By Olli Tiuraniemi. Translated by Richard Foley.

University of Lapland graduate Jussi Impiö is heading a research group in Nairobi looking into how mobile technology might be used to further development in Africa.

Jussi Impiö and his group are exploring the potential benefits of mobile technology for societies in Africa. Impiö is in charge of a twenty-person team at Nokia Research Center, Nairobi, a facility whose work spans all of sub-Saharan Africa. The Center’s staff is a healthy mix of econo­mists, anthropologists, social scientists, engineers and designers.

The Center looks for sectors of society in which mobile techno­logy has greater potential. The current wisdom is that a smoothly functioning telephone network will stimulate the economies of developing countries. Nokia is trying to determine what that is and how socioeconomic development can be achieved and accelerated through mobile technology.

Impiö notes, “We are doing very long-term anthropological research. We’re studying the applicability of mobile technology to different situations; we try it in practice first, then go on to create the concept, test it and build a prototype.”

In Impiö’s view, more education and independent exchange of information offer some of the more promising solutions to Africa’s problem. Africa has one newspaper for every 20,000 readers; 1.5 per cent of the age groups in Africa complete a tertiary degree; 7 per cent have electricity; and only 5 per cent pay taxes. Two-thirds of the population of Africa gets tele­phone reception; no one is interested in the other third.

Impiö is not very sanguine regarding when it comes to Africa’s economic future.

“The economy in Africa cannot experience an Asian Miracle, because the region is politically very fragmented. It seems that as long as the elite are doing well, it is enough. Another formidable problem is the growing birth rate – it is highest right here in Kenya.
Unchecked population growth will bring on crises, which can lead to wars. The wars in Africa are without exception resource-related crises, the civil war in Rwanda being a particularly grisly example.”

Impiö does not believe in rapid development. He thinks progress can only come over time through deep-going structural reforms.

“A continent that is ten times the size of India, Africa has 56 countries, over 2000 languages and local cultures and 95 per cent of the human race’s genetic variance. There is no uniform 'Africa'. Africa will take its own path and we must allow it to establish its own goals and ideals.”

Working in Africa has opened Impiö’s eyes to the arrogance and bias with which the industrialised world views Africa. He emphasises that not all western ways of doing things apply as such there. One potential export Impiö sees, however, is the Finnish school system.

“For example, Finnish teacher training could be a good export, but not even that would be easy.”

Jussi Impiö considers the University of Lapland his intellectual home.

“Studying in a geographically and, to some extent, culturally marginal area has prepared me well to study other margins. In this respect, I think the University’s location and size have been a great advantage in my present work. The education in industrial design offered at the University is multidisciplinary and provides a good foundation for running a multi­disciplinary and multiculturalresearch team,” Impiö says.
Based on Nairobi
A Nokia research group led by Jussi Impiö is out doing fieldwork most of the year. Their headquarters is in Nairobi, which is Africa’s air traffic hub.
Jussi Impiö


• began studies in Industrial Design at the University of Lapland in 1994
• graduated with a master’s degree in 2001
• worked as part of the Clothing+ intelligent garment project from 1999 to 2002
• was asked to join Nokia as a researcher in 2002
• did research on civic journalism and civic activism at Nokia from 2003 to 2006
• relocated to Africa in 2006
• heads Nokia Research Center Africa, a twenty-person research facility