Interview - Yaw Anokwa

Name: Yaw Anokwa (@yanokwa)


Here’s a picture of me (I'm on the right with the robot shirt) at the first ODK deployment ever. The project was with the Grameen Foundation in Uganda in November 2008. We deployed with HTC Dream phones and these were the first every Android phones in Africa.

Where do you live? Where do you work?
I live in San Diego, California just across the border from Tijuana, Mexico.

I'm CEO of Nafundi. Nafundi designs, builds, deploys, and supports mobile data collection systems that work well in challenging environments. Our distributed team facilitates a lot of the core software development on the ODK 1 tools and we also help our clients customize and deploy ODK 1 at scale.

I serve as the chair of the ODK project management committee and I'm also a member of the ODK 1 technical steering committee.

Tell us a fun fact or story about yourself!
From 2014 to 2017, I lived out of a carry-on bag that held all my possessions and moved every month or so. Over those three years, I lived and worked all over Central America, South East Asia, Africa, North America, and Europe.

How did you first find out about ODK?
Well this is a little bit awkward! I first found out about ODK when I helped to start the project. ODK was part of my Ph.D. work at the University of Washington. If you really want to learn the whole story, the university wrote great article describing how Open Data Kit started.

What are you using ODK for?
The team at Nafundi is focused make ODK better for polio eradication. We work with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative to make sure our in-country partners (e.g., polio vaccinators in Somalia) have the support they need. Nafundi takes the lessons we learn deploying ODK and use that to inform the features we add to the core tools.

What's your favorite ODK feature?
For me, it's the community! I check the introductions topic occasionally, I'm always blown away by the variety of people who use ODK and the variety of problems it solves for those people. What is especially gratifying is how kind and helpful many of those people are. Not every community is like that.

How did you get so involved in the community? What keeps you coming back & staying involved?
I started working on what became ODK in October 2008 and I've done something for ODK pretty much every day since. I find it very rewarding to be part of a community that makes a positive difference in the world. And after 10 years, it's a hard habit to break!

Truth be told, I'm not sure I'm the "best" person to be doing the things I do on ODK. But until the "best" person shows up, I do what I can to make ODK better every day. Some days are more successful than others.

What has been the greatest challenge for you in learning about ODK? (Either the software, the community, or both!)
If an open-source project has 100,000 users, it may have 1,000 users who post about a problem, and 1 of those users who step forward with a solution. That is, the bulk of the work rests on the shoulders of a few.

My greatest challenge is to ensure the bulk of the work on ODK rests on the shoulders of many more. We are making good progress, but I think we could do better and I'm very open to any ideas the community has on how we can get there more quickly.

Let's talk about goals: Do you have any ODK-related goals for yourself, your organization, or the overall ODK community?
Sometimes it's easy to forget that what we are doing is hard. It's hard to build software. It's hard to build communities. It's hard to do open source well. It's hard to do work in resource-constrained environments. The list goes on and on.

But it's only by taking on hard problems that we make the world a better place! I believe the ODK community can take on these hard problems and make real progress and I believe the best way to do that is for everyone to contribute a little.

Success for me is an ODK community that is led by a diverse group of people who show up every day and are personally committed to making the project better.

What advice would you give someone who's just learned about ODK and is considering getting involved?
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. We have a list of quick ways to contribute that help you take the first step! And if there is anyway I can help you contribute more, just let me know.

GitHub ID: yanokwa
Twitter ID: yanokwa


Thank you for your tireless effort and everything you do to make the ODK community as great as it is; I do actually think you are (still) the “best” person for the job. :clap: [although I am slightly disappointed - I was rather hoping to finally find out the full story behind ‘that’ :jeans: video... :grin:]


Well, since you asked...

A production company called the University of Washington's media relations department and said they were looking for "interesting men who wear jeans" for a Nordstrom commercial and someone pointed them to me. This was in 2013 and ODK had had a few write-ups in the press, so I guess that's how the UW folks knew about me.

It was a surprisingly rigorous process. The production company asked me a bunch of questions over email, then there were two in-person interviews (one with five people) and then a quick photo shoot before I got the green light.

On the day of the shoot, they gave me the clothes they wanted me to wear, did some quick tailoring to get the right fit, then we went around parts of Seattle and got all the needed clips. I was paid well for the day and got to keep the (expensive) jeans that are featured in the commercial.

I still have the jeans and I've worn them maybe twice since the shoot. Despite what the commercial suggests, I'm not one for fancy jeans.


Thank you. :slight_smile:

I think I can speak for everybody here: we are glad to hear that a multinational company like Nordstrom had the acumen to identify, as the foremost proponent of the Open Data Kit, your most important qualities...



Link to the video or it didn't happen :smiley:

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