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Kenya - Africa

Addresses for All

Some four billion people globally do not have a physical address. That cuts them off from emergency and utility services, bank loans, and much more. A mobile app combining an image and GPS location is changing that – starting in Nairobi, Kenya.

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Nairobi city started as a supply depot exactly halfway between Mombasa and Kampala on the train line that was being built. When the rail-head reached Nairobi in 1899 the supply depot started growing a life of its on. People settled around the depot and it grew in all directions – organically and without a plan. And it hasn’t stopped since.

In 2019 Nairobi – the capital of Kenya – is home to four million people (at least). It is a city of contrasts - of opportunities and broken dreams, of wealth and despair, of skyscrapers and shanty towns. And just as the railway brought people to the supply depot in search of opportunities Nairobi continues to do the same more than a century later.

This is part of the reason why Nairobi is well suited as the launch pad for a company that wants to create physical addresses for the four billion people around the world who do not have one. That company is OkHi.

OkHi has built a mobile app for smart phones that combines geolocation with an image of a door or gate to create an address. Nairobi has entire neighborhoods where the streets have no names and where people don’t have an address. OkHi is on a mission to change that.

The man with the plan is Timbo Drayson – co-founder and CEO of OkHi. Before becoming an entrepreneur, he was working for Google and was part of a team building its developer ecosystem in Africa and the Middle East. During a sabbatical Timbo travelled around Africa to immerse himself in and better understand the ecosystems that he worked with at Google. And it was an inspiring journey where Timbo got to experience a range of issues first hand – and meet the people trying to solve them. One issue seemed to tower above the rest – the issues faced by the millions of Africans who do not have an address.

“At ABC turn left down, then first right after 50 meters on to Manyani Road. Go straight straight straight until the end, through barrier, turn right, we’re second house on the left. Look after red radar sign.” This is what an ‘address’ typically sounds like in parts of Nairobi – and similar directions will be given in Lagos, Kampala, Dar Es Salaam, Kinshasa, Luanda, and many other big African cities.

And co-founder Wes Chege can testify to that – he knows the issue very well. “My mom’s address is a set of text directions. Which is ‘After the market you turn right at the security sign and then you look for the orange gate’. That means that she cannot access critical services. There’s no post to her and in case of an emergency I can trust an ambulance to get to her on time,” says Wes.

 Nairobi is one of the fastest growing cities in Africa and grows at app. 4% per year – some of that growth is planned and some of it isn’t. In other words – the need (and the market) for an app like OkHi continues to grow. 

The commercial backbone of the project is the ability for OkHi to unlock commerce through enhanced logistics – and as that grows so will other aspects such as access to finance and services through better personal identification. Not least access to vital services such as ambulances. 

Before OkHi can take on the rest of Africa and ultimately the world, it must first become a household address provider in Nairobi, says Timbo;

“The goal is to try and create an addressing solution that has lots of people and lots of businesses using it all the time. When you think of your address, it is something you want to use every single day and you want all the businesses and services around you to use that. Whether it is an ambulance provider, an e-commerce business trying to make a delivery or whether it is you proving where you live to a bank.”

With more than 10,000 users and several businesses onboard OkHi is working its way towards critical mass where revenues can be reinvested in the company to grow it. Ultimately to expand across Africa and beyond – to ensure addresses for all.

BESTSELLER FOUNDATION has invested in OkHi in support of the mission to formally include those without an address and give them access to basic services, enable them to take a bank loan, to call an ambulance and do all the things that those of us with an address take for granted. Inclusion means access –to services and to opportunities.