Social Innovation: African Chief Using Twitter to Improve Village Life

An African chief, Francis Kariuki, is using 21st century social innovation to help resolve problems and maintain order in his Kenyan village. He is on Twitter, the social media platform, and is a great example of how the digital world has gone beyond urban towns and cities to reach previously what were considered distant corners of the earth.

Chief Francis Kariuki, or @Chiefkariuki, as he’s known on Twitter tweets daily to support his community and has embraced social innovation via social media. His 140-character messages are missions from helping to find missing children and/or farm animals to organising village life and even thwarting local thieves. In one example, criminals were caught raiding a school teacher’s home at 4 AM—that is until Kariuki whipped out his phone and intervened via Twitter. The Chief received a phone tip about the incident, and then he sent a tweet in real time that mobilised the village to gather outside the teacher’s house and scare the robbers away. In another incident, Chief Kariuki used Twitter to organise a rescue operation after a man fell into a pit.

Kariuki lives 160 miles west of Kenya’s capital Nairobi; this modern-day Chief has just over 400 followers. In fact, through social innovation, his tweets reach thousands of the area’s 28,000 residents, as many of his neighbours are subsistence farmers, who access his tweets via forwarded text messages or a third-party mobile application that works without a smartphone. Chief Kariuki says, “Twitter has helped save time and money. I no longer have to write letters or print posters which take time to distribute and are expensive.” He believes his Twitter activity has helped decrease the crime rate to virtually nil in recent weeks, compared to prior reports of daily thefts.

Recent research by Kenya-based 'Portland Communications and Tweetminster' said Twitter is enjoying big growth across Africa, citing South Africa as the top user of Twitter, followed by Kenya, which is second. The study also found that over the last three months of 2011, Kenyans produced nearly 2.5 million tweets. While more than 80 percent of those polled for the research said they mainly used Twitter for communicating with friends, 68 percent said they use it to monitor news. These findings show that the use of Twitter is part of a social innovation and communication revolution for organisations, governments and individuals who want to create and open dialogue.

Back to Chief Kairuki, who says he also uses Twitter to send messages of hope, especially to the young and unemployed. In fact one of his inspiring tweets read, “Let’s be the kind of people that do good for others whether we get paid back or not, whether they say thank you or not.” Kariuki has said that he wants to use Twitter to promote peace and social innovation as Kenya prepares to hold another presidential election in the next year, the first since the 2007-08 postelection violence that killed more than 1,000 people.