Did You Know the next Einstein will be an African?

Did You Know the next Einstein will be an African?

This month we lost one of the greatest scientific minds the world has seen. Professor Stephen Hawking’s work as a theoretical physicist gained him notoriety throughout the scientific community, and made him widely known throughout the world, proven by the huge outpouring of emotional from every continent following his death. There is no doubt that he was a hugely gifted man, whose education and residence at Cambridge University, gave him a platform for brilliance. But, if he had been born in Africa, would things have turned out the same.

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Changing the perceptions of Africa’s scientific excellence

It is hard to speculate, and maybe his brilliant mind would still have taken him to great places. But, limited opportunities for the best of the best academic minds creates many challenges and hurdles to overcome to make sure brilliance is utilised. Getting through the education system to reach university is the first challenge, and if that is hurdled, it is then necessary to find the fees to attend a university, and then hope that they are get the right development opportunities within the university. It is possible, but very tough.

Even when you finish university, where do you go. If you haven’t already had to travel oversees to get the best education, you may have to now travel oversees to get an internship with the best firm. This paints a very negative view on education in Africa, I know, and this is certainly a generalisation, but cultivating an excellent mind in Africa simply isn’t easy, which is why only 2 percent of global scientific research comes from Africa!

If you ask people to mention an African scientist of note, they may find it difficult to answer. But with a huge population, the talent is certainly not lacking. And to exclude the excellence of Africa is a great loss to academia worldwide. Scientific knowledge from Africa can only benefit worldwide research, and must be cultivated. Fortunately, there are a group that are intent on making that a reality and finding the next Einstein.

You may have heard of the Next Einstein Forum, which is an initiative launched by the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), aimed at connecting science, society and policy in Africa and the rest of the world. Their goal is to “leverage science for human develop globally” and making sure that Africa are part of that process. That are an essential driving force behind Africa’s scientific renaissance, and they want the world to know about it, by making sure that scientific breakthroughs within the continent or by African mathematicians and scientists do not go missed by world media.

Aptly, this year the forum was in Kigali, Rwanda. The president himself, who sees Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) vitally important for the development of the Rwandan economy hosted the forum.  With over 1000 attendees, 50% of them under the age of 42, and 40% of whom were women, the event is incredibly diverse, which fits with such a diverse continent.

A general theme of health, education and the gender gap ran through this years event. And within these themes a plethora of topics were covered, including Accelerating Africa’s lab to market process, Blockchain opportunities, driving innovation through Africa’s digital economy, laying the foundation for knowledge leg economies and changing the way we learn and building scientific culture early on. I wish I could go through all of these topics individually, but there simply not enough words in a blog to do so, but fortunately for us, NEF have a youtube channel in which many of the discussions are already documented. (I urge you to go and check out the videos, some of the interviews are incredibly inspiring!)

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Scientific African – A new peer reviewed journal

One exciting news from the forum was the launch of Scientific African, an open access journal, which aims to boost the reach and impact of research by Africans globally. This peer reviewed publications will give a place for scientific break throughs from Africans, to be published and showcased to the scientific community and others worldwide. Many do not consider the African continent with regards to excellence in general, and it is important that African’s are present representing excellence in every sector, from business, to heath and in this case science. Showcasing African excellence in this manner will help to open the minds of people worldwide to the truth that the continent is packed full of brilliant individuals.

This will also have a knock on effect, in line with the mission of the NEF and AIMS, to promote STEM to young Africans. If they are to find the next Einstein (And Zuckerberg, Hawking and Brunel for that matter) the youth need to see maths and sciences as an attractive option from an early stage.

And event like this in Africa would not be complete without an innovation competition, and they didn’t disappoint. With 16 winners announced, NEF is another exciting location to see the best innovations of Africa. In subsequent blogs we will have a look through some of our favourites from the finalists.

The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences and the Next Einstein Forum are an incredible opportunity for Africa to showcase its excellence to the world and itself. Many young African’s will be inspired by the knowledge that there is a platform that aims to support their excellence. They make it possible for the best students form the continent to receive the best education, without leaving to the US or America. These are schemes that need to be supported, pushed and boosted by the public and the private sector. Cultivating the next generation of excellence in Africa, and taking another step towards creating an African continent that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the world, if not head and shoulders above.

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Did You Know Innovation can damage Africa?

Did You Know Innovation can damage Africa?

African innovation is spoken about with such high regard by those that live in the continent, and those outside that understand the implications. There are massive changes taking place across the continent, although they are often limited to areas in which there is stable power, internet and mobile phone connection. Nevertheless, a huge population of people are having their lives changed by the internet and connected phones.

Whether gaining agricultural advice, having access to educational information and prices of goods, or powering your house via a solar mini grid, lives of many are changing across the continent. And while we talk positively and enthusiastically about these changes sometimes we fail to acknowledge that they are happening so quickly, there is often no chance to for people to understand their implications, both positively and negatively.

One example of this is the rising availability of mobile loans to people who haven’t previously had access. With mobile phone usage, and the popularity of mobile money, those who do not have a bank account are now finding themselves in a situation where their transaction data can be used to build up a credit rating. With this, they can be offered micro financing in order to develop their businesses, or even for personal development, such as school fees. Credit is vitally important for small businesses owners, such as subsistence  farmers, so they can invest in their business, plan better and create more efficiencies and therefore more profit. Companies such as Lending Square are offering a great service, but is it being used by citizens for positivity.

The problem is, when people take out a loan, there are often no regulations in place to make sure that people are using it for that reason. On the 25th of March, a report came out suggesting that many Kenyans were falling into a pit of disaster by taking advantage of micro finance loans offered to them. 6.5 million Kenyans are taking advantage of these loans, which is unsurprising as the mobile money system their is far more advanced than across the continent. Whilst a lot of course do use the micro financing as it was intended, to develop their businesses,  many are using it to pay off existing loans, or even to gamble with.

Such irresponsible usage of micro financing can and will obviously cause disaster for many people. By continuously refinancing loans, and falling further and further into debt, people will be left worse off than in the first place, meaning businesses can begin to fail, and certainly not get the required capital to develop. This not only has a devastating effect on the life of the individual and his family, but also on local economies. If many take up the micro loans, and squander the money on other things, then there will be a lack of growth across small businesses in some areas, leaving the local economy in tatters.

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That people actually take this loan and gamble with it is a symptom of the same problem and incredibly sad. Lack of education around the topic of finances and lack of time to sensitise people to the issues around loans and gambling. In many ways, they are in the same category, as there is no guarantee that investing a loan in your small business, will make a stark difference. As I mentioned in a previous blog, gambling is quickly getting out of hand within Africa. In the last 10 years, casinos and small betting shops, often in a little container in rural communities, have increased in number exponentially in Ghana. During my time in Kenya, I also couldn’t help but notice that gambling had gained prominence in many towns and cities.

Of course, the world over has many with gambling addictions, as well as those that take loans to repay loans, and find themselves in increasingly difficult situations. In Ghana, and I am sure other parts of the continent, people have long since played the lottery, pouring over the previous data to try and find a pattern and becoming obsessed with winning against the odds. But in Africa there was a chance to make sure that the right education was put in place before gambling and loans gained prominence. The hope is, that it is not too late to assist those who have already fallen into this hole, and educate those who have not yet thought about gambling and using loans for unproductive reasons.

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Lotto Kiosk in Ghana

There also must be measures taken to make sure that people that take out loans use the credit to develop their businesses, skills, and the local economy. There of course needs to be a certain amount of freedom in usage of personal capital, but in the case of loans, the money essentially belongs to the loaner. If these companies are to remain ethical, they must ensure that capital is used productively.

Innovation usually a positive, especially for a continent, which has lagged behind much of the world, economically. Innovation can assist Africa to catch up and even surpass other nations worldwide. But we need to prepare people for the changes. It is not just loans and gambling. Social media and the internet also cause vulnerable situations for many, who are not clear on how much personal information they should share, as well as the potentials of fraud. Even the potential depression and anxiety issues, or body image issues caused by an obsession with social media perfection is an issue that is not covered enough in schools or generally in Africa. Many people are struggling with new technologies worldwide, and measures need to be taken so that people understand the potential negative implications.

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Did You Know this South African tech ends used car salesman?

Did You Know this South African tech ends used car salesman?

Buying a car can be a pain! And so can selling one. The shifty used car salesman, in his strange coloured suit, smarmy and with the gift of the gab, informing each clients on exaggerated positives on a clapped out old banger that just about meets your budget. All over the world, some of the best salesmen are working in car yards, up selling cars to the the clueless public, or even buying cars from the public and selling them on. Of course, I generalise a little with the stereotypical used car salesman analogy, and many are honest and sincere, but it can’t hide the face that many of us have no idea about how much to buy a car for, or what we are getting.

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A lot of trust put in the car salesman, who generally has the power within the transaction. This is the same in many sectors. For example, in the African agricultural sector the middleman, who travels round from farm to farm collecting produce, controls the price that he pays and may not give a fair price compared to what it will sell on in the markets. The farmer has no idea of the going rate that day, and relies upon the middleman to transport their produce. But there are some innovative solutions in Africa that are putting more power in the hands of the farmers, who can now find out with ease what price they should be selling at.

African technology is also enabling an equalisation of power in the used car business. HiCarByeCar, a South African used car business are enabling a more simple process for  selling or buying a vehicle. In order to sell a vehicle, the seller inputs the details about Continue reading “Did You Know this South African tech ends used car salesman?”

Did You Know African Women are inspiring African innovators?

Did You Know African Women are inspiring African innovators?

International Women’s Day is today, and organisations, companies and individuals across the world are celebrating the achievements of women. Equality is a well discussed topic throughout the world, yet still now, in many industries women are under represented, and not paid equally. The technology and innovation sector seems to be attempting to close the divide of the sexes. Traditionally only few women have taking up computer engineering roles, and working on innovation, and therefore the aim of achieving parity between the sexes needs a lot of work.

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In much of Africa, traditional social values, and education of the girl child is not a priority for many families and this has had a great impact on the amount of women in professional roles, especially in technology. The democratisation of information, especially with the increasing spread of the internet and mobile devices, means that there are now other ways for anyone to empower themselves. There has also been a huge effort put into getting more young girls into school, to give them more choice in the future.

During the last two years writing about African innovation, I have had the pleasure of reading about many inspirational women, who are coming up with innovative ideas and creating businesses. In many households across the continent it is women that have the responsibility of finding solutions to make ends meet within the family. Creativity takes practice, and the need to come up with solutions makes women very well placed to innovate for a better Africa.

Below are couple of the women that have stood out to us whilst producing Inventive Africa.

Hawawu Mustapha Yaajalal and her innovation MyDoc Ghana were the subject of the most viewed post on Inventive Africa. I met Hawawu at iSpace Ghana, a technology hub that gives many the tools to develop their own businesses. I asked whether anyone would be willing to stand in front of camera briefly for a short interview spontaneously Continue reading “Did You Know African Women are inspiring African innovators?”

Did You Know iono.fm offers a podcast service tailored to Africa?

Did You Know iono.fm offers a podcast service tailored to Africa?

The media has been changing significantly over the last decade. From a media landscape where populations consumed their news and entertainment in newspapers and on radio and television, we now have very different consuming habits. The internet and mobile devices have enabled us to get on demand news and entertainment wherever we are, and whenever we want. In Europe and America, print media is struggling against the strength of mobile internet, and social media habits have meant that people want to access their news in short easy to manage parts, often with less substance. (They are used to flicking through information very quickly on Facebook and Twitter)

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On demand access to information has created new opportunities for producers of news, information and entertainment. Radio found a solution to this problem by offering podcast material, which can be downloaded, or live streamed at any time, on the go. People can access any kind of information or any topic, and follow their favourite presenters. With a world of podcasts being produced, there is no end to content. TV has not quite been able to replicate this system, but there are some country specific on demand platforms available, but with the BBC for example, it is not easy to access that content oversees.

Across much of Africa, due to many still having limited access to mobile internet, the newspapers, radio and TV stations still have prominence, but this is beginning to change. It may be a small percentage, comparably, of internet and mobile internet users in Africa, but a small percentage of a large number is still a large number! And therefore, media consumption is also changing. The internet is becoming a large source of information for many, and others are keeping up with international content on Youtube.

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Now, in South Africa, a company called iono.fm is offering a podcast service tailor made fo Africa. With 15 million unique users in the 12 months of 2017, they already have a substantial user base, which means that they are able to effectively monetise podcasts by offering Continue reading “Did You Know iono.fm offers a podcast service tailored to Africa?”

Did You Know Nairobi is showcasing 100 innovative Start-ups?

Did You Know Nairobi is showcasing 100 innovative Start-ups?

You may remember that during my trip to Kenya I paid a visit to the Nairobi Innovation Week (NIW) offices to speak to Dr Omwansa about the event and his thoughts on the future of innovation. (If you have not seen the video you can check it out here. It is very interesting) Now we have seamlessly slipped into March, with the year running away from us already, but, no fear this is a good month. The NIW will jump into action on the 5th of March and will showcase the future innovators that will drive Kenya forward. Kenya is hellbent on taking an innovative lead in Africa, and this event is part of that process.

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A couple of days ago the NIW announced a shortlist of 100 start-ups shortlist of 100 start ups that would be featured during the course of the week. With over 350 entries it must have been hard work whittling them down, and that hard work is not over. Each start-up will pitch, and will again be cut down to the 15 most promising. As usual, we will pick a few that have caught our attention and feature them here.

The Usalama Application

During my time in Kenya, I was often warned that I shouldn’t go to certain places because of safety concerns. Of course, because of curiosity, I tried my best to go to most of those places or events despite the risk. (It is no fun to just sit in a sterilised hotel room!) But of course, safety is a real concern for many, and not just in Kenya! Major Continue reading “Did You Know Nairobi is showcasing 100 innovative Start-ups?”