I met Ethel Delali Cofie at BarCampBrighton. She was telling me that she wanted to run a BarCamp called #bcAfricaUK09. I pointed her towards the BarCampLondon 09 organisers and told her that I'd see if she could use the Vodafone Group HQ.
I woke up on Saturday morning after a long and difficult week at work. The last thing I felt like doing was making the trek into the office. I just couldn't face spending half of my precious weekend trapped within the same walls I look at every day.
I figured that I'd make the effort, show up for an hour or so and then slope off home.
How glad I am that I stayed for the whole day - it was one of the most unusual, inspiring, fun and education BarCamps I have ever attended.
The majority of the talks were streamed and recorded for posterity. You can view all the BarCamp Africa UK videos at TweetCam. This is definitely something that other BarCamps should do. Not only does it capture interesting talks, it also means that if there is a clash between two talks, you can go to one safe in the knowledge you can catch the other one later.
I tweeted some of the more interesting snippets of the talks and tagged the #bcAfricaUK09. Here are the highlights...
Africa's Development Priorities
A bunch of us sat around and created a paper Wiki while we discussed what we thought the leading social, technological and developmental priorities were for Africa.
You know when people say "that literally blew my mind" and that snide part of you thinks "stop abusing the word 'literally' or I'll literally give you a slap"?
After Rachel Armstrong's talk I was left with smoke coming out of my ears as I struggled to comprehend what I'd just seen. Inexpensive table-top chemistry showing how you could create self repairing buildings, carbon capturing bacteria, re-floating Venice.
The possibilities seem endless. I think everyone in the room was left reeling with the possibilities this technology opens up.
This was a chance for Professor Cornelia Boldyreff to discuss the work she and her students are doing with the One Laptop Per Child project. Specifically talking about how you can download Sugar on a Stick and start developing for OLPC whether you're on Linux, PC or Mac.
Digital Language Preservation
Can we use technology to preserve language which are in danger of disappearing,
Some very interesting ideas about how tools like AudioBoo can preserve indigenous languages, but also help teach the next generation the language of their ancestors.
Innovators and Entrepreneurs
What are the challenges facing the upcoming generation of talented business-people and inventors?
Curiously, everyone was given a printed sheet with details of all the proposed talks. While somewhat against the spirit of the three word rule, it gave presenters a chance to expand on their themes which, in turn, helped participants work out which talks they wanted to attend.
There was a sign up sheet by every talk so organisers could assign rooms. This prevented the social awkwardness which ensues when a presenter books a cavernous room, only to have a few people turn up - it also prevents overcrowding at popular talks.
The organisers came round to let presenters know when they had 5 minutes left. They also turned up at the end of each session to let us know where the next talks were taking place. This really aided the smooth flow of the day.
Despite the meticulous planning, the day ended up running around 20-40 minutes late. I was reliably informed that this was because we were running on Kenyan time!
Nevertheless, the day went off without a hitch.
Two words. Hummus Brothers.
This made such a delicious change from the normal BarCamp fare of sandwiches and pizza. There was a great mix of vegetarian, vegan and carnivore topped hummus as well as salads, falafel, and fresh vegetables. There was also a smattering of African snacks; plantain sweet potato chips and the like.
A great communal lunch lead to loads of interesting conversations - not all about how yummy the food was! - and produced a really fun atmosphere. I wish every day at work could be this enjoyable.
This was one of the most fun BarCamps I have ever been to. There was a real sense of unity and purpose. It was an honour and a privilege to have played even a small role in its organisation. The mixture of people from all over the planet, the joy and exuberance, the stunning talks and awe inspiring participants made this a truly memorable BarCamp - I can't wait for next year!