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I wrote recently about the New Participants in the development process and I’m pleased to introduce one here, for our first Akvo guest blog. Chris Watkins of Appropedia was able to attend the BarCampAfrica event, hosted a few weeks ago on the Google Campus in San Jose. None of the Akvo team could be there but Chris was kind enough to offer his take on what it was about. Over to Chris…

I have a confession: I love BarCamps – the free structure, the inclusive nature, and loads of interesting people. And I’m passionate about international development. So when I heard of BarCampAfrica, I knew I had to go.

To set the tone, during the opening session, we were asked to stand up if we were from Africa or had ever been to Africa – I was surprised to see the majority of the room standing. It soon become clear that this was by and large a group of action takers – people who care, who had gone out and done it, learnt the lessons, and were taking action now.

One of the inspiring stories was that of William Kamkwamba, who as a 14 year old boy in Malawi, read a book on windmills and built one to produce electricity for his home and community. He even adapted the design it to improve the performance. (More: The Power of a Book & An Idea).

This is an example of what is possible through the knowledge-sharing work that Appropedia and Akvo do. (Here I show my own passion.) I want to see a vast library of such knowledge available to all, via internet, CD-ROM, printouts, books and every other form that works. William Kamkwamba is not the only bright child in Africa – many other children and adults could build, develop, invent, and in doing so improve their lives. A spark of knowledge can set it off.

This kind of hope and these kinds of positive stories are not common in mainstream pictures of Africa. But they were abundant at BarCampAfrica, filled with people who knew Africa beyond the headlines, who knew its joy as well as its grief, and who are choosing to act and make a difference. This was amplified by the nature of the event. These were not remote celebrity types, selected to give celebrity talks about their celebrity projects and leave us passively awed – BarCampAfrica was overflowing with a different kind of actor, and it left me with a different perspective.

Thanks to the organisers for a great day, and enabling so many great connections, insights, and moments of inspiration.

Chris Watkins is a founder of Appropedia.org, a wiki-based network that aims to become a living resource library of individuals and organisations working towards a sustainable, healthier future. Chris works to extend Appropedia’s network, and understanding. You can follow his travels via his Twitter feed and on the Appropedia blog. You can see Mark Charmer and Chris Watkins talking together in this recent video interview on Global Swadeshi.