We currently collect waste in Malawi in the following places.
So whether you have a factory, a medical institution, an office or a home, we are ready to provide you a consistent and reliable waste collection service that you subscribe to. We can also do one-off disposals. Please contact us via WhatsApp through +265881794148
Coming a little late to the game but Malawi has introduced postcodes! The system was implemented in 2019 (but we just came across it a little late, 2022). Below you can see the postcodes. This is a truly amazing initiative that we wholeheartedly applaud. It’ll make deliveries and travel far more efficient once the codes are ported to a mapping application.
To code means to represent information using symbols that we had agreed to earlier. For example, we could agree that when I raise my right hand it means “I am very, very happy” and if I clap twice it means “I am going to the market”. The two symbols are “raising my right hand” and “clapping twice”. Some of the reasons for using a code are: to simplify communication and to allow communication across large distances or across time. There are many codes in existence today. One famous one is the Morse Code which uses two symbols—represented visually by dashes and dots, or aurally by a long duration tone (equivalent to dash) and short duration tone (equivalent dot). An agreed-upon combination of these symbols is used to represent letters of the alphabet and the ten numerals of the (e.g. Arabic) numeral system (The numerals, 0,1,2, etc. are in fact also symbols that represent/encode the abstract mathematical objects called number—e.g. 1 represents the number 1.) These two Morse Code—dash and dot—symbols can then be used to encode any message we desire. To encode the word “KCHKNA” for example, we would use:
In Morse Code
dash dot dash
dash dot dash dot
dot dot dot dot
dash dot dash
Tip: On Android phones you can input characters using Morse Code. With the Google Virtual Keyboard, do so by going to “Languages”, choosing “English” and then scrolling to the right until you find the “Morse code” option
Human language is also a kind of code. We use an agreed-upon set of sounds to encode information. And while there are many human languages, there is ONE language that we all speak: the genetic code.
What is DNA?
Cells have to communicate with other cells and within themselves, too! For humans we use the code of language to, for example, issue an instruction such as “Stand up”. The listener understands because she knows the code. Likewise, the cell needs to talk using a language. The cell is continuously using a cryptic language to issue instructions about what proteins to produce in the body; these proteins can then be used for intracellular or intercellular communication, to build some structures in the body, or effect a change in a distant organ in the body.
Proteins in the human body are made by chemically chaining together several amino acids (these are organic molecules). The human body uses about 22 amino acids to build its many proteins. 9 amino acids are called ‘essential’ because the body is not able to synthesize them by itself: so, it is essential that we ingest them. Often we do not directly consume amino acids; instead we consume proteins which the body then breaks down into its constituent amino acids.
Now, when all the amino acids are there, the cell needs to synthesize a specific protein. How does it tell the protein-making machinery (a key component being ribosome) to make a specific protein? The cell uses the genetic code to refer to specific amino acids.
Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) molecules are strung together in such a manner that they encode information. Just as we can code for a letter of the alphabet by arranging dashes and dots in one way (for Morse code), when DNA molecules are arranged in a specific way they can code for an amino acid. Instead of using just two symbols such as the dash and dot in Morse code, the genetic code consists of 4 symbols, referred to by their letters A, T, C, and G. Each amino acid is encoded by three of the four symbols. For example, the amino acid tryptophan is encoded by TGG. There are other protein complexes in the cell that “understand” this language; they translate and execute the instruction. A region of DNA that codes for some protein or other functional unit (rather than just an amino acid) is generally called a gene, hence the term genetic code.
So while we may differ in the human languages we use, we all speak this one language called the genetic code!
Philosophy, culture and DNA
Any social grouping has what can be thought of as its DNA. This is the set of symbols used to communicate, the set of protocols and principles to be adhered to as well as the total sum of their knowledge, experiences, and wisdom. This is called the group’s philosophy. This philosophy then determines the group’s culture—that is what individual members or social functional units actually do (or not do).
Without prior agreements as to how to interpret symbols it is not possible to communicate and function as a unit. The cell issues instructions using the genetic code because of prior agreements as to how to interpret the symbols. Likewise, as a social unit (company) we must have a consensus as to what means what, what manner to behave, what rules of thumb to follow and more generally how to treat one another. Our emphasis on promoting a specific kind of culture does not imply this is the best culture or way of doing things. Not at all! (In fact, there is hardly any proof that one language is superior to another—it just happens that some languages manage to establish a stronger brand than others.) However, the important bit is to agree that this is how things would go. In other words, once we have agreed that our language (and culture in general) consists of these symbols, those protocols and rules, everyone must acquiesce or else no (clear) communication or functional collaboration will happen.
What are some of our beliefs?
You are not that important—at KCHKNA we believe in the power of not the individual but in how well they are connected to the rest of the team. We look at our organization as an organ or a system. Individual components make the system but the system itself is an emergent being that cannot be understood or fully appreciated by studying the individuals. What this means is that no matter how intelligent, how hardworking, how visionary one individual is is not the most important thing. Think perhaps of a heart cell. No one single heart cell has the ability to pump blood. And yet, together with all the others that make up the heart, these cells can now pump blood. We are organ, too. We function as a unit.
You are that important—it is true that an individual heart cell cannot pump blood. However, it is equally true that without that individual heart cell, the heart is no longer the same. So an individual cell is indeed very important! Even more importantly, a collection of neuron cells will not pump blood. In other words while the connectedness is very important, the type of individuals who are connected is of equal importance. Practically speaking this means that we do care about your individual quirks, dreams, and style. You are an invaluable part of this organ(isation)!
Come for the people, work to pass time. Imagine you are with your best friend or another person whom you love spending time with. You can spend forever with this person just sitting side by side. But instead of just sitting around you decide to be doing something together—you decide to build a company, to advance your community, to bring love and positivity to the people who are around you. You do this not because you need to, but because you love being with the other person. This is not just metaphorical: it is what we strive to have our people experience. A large chunk of life is spent working so it doesn’t make sense that a large chunk of your life would be spent with people whom you don’t enjoy being with.
Experiment. Experiment. Experiment. We are seekers of truth (the definition of which we agree on as a team) and in doing so we are willing to reexamine and adjust our worldview when presented with new data. We perform experiments as frequently as possible because we know there is more to discover, better things to come, better ways of doing things.
As a side note, communication devices that we use have one or many underlying protocols. When you buy a Wi-Fi capable device for example, this means that it has a microcontroller and other circuitry that implement the Wi-Fi protocol. The web clients we use to access the World Wide Web use the hypertext transfer protocol to talk to servers. When you have a USB device, it means that that device implements and thus understands the Universal Serial Bus protocol. The examples are too many to list! What is key to understand is that device manufacturers need to have first agreed on how to interpret the symbols in order for effective functioning of their devices to happen.
Philosophy and Technology
Human civilization has significantly advanced with innovations spanning a vast spectrum of industries. Researchers as well as entrepreneurs have created a world that was perhaps far from imaginable in the 20th century. From the way we live, travel and communicate to how we conduct business, what money is or means, a lot has changed—at least in some places! We should expect more changes because the world is still evolving and people all over the globe are still making innumerable discoveries. But underlying all this is a philosophy as to how humanity ought to evolve, what knowledge is worth seeking, what applications are worth developing, and so on.
A company’s philosophy is like its DNA. Alexander Leivesley pointed out in Huffington Post that, “Philosophy is not obsolete. Philosophy brings the important questions to the table and works towards an answer. It encourages us to think critically about the world.” The reason why a business exists is due to its DNA. This DNA is made up of the philosophy that underpins the actions of individuals. In other words, the culture is the outcome, a measurable property of a social grouping. The philosophy defines the culture and then the culture is manifested in the everyday actions and outcomes of the social group.
We strive to create a culture where people are genuinely and practically there for each other, but we cannot force people to behave in a specific way. We aim to create an environment where people can be caring, and yet give each individual the freedom for the specific actions they take to exhibit that care.
Our Goal at KCHKNA Inc.
As KCHKNA, we are thus guided by a certain philosophy that is core to our existence. Unfortunately, as you may have noted from this note, a culture or philosophy is not something one can define in one line, or point at the same way we can point at our shiny office complex. We can share examples, but even they fall short. For example, we see the human as the greatest capital. Given the right tools and resources, she can achieve the extraordinary. We take inspiration from Jeff Bezos when he says, “Failure and invention are inseparable twins. To invent you have to experiment, and if you know in advance that it’s going to work, it’s not an experiment.” Thus we gloat neither over our failures nor our successes; but we dissect and learn from both experiences. And while failure and invention are indeed inseparable twins, we never venture into something haphazardly in the hope of learning lessons from the failure; no, we do our utmost to plan and derisk our endeavors and maximize the probability for phenomenal success. And yet these examples never fully represent our philosophy, our DNA. Ultimately, you would have to come and join us to know and experience our core philosophy!
Electricity is an indisputable enabler for any modern society. Hardly any other technology has had as much an influence as electricity. And yet, two-thirds of Africans still don’t have access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern electricity. This energy deficit continues to stifle economic growth, job creation, agricultural transformation as well as improvements in health and education. The deficit essentially stifles human potential, a sad reality for Africa But it is equally sad for the world as it means Africa is not able to contribute anywhere close to its potential.
The energy crisis has for a long, long time been a huge problem to Sub-Saharan Africa; this energy poverty presents a bottleneck for solving most of the other problems across the region. Despite long standing efforts to address the energy poverty, in 2014 633 million people lacked access to electricity and 792 million people relied on traditional biomass as their energy source for cooking (IEA, 2016). This lack of electricity has resulted in limited opportunities for entrepreneurs and corporations alike as well as premature deaths due to respiratory diseases caused by or exacerbated by cooking using outdated means.
Malawi being one of the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa is heavily hit by the deficit of electricity. With an estimated population of 18 million people as of 2020, less than 15 percent of the population have access to electricity. Those 15 percent often get electricity for less than half a day. The Malawi power generation capacity is under 500 MW–too little to be of much use beyond lighting. No serious investor, local or foreign, would have the desire to invest in large scale projects with such a lack of energy.
But how much energy does Malawi need? Others have estimated that Malawi will need 2.5 billion dollars by 2030 in order to achieve an electrification rate of 30 percent. The goal is to have 1,200 MW by 2030.
We believe differently. Malawi needs more than 20,000 MW of power. The country has the capacity for more than 20,000 MW with the available resources. Producing 20,000 MW would require different means including wind, solar, hydro as well as biomass—but it can all be clean.
We believe so because we believe in the potential of the country and its people. Most other predictions for how much Malawi needs have an underlying assumption: that, for example in 2030, Malawi will still be one of the poorest nations on the planet. That is why well-meaning organizations create models that predict that Malawi needs such low levels of electricity as 1200, 2000 MW or something like it. But consider that Malawians are humans like those in Singapore or the USA. They too want air conditioning, 24/7 electricity, electric trains, advanced and futuristic airports, hospitals in which people don’t die due to power cuts, and data centers, to name a few. We know that this set of technologies can only be possible if there is over 20, 000 MW.
But why not do small projects, at least to help these poor people? For those outside Malawi a change from traditional fires for lighting to an electric bulb seems like a good thing. But for the average Malawian in a rural area, who initially did not have an electricity bill, the arrival of a little bit of electricity is in fact a new liability. They didn’t have to pay for lighting before, now they have to. But more electricity can allow that individual to open a welding business–or well, why not, an electric car plant. With this business that individual is able to pay for the electricity. Similarly at a national level small projects are a liability that will be hard to settle—it is too little to activate the economy and thus less an enabler and more a burden.
We reiterate that a little bit of electricity is a liability for the country. A lot of electricity is what will truly change things. We know, looking at other nations, that 18 million people need far, far more than a 1000 MW or, really anything below 20 thousand. Yes, Malawi is different–it is poor, we heard that. But what would need to change? Do we wait until there is a lot of demand from factories and then build the power plants for the factories? But who in the first place would build a factory if there is no reliable electricity! Indeed the idea has been one of building small projects and hoping the factories will follow; this has been experimented with for a long time already. There have been small projects all the way back to the establishment of the Republic in the 1960s. Small projects funded by benefactors over the last 50 plus years has resulted in less than 400 MW of capacity; that is HALF a century to reach a capacity that other nations build in weeks. So, no, small projects haven’t worked; they will not work in the next 50 years.
Yet, we do not instead wish for a haphazard building of power plants. The point is we need to build, a lot and bigger. A coordinated effort is required so that there isn’t an oversupply; but even if there were an oversupply of electricity in Malawi, it would simply be a new export to the neighbours. So what is needed now is large, financially sound projects. At KCHKNA we would like to be involved in this next chapter of the country!
Electricity is truly magical. It is one of mankind’s greatest inventions, by far. Even computers, themselves one other great invention, can only do what they do thanks to electricity. A society without electricity can have the highest levels of education on the planet but will remain poor. It may have all the natural resources nature has to offer, and people will still die from malnutrition as the country fails to exploit those resources. Let’s electrify Malawi, for in doing so we truly are unlocking the potential of the people!
HOW ARTICIAL INTELIGENCE CAN HELP BUILD A SMARTER MALAWI
One of the oldest dreams and one that has long been cherished by science is that of creating intelligent machines. In the 1950s a mathematician Alan Mathison Turing asked a simple question akin to: “Can Machines Think?” And today, to some level, it appears they sure can!
Artificial intelligence includes a wide range of science tools concerned with building smart machines capable of performing tasks that typically require human intelligence. AI is an interdisciplinary science with multiple approaches, but key advancements have been enabled by machine learning and deep learning. These implementations of intelligence are mostly based on computer science concepts which in turn may be based or written in the language of mathematical modelling. Artificial intelligence (AI) makes it possible for machines to learn from experience, adjust to new inputs and perform human-like tasks. Most AI examples that are talked about the most often in media–self-driving cars, protein folding, etc – rely heavily on deep learning. Using these technologies, computers can be trained to accomplish specific tasks by processing large amounts of data and recognizing patterns in the data.
Embedding intelligence into otherwise unintelligent matter naturally raises some tricky questions. Computers have already shown that they can perform computations at a far higher speed and efficiency than humans can. What would the future of more ubiquitous and sophisticated intelligence bring to mankind? This remains an open question. At KCHKNA we see AI as one of the most promising tools for the kind of societal growth that will simplify life of humanity; we need AI to help us solve some of the complex issues in our lives.
With the introduction of computers human life has changed tremendously. Many tasks have completely evolved from how they were conducted both in terms of the speed as well as the culture. We have managed to create computer programs that have allowed us to perform automated tasks which has enabled us to save one of our greatest resources (Time). Most African countries took some time to adopt as well to implement computer systems and this slowed their progress in development. With the coming of artificial intelligence most African countries can now take advantage of the technology to work hand in hand with software to devise better data-based strategies or implement those strategies. With artificial intelligence and artificial simulations, scenarios–economic, political, environmental– can be played out and their evolution tracked prior to actual implementation; this then minimizes risk. For Malawi, as it aims to develop at a far more rapid pace than ever before, adopting these kinds of technologies is not a matter of choice—it must be done. Hospitals, schools, farms as well different industries can maximize productivity by incorporating artificial intelligence. AI systems can scan great amounts of historical data in a few minutes and identify patterns that are impossible to be observed by humans. There is a limit to what human intelligence can do at any point in time. But the potential of artificial intelligence is limitless. Malawi as a country can benefit from these systems in both government as well as private sector.
The beauty of AI is that most of the tools for developing AI systems are in fact open source. One needs no more than a computer and a human brain! The applications that can be developed are too numerous to mention but here are some examples:
Local language Natural Language Processing (NLP) models: We know that one of the most natural modes of communicating is using voice. The arrival of computers and mobile devices in the last few decades has made communicating with hands (typing) seem normal. But with better NLP now the norm may well be communicating with our various devices using voice. But NLP models will not understand any language out of the box. They need to be trained on a lot of transcripts from the local languages. So NLP models for Malawi need to be developed.
Autonomous Cars—Autonomous cars drive themselves. This is less of a big deal in the almost flawless streets of, say, Singapore, but take the car into the likes of Chatoloma or Wimbe and the car may immediately lose its intelligence! This is expected because intelligence depends on experience so in order for autonomous cars to drive on the streets and roads of Malawi we need the models to be trained on the streets of Malawi. Autonomous driving relies on cameras and computers, both of which are readily available to anyone who dares to look so Malawi can start developing Autonomous Cars, be they road-based or air vehicles!
Fast Diagnosis of Common Diseases—Malaria is diagnosed by looking at the Red Blood Cells. Many errors are made in the process of diagnosis, and more importantly a lot of time is spent looking at the RBCs to see if the host of the cells is infected. This whole process can be put into a machine learning pipeline thus automating it. Many more illnesses can be diagnosed much faster with AI–but to ensure safe and accurate models they need to be trained on local data.
Advanced Robotics—We emphasize that the beauty of AI is that all one needs is a computer and a brain—and the desire to do something creative! So training robots for a variety of tasks can be done at present. By incorporating robots across many industries the overall gains made by the country will be immense.
Watch out for our future posts where we share more in-depth about some of the many ways some of these applications and others can be implemented.
The power of a company comes from the
confluence of talents. A company does not excel because its founders are super
intelligent, visionary, or hard working—all good qualities. Rather the
organization thrives when the members of the company unleash their individual
talents. It is therefore critical that individuals are offered an environment
where their talents are naturally encouraged rather than snuffed out. At
KCHKNA, we aim to provide such an environment.
This article was inspired by a book by Todd Rose titled The End of Average: How we succeed in a world that values sameness. You can check it out here
Todd Rose has shared a lot of ideas on why we miss out on the talent in many capable individuals because we use the same ability metrics for people with different individualities. In his book he argued that early practitioners like Fredrick Winslow Taylor came up with ideas that justified companies valuing systems rather than individuals. For Taylor, making the factory as efficient as possible meant providing standardized training, standardized work procedures, and standardized measures of performance and progress. In the process, the individual did not matter; what mattered was how well they followed the standards or fit the standards.
These ideas—collectively referred to as Taylorism—were applied across many factories but the impact is most palpable perhaps because Taylorism was applied to the factory that almost everyone goes to: the school. The products of this factory are you and me. In America in the early 1900s about 6 percent of the population graduated from high school and 2 percent from college. So, the output of the school factory was evidently not impressive. Along came Edward Thorndike who embraced the Taylorist idea of standardization and rigorously applied it in the school system. Students got a standard education with little regard for their individual preferences or natural abilities—if you were of a certain age, you would learn these topics, in this order, for this long. The students’ level of intelligence was measured against some average, and their fate therefore depended heavily on how far away they were from the average. The standardization of education did lead to much better output—more people graduated from high school and college. These graduates had received a standard education, allowing them to do—on average—a good job at many factories. At these factories Taylor’s influence meant that the jobs were also standard, so there wasn’t too much trouble; the factories expected what they received. Edward Thorndike’s ideas, or a variant of them, have been adopted by schools all over the globe. This is because it allows those responsible for education to measure their success using neat metrics—for example, number of people who graduate. But to graduate doesn’t mean to have learnt, and definitely doesn’t meant you have what it takes to excel at some job. But remember this was the age of average—and in many ways still is. What this means is that on average the average graduate will do an average job, earn an average salary, live an average life contributing an average bit to a society of average individuals.
But a time comes when we no longer want
average individuals because the stakes are higher. You want people to be not
just good at what they do but magnificent. You want an organization where the
employees don’t wait for the bell to ring to move to the next task but are
motivated enough to know when to move to the next task. And to do that, it
appears, we would need to focus more on the individual, to take into account
what their natural abilities are, and then offer them a customized path on
which they can excel without the need to compare themselves against some
arbitrary and dubious average success icon.
We believe that for the human race to progress we would need to tap far more into everyone’s potential by focusing on the individual. We feel that one of the key ways companies can thrive and offer employees work that is exciting and impactful, is through focusing on empowering their whole company. You may be a bit puzzled when we say ‘focusing on the company’. Let’s start with a question: what is a company?
A company can be thought of as a group of individuals working together to achieve one common goal. A company is made up of people and indeed, when everyone knocks off, the company goes home; what remains are the buildings, the chairs and such other props. If management teams care about the people working in the organization—rather than the immaterial, abstract organization itself—such a team would scale heights much faster. We are not saying it’s not good to make a profit but the point is we can make a profit if we care more about the people who are behind that profitability. In other words we focus on metrics that measure the quality of life of the individuals making up the company—and then we aggregate those measures to come up with a measure of how successful the whole company is. In this way you would not have a successful company whose employees are not successful, or a happy (based on some metric) company whose employees are anything but. When the company underperforms management does not just fire its employees; rather we would focus on understanding how we may be of help for them to reach their potential—because they are the company. The truth is that with the different backgrounds, understanding as well as perception that we each have, our performance across different tasks will differ. But we are all good in certain fields or contexts, and as management we would love to see our team members be in contexts where they can shine. After all, who wants to be known for mediocre work? Who doesn’t want to show the world their best self?
KCHKNA Inc. is one of the companies in
Africa that gauges the potential of its team members not through their grades.
We look across many metrics—it is definitely harder than just a quick peek at
some grades—to understand in which context such and such could thrive. This in
the long term allows us to keep members who love being at the company, and thus
deliver high quality output shipped out with love and passion.
If you’re applying to join the team at KCHKNA, know that KCHKNA is more interested in your story and your worldview rather than your experience. The word “experience” is perhaps overrated and we believe people with drive and passion can get things done much better than those with experience. If you are not an average person; if you feel uncomfortable being like everyone else, but only just better; if your goal in life is not to walk the path already travelled: then show us your game, and let’s work together!
All intern positions come with a monthly lunch and travel allowance (within Mzuzu)
Some positions require
relocation to Mzuzu
Throughout this notice number of years is a proxy for desired
skill level and is thus useful only so far. Please focus on demonstrating
your skills not just talking about your skills. For example, instead of “I am
very good with Java” just show us the app you built with Java.
Build AI Minimum Viable
Products that automate internal processes
enterprise-grade AI applications for external consumption
To achieve your goal:
Conduct technical research
Perform statistical comparisons
Visualize and explore data sets
e.g. geospatial data about Malawi
Create synthetic data
Analyze and understand the
client’s problem; design, implement and verify a solution addressing the problem
Design and build machine
learning models for such things as risk control, demand prediction, equipment
fault detection, adaptive electricity pricing, etc.
Knowledge of basic maths behind
supervised learning and unsupervised learning
Knowledge of Tensorflow, Python,
and relevant libraries
Experience with Natural
Language Processing is a plus, but not required.
Swift at getting things done
Attention to quality
Lunch allowance provided for
the duration of the internship, until, if so, conversion to full-time role
Why work with us?
At KCHKNA we believe that technology is
an amplifier of human capacity. We build tools that are not just technologically
impressive but that aim to empower our communities. Here are a few other
You are going to make products
that will be used right away. You will test your products in production. We
believe this is invaluable experience
You will be learning to use the
most advanced software tools used by the world’s top companies and researchers
Opportunity to be mentored by
foreign experts from Singapore, India, China, US, Canada and more in areas such
as mobile programming and artificial intelligence.
Each month you will get to read
and discuss a wide variety of books with other KCHKNA team members. It’s fun,
Crypto, among other things, aims to allow fast, cheap and painless exchange of value–not necessarily money, but since money is a measure of value we could simply say “money”. Sending money around the world is currently still rather inefficient and expensive–try sending money to some otherwise unknown (and poor!) country like Malawi and you’ll actually have to budget for the transaction expenses! But what really gets sent when we say we are sending money? Surprisingly not money, but numbers! It is now so commonplace to receive money as mere numbers that we never quite question the fundamental meaning of this. In this article we talk about, rather summarily, what money is for and how new money can be of benefit.
story goes thus: Way, way back when people needed to exchange goods they could
only do so by giving away goods they owned in exchange for goods they wanted to
have. They would then need to find someone who needs what they wanted to let go
of. Since they did not have flying machines and pretty paved roads back then,
such exchanges may naturally have been between friends and relatives in close
proximity. Later on it appears people realized that it is mighty hard to run
into someone who needs what you have at the exact time that you need what they
While it turns out that this (barter) system is not exactly what preceded
money, this story highlights an interesting aspect of goods exchange: there is
value (and valueables) being exchanged. In such a system when you gave someone
two bags of maize in exchange for their goat, you had an exchange using things
that had intrinsic value—and that term—intrinsic—is an important one!
But, so the
myth continues, a few smart folks figured that they could use tokenization! The
idea was as follows. Suppose I want to have your 11 cows, and while I could
give you my dogs in exchange, you obviously don’t want my dogs since…who would
accept dogs in exchange for cows anyway. So instead we—started with me and you,
but this we now includes our whole token-bound community—agree that you
can give me a token that I can use to
get something of as much value as the cows that I want from you. Two things
emerge: first, we need to determine and agree on the value of the cows; and,
second, we need proof that indeed you can use this token in the said manner.
is money. Money is used to measure the value of things—and in unfortunate cases
‘things’ may include humans. I can give you this token called money which has
no intrinsic value—unlike the cows, you cannot eat the money if you get hungry;
similarly, money won’t go hunting with you like the dogs may. So, money has no
value on its own. But, and a huge but this is, we as a community can give money
value! We do this by simply agreeing that it has the value we desire.
You may then
wonder what physical object is the most desirable token aka money? Initially it
seemed necessary to have something that is scarce, perhaps hard to make or
acquire. This use of some special objects was mostly done to fight counterfeit
tokens. The tradition continues to this day whereby only certain organizations,
such as central banks, are allowed to make legitimate money. You and I
can still agree that some such piece of paper is worth some such value (e.g.
company shares work somewhat like this), but this would not be called
legitimate money, and we may struggle to find users beyond the two of us. What
remains true is that the form of the token does not matter. The use of gold or
silver or specially printed bank notes is not to say that these things are any
more eligible to be money than a piece of paper off my notebook. Again, the
major reason is to control the flow of these tokens, and avoid counterfeiting.
An interesting extreme therefore has come about recently.
If money or
the token of exchange can be of any form, does the token then need to be
physical? Remember that the problem we were trying to solve by having only a
few lucky people have the power to create money was to create some level of
legitimacy or trust in the system. This idea of trust comes about especially in
contexts where you’re dealing with strangers, who may or may not be in the mood
of being honest. So, a stranger walks up to you to do business. She buys your
land and pays with a token. She hands you the token that she pulled from her
pocket and then on it writes: “Give Whoever Has This Token Anything Of Value
Equivalent To Eleven Healthy Living Cows”. Perhaps to make it more legitimate
she could sign off with her name: “#MoneyMaker”. There is a good chance you
have been scammed. To prove this, go to the local merchant and try to get
something with even one-tenth the value of 11 Healthy Living Cows.
Now instead of her own token, she can give you a government token. Yes, the
government token may be prettier, but aside from that her self-created token
and this are no different. And yet, with this government token you can go about
trading with others. What the gov token has is public trust. The government
token has been assigned value by the community—though it still lacks intrinsic
value. People trust this token because they trust the system whose de facto
head is the government. This has little to do with whether you like the
government of the day or not: you have trust in a system where government plays
an important role but the system is still a people-led one.
aim to create the required public trust independent of the government or
traditional central authority. Note that trust is only needed if there is room
for someone to act dishonestly. If it is impossible, or mighty hard to be
dishonest, then trust is not called for. Using advanced security features and
making it very hard to forge transactions, cryptocurrencies conjure up
community trust simply because no one (actually not 100% true…) can make
money to make money. It used to be necessary to print money and issue shiny coins
with which we could also play Heads or Tails. These legitimate tokens were an
advancement in exchange of value, but it is now a cost that is superfluous.
Countries like Malawi that already have a tight budget would do well to move
quickly toward these so called trustless systems—trustless to
mean you don’t need to trust the bank or the individual you’re engaging with
because the algorithms make sure nobody cheats.
Going hand in hand with cryptocurrencies is digital money. Digital money (not necessarily currency) has been around in some form already for a long time. While cryptocurrency is recent (started in earnest around 2009), digital money (money that is wholly electronic/or just numbers backed by no physical assets) can be said to have been around for as long as decades prior to 2009. For some time already money has not really been changing hands—rather it has been information changing in people’s accounts. The advantage of this is that information takes up less space and is not as costly to make as are physical tokens such as coins or notes. Digital money therefore is an attractive option even for places that do not yet want to implement cryptocurrency.
What are the downsides of cryptocurrencies and perhaps digital money in general? As with all things some people will stand to win more than others. In cryptocurrencies there are individuals or corporations with computing resources that allow then to earn significantly more money and influence through facilitating transactions—much the same way that banks milk you in exchange for the services they provide. There is also room for destabilizing another economy without ever setting foot there—simply via the internet. This is an example of cyberwarfare, and is not necessarily just due to the advent of cryptocurrencies. Additionally, philosophers and other social researchers fear that the future may belong to a new breed of feudal lords—those who understand and manage these technologies. The creators of these tech systems are not necessarily political or religious leaders. They thus have little obligation to behave morally. The hope however is that should they create a flawed system—that is, one that benefits just them—the majority of people would abandon the system, rendering it truly “trustless” and thus without users.
Cryptocurrencies are a nice idea some of whose aims are to make transactions more efficient, to make fraud much harder, and to avoid central currency issuing or controlling authorities misusing their power in such a way that they disrupt the economy and innocent livelihoods. Perhaps a future is coming where money, of any form, may no longer be needed. At the moment however, Bitcoin and others are taking us away from physical money AND a central issuer of such physical tokens, to enable us to transact and interact more seamlessly trustlessly.
To read more about cryptocurrencies and digital currencies:
in 1995 Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the MIT Media Lab, predicted that soon
people would be buying books and newspapers straight over the Internet, Clifford
Stoll wrote a critical article. Stoll—an accomplished astronomer with a PhD to
his name!—discussed why the internet would fail stating in particular that
ecommerce would not work. And oh boy work it did! But that is just one
individual who, like many of us, probably does not wield the power to predict
the future too well. Organizations can also go wrong: in 1876 Western Union
believed that the telephone had too many shortcomings to be seriously
considered as a means of communication and they saw no value in it. KODAK, one
of the biggest companies in the world that contributed a lot in the area of
photography, went bankrupt in 2012. Their collapse may be partly attributed to
their failure to pivot toward the new technologies in photography. As the world
was moving to digital photography KODAK was hesitant to change. These are a few examples of companies and an
individual who were unable to see the future value of a technology or
innovation. But while some failed to see the immense value that certain
technologies would create, others failed to properly estimate the price mankind
would have to pay in exchange for enjoying certain technologies.
of the reasons the human race has advanced so much is that some few individuals
imagined a future far different from their present. These individuals then invested
in their vision, be it in terms of time, finances, or career. These great
innovators could not have possibly thought about every aspect of their
technologies. Perhaps to the inventors of just-in-time manufacturing their
desire was to make affordable goods and do so with supreme economic efficiency.
But this same invention then played a central role in allowing companies to
also overproduce, an outcome unintended.
as we invest in the future we think both about what good a technology can do as
well as what could go wrong with it. This assessment is continuous. We then at
times realize that some technologies are generating more harm than good. One
such key technology is that of energy generation from fossil fuels. It is a
great invention, and we must candidly applaud people who created the requisite extraction
and refining technologies as well as the business schemes to make electricity
available to paupers and the rich alike. However, as we learn more about how nature
works we change our habits to incorporate our latest knowledge. At present it
is generally believed that there are better ways of generating electricity that
do much less environmental destabilization. The alternatives include renewable
energy solutions—technologies that generate electricity from sources that can
be replenished and often do much less harm to the biosphere. There is agreement
that renewable energy sources are better than non-renewable sources. However, there
isn’t always as much agreement as to which renewable energy source is
best. For example, generating energy
from solar power is wonderful but perhaps only to an extent. The more people
adopt solar power on a large scale, the more materials we would need to make
the solar panels and the larger the land needed for these solar farms. These
issues could lead to more waste being generated in disposing of solar cells, or
potentially land not being available for other uses. Nevertheless, it is
through these debates and discussions that as humanity we’re able to devise
clever and better solutions. It is when we cease debating the merits and
demerits of our technologies that we must worry all the more.
Inc. is based in Africa and is focusing on bringing clean energy to African
countries, starting with Malawi. Africa is one of the best places to deploy
large scale renewable energy solutions. While is Africa one of the best? First,
across most of sub-Saharan Africa there is practically no electricity
infrastructure to support a modern industrial economy. The demand is far higher
than the supply. So, it is not a question of whether there is demand; rather it
is question of whether we can devise a business model that works here. Second, again,
across most of sub-Saharan Africa there is practically no electricity
infrastructure. This is good because there is then no need to tear down an old functioning
system in order to build a newer, more environmental-friendly one—because there
isn’t such a system at the moment!
believe that we need to push more heavily on renewable technologies. We believe
that in the long run deploying renewables on a large scale—rather than
LED lamps to some forlorn villagers—is more cost-effective especially since
across most of Africa the necessary renewable sources such as water, a good
amount of sunshine, and waste are readily available. Germany, Japan and other
economies that have been traditionally powered by non-renewable sources have
taken steps—through policies as well as developing different innovations–to pivot
toward clean technologies. Africa on other hand is lucky in that it will not
need to pivot; it can start with renewables. KCHKNA aims to spearhead the
development of such enabling technologies so that Africa and the world may thrive.
The word energy is
derived from Greek enérgeia, a word that was developed by Aristotle (384BC-322BC) to mean the capacity to do work. Thomas Young first
introduced the word “Energy” to the world of physics in 1800 but it was apparently
not popularized. Finally, in 1905, Albert Einstein established the general equivalence of
energy and mass with his theory of relativity paving the way for scientific use
of the word “energy” today. For more on this history see here.
While the meaning
of energy can be ambiguous, its impact is not. Humankind has lived a better
life since our advancement in our use of energy. Some of the greatest shifts in
human history happened thanks to the discovery of electricity, one form of
energy. In the conceptual West, key figures such as Ben Franklin, Michael
Faraday, and Thomas Edison made important contributions to our understanding and
harnessing of electricity. Electricity in turn has powered innumerable inventions
that have undoubtedly enabled new ways of living—computers, elevators, and maglev
trains have respectively enhanced our computational intelligence, made possible
taller and compact buildings, and made travel faster and more efficient.
While there is much
consensus on the utility of energy, there isn’t nearly as much on how best to
generate the energy. Energy comes in different forms. Often the form that the
energy is in is not the form we want to use. This requires a process of energy
conversion—informally called energy generation. (Energy cannot be created or destroyed,
so the idea of energy generation simply implies making the energy available in
the form we want, which is in this case is as electrical energy). For example,
the energy of the battery of a phone is in the form of chemical energy and we
have to convert it to electrical energy in order for it to be used to power the
phone electronics. Unfortunately converting energy from one form (the source)
to another results in energy losses and waste products.
Energy sources can be classified into renewable and non-renewable sources. Most
of the non-renewable energy sources have disproportionately negative impact on
the environment (They are called non-renewable because they cannot be
replenished, at least not as fast as we’d like). It is estimated that major
sources of energy are petroleum and natural gas, a thing of concern since these
energy sources produce undesirable waste products. Renewable energy sources on
the other hand produce much less waste—though not zero waste—than non-renewables.
Non-renewable sources have powered much of the electricity revolution.
But why are non-renewables
no longer desirable? Let’s discuss a few representative non-renewable energy
sources. Coal and oil are two common energy sources. The burning of coal
produces carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases), which contributes to
global warming, a phenomenon of rising temperatures. Coal produces the highest
amount of greenhouse gases per unit of energy produced. Oil and natural gas are
cleaner than coal, but they too are very hazardous to the environment. Producing
the oil creates air pollution; the toxins which are released in the atmosphere
are dangerous for humans and ecosystem. The burning of oil and natural gas,
like the burning of coal, also releases carbon dioxide. And the other
disadvantage of oil is that the spills of oil can affect the surrounding
environment. One of such incidents of oil spill is Exxon Valdez oil spill which
occurred in Alaska in Mach 24, 1989, when an oil tanker owned by Exxon Shipping
Company struck prince William Sound’s Bligh Reef and spilled 37,000 metric
tonnes of crude oil. This incident did a lot of damage to the environment,
including destroying some of the species that lived there.
In general, most
of the non-renewable sources of energy are very harmful to the environment. It
is estimated that 7 million people die due to pollution each year. The
continued use of non-renewable resources has effects on our health and our
But what are the alternatives? The alternative to these hazardous sources is clean
energy sources, which includes renewable energy sources. The global community
is now working towards replacing some of these non-renewable sources of energy
with clean energy. The European Union was an early mover on clean energy. In
2009 they had ambitious energy and climate targets for 2020 (20% greenhouse gas
emission reduction, 20% in renewable energy and 20% energy efficiency). Ten
years later EU is still on track to achieve these ambitions.
But is this a reasonable, sustainable trajectory? The reasons for the continued
incumbency of non-renewable energy sources are many and complex but include: they
have traditionally been cheaper, they are readily available or can be cheaply
made, and they have already been deployed making it harder to take them down
just to install a newer system that does the same thing (i.e. produce
electricity). However, in many instances these sources may have been cheaper due
to government subsidies. The cost of producing electricity using non-renewable
sources can be just as much as that of producing from renewables. This of
course may depend on location—some places with a lot of water would naturally
find it cheaper to produce electricity using that water than having to import
natural gas. Solar and wind energy, where available, can be a sustainable
source of energy both from an economic and environment point of view.
KCHKNA is looking at producing energy from
waste, a form of energy production that is still under-utilized. Every human settlement,
and much more now than in times past, produces waste. Waste material is also an
energy source, albeit less dense than for example coal. But waste is made
available just by virtue (almost) of human beings being alive. This provides an
endless source of energy that is available day and night, anywhere! From
gasification to fermentation, KCHKNA aims to turn the energy stored in waste
into other useful forms, without degrading the environment or human health.
That to us is what renewable energy looks like; we fit right into an existing cycle
without generating an extra bit of waste!
There is still a great need for
electricity around the world. As of 2020, one in seven people still lack access
to electricity and most of these people live in the developing world. These
people perhaps do not care as much about clean energy as they do about energy,
whatever the source. But clean energy need not be an afterthought, after unclean
development. If we don’t pay the price now, we’ll pay the price in the future. Clean
energy is good to the environment, and it saves the people from living in a
harmful environment. So, whether one simply cares about Planet Earth for its
own sake, or about the people living on it, generating energy from clean
sources is the way to go. The most exciting bit is that as of 2020, most
renewable energy sources are not as expensive as they were! And with more and
more countries and organizations coming onboard we can expect economies of
scale to kick in and make the question of economic feasibility a minor