James Nguo

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2011


This profile was prepared when James Nguo was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2011.
The New Idea
Through his organization, Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN), James is building a network of knowledge hubs, called Maarifa (Knowledge) centers, across rural East Africa which are serving to catapult rural agriculture into the 21st century. At Maarifa centers, formerly isolated farmers learn how to use modern information and communications technology (ICT) to access and share vital farming information with each other. At these centers, previously under-resourced, disconnected, and often disillusioned extension workers can now efficiently coordinate activities with farmers and maintain contact with the larger agricultural research and policy communities. Youth from rural areas currently studying agriculture in urban areas are also provided an opportunity to put their knowledge into practice during their school holidays at the Maarifa centers. The combination of participating in a more sophisticated agricultural system and seeing the impact they can have on that system encourages them to consider returning to their communities upon graduation, thus curbing the exodus of a dynamic and necessary future rural workforce.

To avoid suspicions that the Maarifa centers are yet another project set up by a business man from the city to take advantage of the local community, James has incorporated a unique community-led organizational structure at each center. A governing body, composed of farmers and elected by farmers, establishes the priorities and creates the agenda at each center.

To ensure financial sustainability of the Maarifa centers, James has integrated revenue generating services, such as an M-Pesa agency, at every center. As a subsidiary of ALIN, James has also established a for-profit arm of the organization, Baobab Communications, which provides fee-based ICT consultancy services to citizen organizations (COs). This revenue helps to subsidize the pro bono services it provides to the Maarifa centers, such as hardware maintenance. Going forward, James plans to add a Business Process Outsourcing center to service businesses located in cities and abroad. Not only will this generated income further help sustain the Maarifa centers, but by being staffed by previously unemployed rural youth who take ICT courses at the center, it further helps reduce the rural-urban migration that depletes rural areas and often contributes to the accumulation of jobless masses in urban slums.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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