge to collaboration and peaceful coexistence.

Photo of Ikong James

Thanks for this deep insight @Joanna Zimmerman. Education is indeed a tool for knowledge and therefore could possibly facilitate peace and equality. This infact makes me want to ask this other question;- what is entailed in your educational material?? My assumption is that if is the syllabus system of learning biology, science technology, is that it may not do so much or even the impact in that regard maybe long term rather than immediate hence not really something that could appeal to refugees on the move or temporary settled as they may not stay long to see through the impact intended for them immediately in their areas of temporary settlement but would be rather impact more on the host community long term.

My recommendations if you are open to the idea is to tailor the educational material to targeted peace building knowledge, skills and expertise like conflict resolution among others and also training both communities on how to collaboratively work together flawlessly with less friction.

Ikong James

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