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I wrote last week about Mambe Churchill Nanje and his work with Village Diary in Cameroon. But Village Diary is not Churchill’s whole story. The other part is his company Afrovisiongroup.com and the company he was keeping when we met up for a Malta and some Castels. Photo: Churchill and Steveslil.

AfroVisioN is Churchill’s IT firm, based out of Buea, Cameroon. AfroVisioN helps local businesses build their on-line presence, and aims to help Cameroon in general realize the potential of the web. “I was in the process of trying to get a nice paying job in IT, and someone told me: ‘Don’t get a job, create jobs instead!’ so that’s what I set out to do. I wanted to show people in Cameroon that there is more online than email.”

AfroVisioN invests in research and development to cut down costs of technology to serve the local markets. They provide affordable websites and web solutions, building software packages and automated operations to facilitate management and efficiency.

Although he can’t be more than 24 years old, this is not Churchill’s first venture. In 2006, at age 20 he invested all his time and money in building up a portal to allow students to see their GCE scores online. He purchased the GCE scores from the GCE board and published them for free on a site called passgce.com. The site was promptly shut down by the GCE board. Churchill recognized that there are potential disadvantages to having the scores on the internet (an error in programming logic could show the wrong results or someone could hack into the system and change the results), but that these are easily overcome with standard security measures. He’s sure the site was closed for other reasons. “Imagine building all your hopes on something and it gets shut down….”

Not one to give up, Churchill moved on to doing small IT projects that led him to his current business model at AfroVisioN. “Our market and its people don’t have huge financial backings, but they need technology in order to make their businesses more profitable,” so the business model builds on making a web presence affordable.

But Churchill’s goal doesn’t end there. “I kept wondering, why am I exporting software and my schoolmates and family are exporting cocoa… and not earning any money through their hard work.” So Churchill’s broader goal is to make a name for himself, to earn trust and credibility so that he can attract investment to help others to progress. In addition, he’s looking for ways that IT, especially internet, can be used to gain access to information to improve farms and local businesses so that they can earn more.

As we sipped our drinks and then rode in a crowded taxi from one side of town to the other, Churchill’s friends Steveslil and Peter also talked about their aspirations. Photo: Steveslil, Peter and Churchill.

Steveslil is an up and coming R&B singer – check out his website (powered by AfroVisioN) athttp://www.steveslil.com/flashsite.swf. He was appointed CEO of CoreSouth Records in 2005 and put out his debut album “Play my Tambourine,” fostered by Churchill, who also directed 2 of Steveslil’s videos. Steveslil is now on the BEI (Bebum Entertainment Industry) label out of Washington DC, founded in 2002 by Cameroonian-American businessman Esapa Sebastien.

Peter (@foch4T) studied at university with Churchill and they currently call on each other when there is work to be done on websites or other IT projects. Peter’s dream is to start a tour company to bring people to Cameroon. “Cameroon is the center of the world. It’s the heart of Africa. Here you have every climate, every type of thing that can be found in Africa, but all in one place.” Peter wants to bring people to Cameroon to experience the country’s beauty and culture in the most real way possible, giving them custom made tours.

Some impressive guys, to say the least. And to me, it was most heartening that not one of them talked about wanting to leave Cameroon to try to succeed elsewhere, but rather building up their country’s own potential and their own people.

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Before I left for Cameroon, I had started doing a little of my own research via blogs and Twitter to learn a bit more about ICT4D in the Cameroonian setting. I wanted to get a feel for what the situation was so I’d be more in tune and also to see if there were any potential partners or people on the ground who I could learn from or link with Plan Cameroon. In the end, I was able to meet with Mambe Churchill Nanje the founder of http://www.afrovisiongroup.com/ and a partner on http://www.villagediary.org/, a project of the LINK-UP development group. Photo: Mambe Churchill Nanje of AfroVisioNgroup.

Since I’m coming from a non-profit and child rights background (at Plan International), and since we are looking into ICT4D as an enabler and facilitator for existing program work, and since much of our work centers on HIV/AIDS, memory books, birth registration, participation and child protection, I especially like the idea behind village diaries. This is some really interesting stuff on several fronts. The mission of the Village Diary project (summarizing from their website here) is “to enhance access to legal, social and health services for orphans, vulnerable children and widows experiencing different forms of abuses. It also serves as a platform to track the cultural and historical background of families and villages.”

By supporting the establishment of marriage licenses, birth certificates and last wills and testaments and providing secure access to digital backups of these documents to authorized case workers, Village Diary aims to alleviate the problems that arise after the death of a leading family member. Village Diary also collects stories by women and children to provide a forum for making change and at the same time offers a window into community life.

Village Diary does this by operating an online database that documents and shares cases of abuse of women and children for education, research and advocacy purposes, establishing institutional partnerships to enhance legal, social and health services and facilitate access of such services to orphans and women, strengthening existing support networks for women in the community, and recording cultural, environmental and historical changes of the people and villages involved in the project.

So on top of being involved in some very cool projects, Churchill is also a very cool guy and it was great to have the chance to hang out with him and a few friends on Saturday in Yaounde. Thanks, Twitter (and ourman, billzimmerman, and downeym!). I’m looking forward to seeing where this guy is in a few years, as he has some fantastic ideas for IT in Cameroon.

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