It’s been an interesting road for the self-proclaimed “glorified tech geek” Jon Gosier. The arts school graduate moved to Uganda in 2008 and founded Appfrica, a tech company that helps corporations enter African markets while providing local talent. The techpreneur has since moved back to the United States and founded other projects around tech and data. He talked to us about his path to tech and his passion for Africa and the Diaspora.
1) How did you get so interested in tech and data?
I got interested in the beginning through comic books and art. I always wanted to be a comic book illustrator. And when I went to college I went to the Savannah College of Art and Design. While I was there I started to put 2+2 together and realize you could have a creative aspect coupled with technology; before I thought they were separate. So, I started to get into graphic design and from graphic design I got into data visualization because what was compelling there was beautiful graphics but it was powered by intense mathematics and programming and that was really exciting for me. Not exactly an obvious path, but that was my path nonetheless.
2) How do you see yourself bridging Africa and the Diaspora in the Americas?
I recently did a talk in Montreal which is on my blog at blog.appfrica.com. I talked about the 5th Estate. Originally there were four estates: the church, government and society. The fourth estate was journalists, which put a check on the other three estates.
The 5th Estate was this idea of the internet, where you had a different form of checks and balances on the other four estates. So even journalists needed to be held to account by bloggers and other people on the internet. My argument is that in Africa the internet doesn’t hold the weight it does as in other parts of the world. What is really a 5th Estate, if there is one in Africa, would be the connected diaspora. We have capital, political influence and knowledge that may not exist in Africa and if we exert that on Africa we’re actually an incredibly powerful force. And yes, I include African-Americans because just because we’re removed and some of us don’t recognize Africa as something we’re connected to, I just don’t see how that’s not the case. I’m very passionate about re-connecting African-Americans, Afro-Caribbeans and Afro-Latins and other Diasporans around the world to the continent. It doesn’t necessarily mean going back to the continent, it just means being aware of what a resource and what an opportunity to collaborate with Africa is.
3) You work with African-American and Latino youth in Philadelphia. Do you encourage these upcoming techpreneurs to visit Africa?
I encourage them to become more aware of what’s going on there. The reality is that the economics of the youth I work with in Philadelphia isn’t going to permit them to go. But I started The Gos Fellowship program because I can fund their interests. So if they get interested in Africa and they want to do a project there I can say ‘here’s some money, go do it.’ We try to catch them before they leave high school so we can expose them to new opportunities and help them build a better path than just getting a job somewhere and not exercising their full potential.
Slides to Gosier’s 5th Estate talk in Montreal are here.
Jon Gosier’s story fits well with the Social Media Week Lagos theme, A Connected Africa is the Future. If you have any questions about traveling to Lagos, please contact yours truly at email@example.com. I hope to see you in Lagos.