Ona: Data Collection and Analysis for Development Organizations

Dickson Ukanga

In this episode, we talk with Dickson Ukang’a, co-founder and head of engineering at Ona, at their office in Nairobi. Ona is building a platform for smart data collection and analysis to enable governments and development organizations to make data-driven decisions. We discuss working with geographic data, how to build effective partnerships, the importance of testing, and technology leadership in Kenya.


“We only tend to pick things [to build] that are going to be beneficial to other clients and other users. We try as well to implement it in a manner that we can be able to include it for other users if they require that feature. So it’s a bit pluggable, it’s a bit reusable.”

“So we switched to starting using OpenStreetMap for the mSpray project, and that allowed our clients to be able to select specific households that they had visited… It allowed I think easier tagging. Is this actually a household, or is this a cow shed? So you can’t spray inside a cow shed for malaria, you should spray inside the house.”

“When writing software solutions, testing is really really really key. The fact that we were able to do a system… in 2 weeks, the main success factor of that had to do with that we had almost 100% test coverage.”

“When we’ve worked with a partner that is looking for a solution but is not necessarily involved in the developing process of that solution, it becomes a challenge to have a sustainable solution for the kind of intervention that the client is trying to do... Having the partner understanding that human-centered design approach helps quite a lot because it means that the partner is going to be engaged throughout the process.”

“That aspect of collaboration, that aspect of sharing is something that usually opens up people to new ideas, to different ways of working, different ways of thinking. Maybe that’s one aspect that might end up changing, I think, the makeup and the leadership aspect of tech in economies like ours, like Kenya’s.”

Learn More

To learn more about Ona and other projects and tools mentioned in the episode, check out these links:

Julia Neidert