COVID-FREE anti-epidemic participatory toolkit

How the African countries are reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic? A participatory initiative is collecting experiences from the continent.

by Ron Salaj

COVID-FREE is an online participatory toolkit and a collective collection of best practices and bottom-up actions developed by local communities in the African continent in order to contain the spread of epidemics. It is an idea of Taxibroussestudio in partnership with Le Resau. The main goal of the toolkit is the dissemination of simple, creative, economic and tested solutions so as to expand the defense opportunities from outbreaks, especially in the most disadvantaged communities.

The toolkit is structured into four main pillars:

  1. Local Actions which includes various initiatives at community level, helping to maintain the hygiene and support citizens in the fight against the Covid-19. Examples vary from models of Street handwashing in Nigeria where in the city of Onitsha area some street traders reconverted their business in handwashing along the main roads or near the markets to “Portable washing sinks in Rwanda” which have been designed by Rwanda government as preventive action and have been distributed in bus stations and in the main markets.
  2. Information and Awareness is the second pillar which collects numerous initiatives and programs to raise awareness on epidemic and to spread useful informations with innovative or creative languages. For example, “Kenya Covid-19 Tracker” is a platform – developed by Map Kibera, with the support of Ushahidi – that tracks cases of COVID19 in Kibera and other parts of the country.  Another interesting example includes the “Diagnos-Me”, an android app which helps to quickly detect the main symptoms of Coronavirus. It’s still under development with the support of Burkina Faso’s Ministry of Health.
  3. Tech & Innovation pillar provides information about “Made in Africa” innovative and hi-tech solutions developed by individuals, startups or organizations, such as “Fab-Lab Ouaga Protections”, developed by WakatLab in Ouaga, which includes a protective masks and 3D printed components for breathing machines.
  4. Policies & Planning is the last pillar, offering a selection of effective anti-epidemic institutional actions and policies or practices related to land and urban planning. In Zimbabwe, for example, the Ministry of Health launched “Hey Zimbabwe!” whatsapp service, which is a tool to stay up to date with the latest official health information from Ministry of Health of Zimbabwe, and share information responsibly. It just takes to text “Hi” to the dedicated Whatsapp number to start a conversation and receive useful informations.

All the initiatives and actions are also mapped out in the map, indicating also the geo-location of the initiatives. The platform welcome contributions by others, in order to populate further the platform with other initiatives and make it thus more rich and useful for the communities around the world who are struggling against Covid-19.

For more information, please visit their platform at https://www.covidfree-toolkit.org/

ISF: the theme of sustainable technology is crucial in Africa

The third edition of the Informatici Senza Frontiere Festival was held in Rovereto between the 17th and 19th of October. This festival is aimed at stimulating the dialogue around the social impact of new technologies. The second day opened with the meeting ‘The African Youth dreams and challenges: what can technology do?’. Among the speakers there was Maurizio Bertoldi, ISF Africa coordinator. We talked with him about the ISF activity and discussed the impact of digital technologies in Africa.

by  Luca Indemini (translation by Agnese Glauda)

Maurizio Bertoldi, besides coordinating the projects of Informatici Senza Frontiere in Africa, is the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of Sinapto. A company offering technological counselling. The African context is surely very different from the Western one. There are challenges and specific problems. Therefore, it is necessary to be able to adapt and target interventions, not to waste resources and in order to maximize the impacts.

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Maurizio Bertoldi, where should we start?

The main theme is sustainable technology both in the Western world and (even more) in Africa.

” The damages brought by unsustainable technology are visible to anyone. For instance, I think about the mines in Congo, where they extract Coltan. Coltan is essential for the production of smartphones. Advanced technology has a very high toll, which is often paid in Africa. Nonetheless, there are some alternatives, such as the Fairphone, the sustainable smartphone that cares about who produces it and the impact on the planet.”

“Another big issue is linked to hardware disposal, which creates landfills in Ghana and Bangladesh. Less evident, but not less challenging, is the software impact. Are Bitcoin and blockchain sustainable from an energy standpoint in Africa? Informatici Senza Frontiere works to inform the population about the advantages of digital technology. Firstly, it is a universal language. If I learn the Java programming language, it is the same in New York, India and Africa. This is a very ‘disruptive’ aspect of digital technology. Furthermore, the Internet allows me to be everywhere, anywhere, at any time. These are all opportunities to take advantage of, but in an ethical, conscious and sustainable way.”

Due to the lack of primary resources, should we question whether bridging the digital divide should really be a priority in Africa. Or, should we rather consider this a primary need?

“Sometimes, we hear comments such as: “ they do not have food and you worry about bringing technology” but this logic does not hold up.”

Technology does not solve specific problems. Instead, it is an enabling factor to face many challenges.

“The open source software Open Hospital is a good example. It is used to manage hospital activities in Uganda and in many other African hospitals. Open source software is fundamental to create inclusive access to technological solutions, at least on an economic level. Then, there is certainly a need for competences, but that can be easily fixed. It is important to stimulate the collaboration among different organisations, to create solutions that can be replicated in other countries.”

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Open Hospital Platform in a hospital in Somaliland

“Moreover, the average population age in Africa is very low. The youth is willing to get involved, even if they often take the wrong direction. Nowadays, everyone wants to be a programmer, risking to become the exploited working class of the new millennium. We try to promote youth entrepreneurship, by promoting digital technologies. There are many interesting examples in the agritech sector, the logistic sector or the mobile app sector. In Addis Ababa only, there are five competing car sharing services, similar to Uber.”

How does Informatici Senza Frontiere place itself in this context?

“ISF aims at creating partnerships with local associations, institutions and organizations such as Cuamm, together with the Comboni missionaries. Everywhere where an IT project is necessary. We analyse the needs, draft a project and implement it working together with volunteers or aid workers.”

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“Our intervention is based on three pillars. First of all, training. We create digital classrooms and train mainly the teachers to facilitate the knowledge transfer. Then, we have projects in the health sector, digitizing the infrastructures. Finally, we provide counselling for public administration and universities. Our goal is to guide choices, so to avoid waste”.

Where is ISF active in Africa?

“We are active especially in Eastern Africa: Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania. But also Somaliland, Sudan, Kenya. Whereas in the west, we have projects in Cameroon and Senegal. About ten countries overall.”

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Saint Luke Hospital in Wolisso, the first paperless hospital in Ethiopia

If you had to choose an exemplary case among your African projects, which one would you choose ?

“For sure the Saint Luke Hospital in Wolisso, Ethiopia. It is a perfect example of the way we work. We collaborated with Cuamm and contributed to make it the first entirely paperless hospital in the area.”

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In conclusion, could you tell us something about the Informatici Senza Frontiere Festival. What does it stand for ?

“Now, it is a well established event. This is the third edition. In the beginning, we used to organize two annual assemblies: an internal one and a second one aiming to create a moment for exchanging opinions with the public. We bet on Open Source and networks are, for us, not just the ones made of cables.

Three years ago we decided to turn the second annual assembly into a real festival, targeting especially to youth and schools. It is a moment to take stock of the situation and share technological, robotic and AI knowledge, without forgetting an ethical and sustainable approach. Basically, the message that we want to bring across is that technology is a tool to improve results. It does not solve problems by its own but it helps facing them more efficiently. For instance, it can help manage hospitals and schools better.”

From threat to resource: Precious Plastic gives new life to plastic

A hands-on approach, an ‘open’ mindset and a master’s thesis. These are the elements that brought Precious Plastic to life. Precious Plastic is a global community which connects hundreds of people working to find a solution to plastic pollution. Knowledge, tools and techniques are shared online for free. This allows everyone to enter the community and to give their contribution. Thus, Precious Plastic is still growing and has recently expanded to the African continent, after projects coming from the U.S.A., Europe and South East Asia.

by Luca Indemini (translation by Agnese Glauda)

The Precious Plastic project was created by Dave Hakkens, a Dutch young man. He designed a machine to recycle plastic at home while working on his master’s thesis.

Now, he has come a long way from the first model. In fact, four machines were designed four and the instructions are available for free on his website, together with video tutorials. Hence, users can build them independently and the costs are between 100 and 300 euros.

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The four recycling machines designed by Precious Plastic

Firstly, there is the Shredder Machine, which breaks down the plastics in very small pieces, easy to work with. Then, there is the Extrusion Machine, which transforms residuals in threads (useful, for instance, in 3D printing). The most advanced is the Injection Machine, which creates very specific items, with molds, in a short amount of time. Lastly, we find the Compression Machine, which creates larger items.

Only the products created through the recycling process can be a source of profit.

Joining the community is quick and simple. You only need to access the website and register on the map. In the beginning, the members were mainly FabLab, makers and geeks. Lately, also various organizations have joined, including training institutions and NGOs working in developing countries.

During the past six years, the community has grown considerably along with the ideas and shared experiences. This is what defines the project’s ‘open’ mindset.

Precious plastic in Africa

About thirty users with different backgrounds have joined the Precious Plastic initiative in the African continent. Some projects are less advanced, with the main goal to raise awareness regarding waste recycling. Others are already experienced businesses.

One of the most interesting projects is the Koun social enterprise, set in Casablanca, Morocco. The Precious Plastic website defines Koun as the ‘true recycling heroes’. A youth group collects the plastic waste to transform it into new items for the growing Moroccan middle class, searching for beautiful and ethical products. Stools, handbags, mugs, lamps, chandeliers and many more.

Up-cycling principles inspire Koun’s philosophy. In fact, up-cycling is the art of transforming waste into items worth more than the original. Koun collects raw materials directly from factories, schools and Casablanca associations. Then, turns waste into original products. The project has a positive social impact as it employs young disadvantaged people. Five of them work under the supervision of Mohamed, the foreman.

A different situation is found in Yoff near Dakar in Senegal, where Precious Plastic found its way to the hostel ViaVia. The hostel built three machines that cut, melt and press plastic into products, such as plates and bracelets. Karen, Jens, Masha, Jitse and Yehbonne, five Belgian students from the University of Leuven started this program. The AFD (Academics for Development) supported them while they volunteered during their summer vacations.

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The main venue of Precious Plastic in Africa

This was a first step but it has already proven quite successful. Many people from Dakar and the neighboring regions have expressed their interest towards the project and wish to build similar machines to fight plastic pollution.

Instead, in Kisii, Kenya, Precious Plastic started as a pilot project between 2017 and 2018. In that case, the UN-Habitat (UN program concerned with sustainable urbanization) invited Precious Plastic to create a plastic recycling workshop.

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The venue of Precious Plastic in Kisii, Kenya

The project had two main goals: to solve plastic pollution and counter youth unemployment. Currently, the Kiisi workshop employs 11 people. Additionally, it is especially in trying to educate the local population on pollution, through clean-up events in the area. Finally, the Precious Plastic machines turn plastic into bright coloured vases and plates.

Up until now, the project worked on a small scale. However, if the good results are confirmed, UN-Habitat is hoping to create new workshops in the region and in the whole country.

Hello Tractor, the sharing economy of Sub-Saharan African agriculture

Hello Tractor is an ag-tech company founded in 2014 in Nigeria. Its goal is to connect tractor owners with small farmers from Sub-Saharan Africa. The way is doing so is through an agricultural equipment rental app. The Hello Tractor platform allows farmers to request the service of a specific tractor. In exchange, the owners can check the tractor use, through remote tracking and virtual monitoring.

by Luca Indemini (translation by Agnese Glauda)

Africa is the region of the world where agricultural productivity is largely stagnant. Although it employs 65% of the continent population. One of the main causes is the low level of mechanization. In fact, 90% of the land is farmed manually or with the support of animals. By doing so, farmers are often living in extreme poverty, even though, in the last decade, billions have been invested by development organisations.

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Across Sub-Saharan Africa, 220 million farmers live on less than two dollars a day. Many of them struggle to produce enough food to feed their families and sustain their livelihoods. Tractors and other farm equipment are expensive and financing is almost non-existent.

“However, I realized that if farmers are able to have access to tractors, that’s as good as owning one.” – stated Jehiel Oliver, Hello Tractor CEO, interviewed by Disruptor Daily. “This was the rationale behind the establishment of Hello Tractor”.

How does Hello Tractor work?

Hello Tractor uses an IoT (Internet of Things) solution to reduce risks and improve transparency in the tractor sector. To do so, it offers equal access to tractors to the smaller farmers.

The core of the project is a low-cost monitoring device that can be installed on any tractor. This tool is very resistant to continuous use and extreme weather conditions. In addition, the device is equipped with an international SIM card, which allows Hello Tractor to connect to the cloud and share relevant data. If there is no connection, it can store data locally. Thus, tractor owners can monitor their tractor position, activity and need of maintenance through the app Tractor Owner.

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Hello Tractor interface for Owner and Booking Agent

The app represents the link between tractor owners and farmers. It allows farmers to select the real-time most convenient tractors. Moreover, a Booking Agent App has been created in order to facilitate the connection between farmers and tractors owners. Booking Agents are important mediators. They know well the local community well and they can use their knowledge to educate farmers and make them more familiar with mechanization techniques. Moreover, when aggregating different community needs, they find out that a sufficiently large area of ​​land is involved, the agent sends the request to the nearby owners of tractors.

Artificial Intelligence and blockchain in agriculture

Since moving its first steps, Hello Tractor has been used for 75% of the commercial tractors exchange in Nigeria. Additionally, it expanded over the national markets of Kenya, Mozambique, Bangladesh and Pakistan. In the beginning of 2019, Hello Tractor established a new important partnership with IBM Research. Together they will develop advanced agricultural data analysis and decision tools, using Artificial Intelligence and blockchain. This service aims at supporting Hello Tractor activities by providing useful and timely information to help farmers improve their production. The platform uses a digital ledger and machine learning to capture, track and share data, useful for both farmers and tractor owners

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Machine learning will help predict crops results. These combined with the advanced analysis and blockchain, can be used to assign a credit score to loans. Meteorological data, provided by The Weather Company, satellite data and tractor IoT data will be incorporated into the app. This will help small farmers to make better decisions on when to plant, what to plant, which fertilizer to use.

Furthermore, machine learning and sensors will be of help for the tractors owners to manage their maintenance and future use, based on the historical and meteorological data, as well as remote sensing.

Master ICT4D: students’ feedback

In march we took part at the master ICT4D crash course, activated by NGO 2.0. During the master we saw students attending at the lessons, learning and working in groups. We have already talked about the crash course in this previous article. Now we want to talk with students to collect impressions, and experiences.

We couldn’t talk with each students, so we interviewed Tommaso and Giulia. Tommaso has already joined the cooperation world, while Giulia is a new entry, because of her recent graduation.

Why did you choose that master?

The master has a flexible formula, and responds to student-worker’s needs. As Tommaso have said the master is fully compatible with workers, who need to attend at the lesson and work.

One of the most important thing when you choose a master is the clarity of objectives. NGO 2.0 has activated the master creating a clear idea of the class goals and aims. Actually the master is a good match between social good an ICT.

Another key point is represented by the teacher. When Tommaso wanted to seek more information, he asked to a teacher.

“The lecturer of the master was very nice and friendly. He answered to my questions and helped me to contact NGO 2.0 to join the master class.”

Online Lecture

When you work or when you have just finished university, you need to expand your knowledge. Master is what you need.

However time is of the essence and you can’t waste it. The online lecture are a great compromise. Unlike MOC where you attend to recorded lessons, here you can interact, ask questions and work in groups.

As underlined by Tommaso, you can follow everywhere even if you are working abroad. You just need an internet access and a laptop. NGO 2.0 want to promote a smart use of ICT for Social Good, introducing a tech oriented approach.

Anyway NGO 2.0 has dedicated a week for an offline meeting, due to allow the students to meet each other.

Teacher

Although teacher are very important, they are the structure of a class. To understand how much is important we asked to Giulia what did she expect from the teacher of the master.

“Is very important to be prepared. ICTs are a very complex field, so you need to be up-to-date indeed. When you have to interact through a monitor is easy to bore the audience. However our expectations have been satisfied. Our teacher are well prepared, they use innovative methods to engage students. The Platform we use is a key tool that allow us to work in groups even if we are online”

Social good

The master is about the usage of ICTs for social good. The main topic is the implementation of technologies in that field that seems to lack of technological innovation.  Tommaso and Giulia reported they have really appreciate the way NGO 2.0 has blended Social Good with ICTs.

“nowadays social good needs a kick to jump in the future. This Master is on the right way to pick up the digital transformation and carry the international cooperation in the future.”

What about the future

Is very important to  understand where students want to go after the master. So we asked to Tommaso and Giulia about their future career.

Giulia has talked about the certification and apossible diplomatic career.

“A good master needs a certification recognized by the University. The prestige of the university of Turin is a great guarantee. It is also useful for signaling, and UN career indeed.”

“I like my job and I think I will remain in that field. Thanks to this master  I’ve learned to implement ICTs in social good and it is very important for me and my education” said Tommaso before leaving.

UAVs in healthcare

You might have heard about the use of drones to support humanitarian actions. So, today we are going to see how drones or UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) can also have an impact in the healthcare sector in developing contexts.

Written by Paola Fava

 

While drones have been mostly piloted in sectors such as transport, energy, water management, urban planning and disaster risk management/disaster recovery, they have only recently been more widely accepted within the medical community.

For example, there are some interesting experiences from the African Continent. In Ghana, UNFPA and other experts on African health systems have identified five main scenarios for the use of drones in healthcare [1]:

  • emergency medicine for a mother after giving birth;
  • out of stock delivery of medicaments/contraceptives;
  • additional delivery during a vaccination campaign;
  • emergency treatment of severe malaria in children;
  • antiretroviral therapy for pregnant women with HIV.

Particularly, an interesting example of using a drone for delivery of medical supplies is provided by Zipline, whose drones have been used in Rwanda to deliver and distribute blood to transfusion facilities [2]. The ability to distribute blood on demand has the strong advantage of avoiding having to store blood in local hospitals as blood itself has a very short shelf life and strict storage requirements. Local people call it the ‘Sky Ambulance’. Zipline technology has been promoted in Rwanda in 2016 with support from the Government, while Tanzania announced the adoption of the Zipline technology in 2017. Five simple steps (order by text message, pack, launch, direct delivery and drone recovery) are required to guarantee blood safe delivery to remote health centres, as shown in this video.

But it’s not just about blood delivery…

In Malawi, in 2016, Unicef and Matternet piloted the use of drones to fasten HIV testing procedures in order to assure an early diagnosis of HIV and promote early treatments. Just to give an idea, in Malawi, it currently takes an average of 11 days to get samples from the health centre to a testing lab, and up to eight weeks for the results to be delivered back. The longer is the delay between test and results, the higher is the default rate of the patient [3]. Drones could play a key role in reducing this delay.

Another very interesting and promising application is the TU Delft Ambulance Drone, developed at the TU Delft University in Holland. This is a prototype that integrates a cardiac defibrillator, a 2-way communication radio and a video into the drone. A smartphone app is used to call the drone during an emergency. Once the drone arrives, bystanders would be instructed on how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and start using the automatic defibrillator until the emergency services arrive to take over.

So, what’s next now?

Rishi Madhok, an emergency physician at the University of California at San Francisco hospital has identified three main stages of drone usage: “reconnaissance”, where drones provide aerial photography of the scene of an accident or natural disaster; “delivery”, where drones transport needed medical equipment and drugs; and, finally, “medical command”, where drones, through their video sensors, provide high fidelity data and two-way communication between providers and responders — or even lay people — on the scene [4].

As the first two stages are now reality, we might be very close to the third stage of drone use.

 

References

[1] Drones for Development

[2] TED Talk, Keller Rinaudo, CEO ZIpline International Inc.

[3] Malawi tests first unmanned aerial vehicle flights for HIV early infant diagnosis, UNICEF News Note, March 2016

[4] ‘Here come the drones’ by Michael Levin-Epstein, Telemedicine Magazine 

 

Photo credits: Pixabay

Cash for Health Mobile Money

Two examples of how mobile technology can support cash for health programmes and how financial payments have led to the emergence of “results-based financing” (RBF) mechanisms as an alternative financing model for healthcare.

By Paola Fava

 

Although the quality of health services is an essential condition for the success of any health action, underutilisation of health services is more often influenced by demand-side barriers rather than supply-side limitations’.

This statement is extracted from the ‘Cash-based Interventions for Health programmes in Refugee Settings’ review by UNHCR. However the document concerns specifically Refugees, I believe that it can be applied to the overall population, particularly in vulnerable contexts.

Interventions in the healthcare sector have been historically focusing on providing solutions to the supply-side of healthcare (healthcare providers) rather than the demand-side (access to health services by patients), except to provide access to health-related products (such as insecticide-treated bed nets) or to support nutrition.

However, in the last few years, we have seen a gradual shift towards addressing some of the challenges that vulnerable parts of the population face when in need of healthcare services. One of these challenges is the cost of basic health services, such as antenatal care or delivery care. Although there is still little documented evidence of the use of cash-based interventions for health services in the humanitarian context, some interesting examples are involving the use of mobile technology.

In this post, I am describing two examples of mobile applications of cash for health.

M-TIBA, a mobile wallet for medical treatment

In Kenya, 85% of women wants to give birth in a formal clinic, but only 44% do so. The number one reason cited by women is the difficulty of accumulating the US$ 40 needed to pay. In other words, poor access to financial services is a big part of why there is a healthcare access problem.’

M-TIBA is a mobile-based health wallet, that allows anyone to send, save and spend money specifically for medical treatment. Individuals can save money for themselves, for a family member or friends. Money stored on M-TIBA can only be used to pay for treatment and medication in selected partner clinics and hospitals.

Furthermore, in order to guarantee and monitor the quality of the provided healthcare services, partner clinics need to be recognised by the SafeCare standards.

If you would like to know more about this technology and its impact on the society, watch this video about M-TIBA being a supportive tool for pregnant women in Kenya.

Mobile money as incentive for health operators

In Tanzania, traditional birth attendants (TBAs) are typically paid to assist deliveries. It’s, therefore, a financial disincentive for them to refer their patients to health facilities, since this would represent a loss of income. However, health risks increase when deliveries are not performed in appropriate facilities.

In 2011, D-tree International, has launched a program in Zanzibar that provides TBAs with a mobile-enabled clinical guide to help them treat women and identify cases who should be referred to health facilities. Beside the medical aid tool, the system also includes an SMS-mobile money payment system that it’s used as an incentive for TBAs to assist and refer pregnant women to health facilities for clinical check-up and safe deliveries. Through mobile money, ‘TBAs are able to make prompt payment for transport for the woman to deliver in a health facility or in case of any complications for both mother and baby that require medical attention.’

TBAs’ mobile money accounts are used to transfer money to the drivers’ accounts at preset rates to carry the women to the appropriate facility for referral. After the TBA’s last follow-up visit, D-tree pays each TBA US$6 per facility delivery through mobile money as well, which is higher than the amount the TBA would make from an assisted delivery.‘

 

 

And the winners are…

Henri Nyakarundi and Elizabeth Kperrun are the winners of the first edition of the “ICT for Social Good”, financed by Innovazione per lo Sviluppo Program and Fondazione Mission Bambini Onlus. They will be officially awarded during the Open Days of Innovation, scheduled in Milan, on November 6th and 7th.

By Viviana Brun

 

The first edition of the “ICT for Social Good” Grant started in March 2017, when Ong2.0 opened a call to invite social innovators to apply for a prize of 12.000 euros – offered by Fondazione Cariplo and Compagnia di San Paolo within the Programme “Innovazione per lo sviluppo” – to sustain and support innovative ideas created with a bottom-up approach in low-income countries. Fondazione Mission Bambini added a special grant named “ICT 4 Children” equals to 10.000€, to the project focused on children more aligned with the Foundation’s mission. The aim of both Grants was to sustain, as much as possible, local entrepreneurs but also to inform the development sector – too often still based on traditional intervention models – about local innovations. In the Global South, many amazing projects, realities and innovative ideas are created daily with a bottom-up approach. Unfortunately, often these ideas are not fully recognised and they face difficulties in being involved in international development projects. However, they represent a good starting point to build a new approach to the international cooperation and local development.

In two months, 233 applications were received from 57 countries in the world. The Scientific Committee of the Grant – composed of representatives from SocialFareFundacion Paraguaya, MoxoffE4impact and Nesta – worked hard to evaluate the projects, paying close attention to innovation, both from the point of view of technology and of the methodologies and approaches that have been adopted. The main focus was on the positive impact the projects could generate at the local level.

Henri Nyakarundi wins the main Prize with Ared, his Rwandan social enterprise, followed by Elizabeth Kperrun, who wins the “ICT for Children” Prize with her Nigerian startup, Lizzie’s Creations.

Let’s take a closer look at the two winners.

 

Henri Nyakarundi and his mobile solar kiosk

Henri Nyakarundi - Shiriki Hub

The Rwandan social entrepreneur, Henri Nyakarundi is the founder of Ared -African Renewable Energy Distributor- a hardware, technology and service company who developed Shiriki Hub, a mobile solar kiosk, which offers customers a convenient low-cost solution to charge their phones, to browse the web and to have free offline access to digital content such as news and information on health and education. The Scientific Committee of the Grant evaluated Nyakarundi’s project as the best one among the 233 applications received.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Kperrun and her mobile apps for children

Elizabeth-KperrunElizabeth Kperrun is the co-founder of Lizzie’s Creations, an initiative that aims to revive the African traditional culture and storytelling through digital tools. She creates fun educational mobile apps that teach kids using Africa’s native languages. Elizabeth startup has been evaluated as the second best project among all the applications received and the best proposal for childhood, so she wins the category dedicated to the use of ICT for children.

 

 

The winners will be officially awarded during the Open Days of Innovation, scheduled in Milan, on November 6th and 7th 2017.

 

 

Shiriki Hub: smart solar kiosk, powering and connecting Africa

Henri Nyakarundi is the winner of the first edition of “ICT for Social Good” Grant, organised by Ong2.0 within the Innovation for Development Programme.

He developed and commercialised a mobile solar kiosk, which offers customers a convenient low-cost solution to charge their phones, to browse the web and to have free offline access to digital content on board, such as music, news and information on health and education. It works on a franchise model, giving people the opportunity to run their income-generating micro business.

By Viviana Brun

 

Everything started with electricity supply

Growing economies need accessible electricity in order to improve life quality, to connect with people and to develop new kind of business and activities. This is not always easy. Even in Rwanda -where solar and other renewable energy sources play a big role in government’s policy to connect 45 percent of the population by June 2018- in some areas people are still cut off, with no facilities. They rely on mobile phones in order to connect to the outside world, but charging devices can be a struggle. In areas with limited access to electricity, people have to make the journey into the nearest town for a single mobile charge.

This lack of available and stable power is a big problem, but it could also represent an opportunity for business and social development. This was exactly the vision of Henri Nyakarundi, who tried to transform this challenge into a good idea. In 2013, he founded Ared -African Renewable Energy Distributor- a hardware, technology and service company who developed a “business in a box” solar kiosk to empower communities using a micro-franchise business model.

This solar kiosk, called Shiriki Hub (the Swahili word for “sharing” Hub) is a kind of shop on wheels, where people could recharge their phone or other small electronic devices, paying a small fee. It can charge over 30 mobile phones at once and it could be locked to offer better security while charging. The kiosk can also be towed using a bicycle or a motorbike and the lithium battery bank allows the operator to work even at night or during rainy or cloudy days.

 

Beyond charging station

The second version of Shiriki Hub came after the first prototype. Two are the greatest novelties. The new solar kiosk incorporates connectivity solutions such as the Internet and the intranet access via wifi and a backend software system to better monitor performances and sales.

Since the first kiosk was operational, customers were constantly requesting access to the Internet or to digital content. In fact, the available Internet services were quite expensive for the majority of the people. That’s why Nyakarundi decided to develop a low-cost Internet access and to broadcast education content, health information, videos and music in the local language for free, thanks to an offline mobile application. That’s a good and simple way to give everybody the opportunity to be part of the digital revolution. And for those who do not have a smartphone, he added a speaker system that will allow operators to distribute audio content.

The other novelty introduced at this stage is a software system that allows monitoring almost everything that is happening on the kiosk, from the sales to the location and much more. So, Ared can potentially manage and monitor thousands of kiosks with just a handful of people. This is a great advantage for scaling Shriki hub business and approaching other countries.

 

A win-win sustainable business model

Unemployment is a general problem in Africa. According to the recent “World Employment Social Outlook – Trends 2017” published by the International Labour Organization, “the unemployment rate for the African continent as a whole is likely to remain unchanged from its 2016 rate of 8.0 percent going into 2017, which, when applied to a rapidly growing labour force, corresponds to an increase in total unemployment of 1.2 million”. Entrepreneurship has often been viewed as a good way to solve this issue. However, entrepreneurship requires knowledge, access to capital, training and support.

In order to address the unemployment problem in the region, Nyakarundi had the idea of creating a network of micro-entrepreneurs thanks to a low-cost franchise business. In short, he offers franchising opportunities to people that demonstrate high business potential, allowing them to earn a living. “Many people want to be in business for themselves, but they don’t want to be in business by themselves”, said Nyakarundi, so the micro-franchise seems to represent a winning approach.

For buying into the franchise business people have to pay 50 dollars for man, 25 for women and 10 dollars for people with disabilities and then they get the kiosk and the possibility of selling a wide range of services as phone charges, bus ticketing, prepaid services and electronic vouchers such as airtime, government services, Internet and intranet access etc. The micro-entrepreneurs have also access to a specific training program on marketing and taxes, to maximize income on the kiosk. Kiosk operators make a commission on every transaction made on the kiosk.

Demand is substantial in Rwanda, both for new jobs and for access to electricity and the Internet, which means that Shriki hub has a huge market potential.

Moreover, the Ared solar kiosk represents a win-win system for:

  • clients who have access to green electricity and digital content at a low cost,
  • kiosk operators that can develop their own business and
  • Ared company that is expanding his social business in other countries.

Shiriki hub demonstrates a positive social, economic and environmental impact on local communities.

To keep costs for users as low as possible, Ared aims to generate a significant portion of its profit from advertising on the mobile interface that people use to access the Internet or by providing the possibility for businesses to collect data by conducting surveys.

The charging station could be useful not only for the private sector but also for government entities and non-profit sector. For example, charging stations were used at Rwanda Red Cross refugee camps housing Burundi immigrants fleeing their country’s violent political crisis. Refugees were trained and worked as operators, earning income from the kiosk.

Ared developed also a specific program for people with disabilities to give them an alternative into micro-entrepreneurship. The company discounted the micro-franchise fee to 10 dollars, which includes training, support, access to a solar kiosk and a start-up capital for the business. The target for the future is to reserve at least 10% of franchisees to people with disabilities.

 

 

Get to know Henri better. Read the interview.

Photocredits: Ared

 

 

 

Meet Elizabeth Kperrun, the winner of the “ICT for Children” Grant

Elizabeth Kperrun is the winner of the “ICT for Children” Grant, a special recognition offered by Fondazione Mission Bambini within the framework of “ICT for Social Good” Grant. The Grant was created to reward the project that better represents the usage of innovation for childhood. In Nigeria, Elizabeth developed some fun educational mobile apps that teach kids using Africa’s native languages.

We asked Elizabeth some questions to get to know her better and here is what we discovered.

By Viviana Brun

 

Let’s start from the very beginning, where are you from and what’s your family and education background?

I am from Benue, a state in Nigeria and I am the first of 5 children. I have a diploma in Mass Communication and I am currently in the process of obtaining a B.Sc in Entrepreneurial and Business Management.

 

What is Lizzie’s Creations, a startup, a social enterprise…? How did you start your business as Lizzie’s Creations?

Lizzie’s Creations is a start-up company that is preserving and promoting African culture using modern day technology. Our business started in September of 2016 but we built our very first app (AfroTalez) in 2013. Back then though, we were trying out our idea of promoting an aspect of African culture to see if it was something the world will be interested in.

 

Who had the biggest impact on your career?

My husband and co-founder. 100%. When I met him, all I had was an idea. I had no IT background. He helped me develop my idea, build my first app and has been my partner ever since.

 

You are a young woman in tech, what are the biggest challenges you have faced in your career?

Female entrepreneurs in Africa find it harder to break through in business than their male counterparts. A young woman in the tech space is even doubly harder because technology in Africa is still not as advanced and recognised as it is in the more developed world.

Some of the biggest challenges I have faced would be recognition and encouragement by my country’s government. There are no grants available, no provision in the budget to fund tech start-ups. So we have to rely on foreign organisations and investors to raise funding to enable us to grow our businesses. Add this to other factors like epileptic power supply, unstable internet infrastructure and a volatile economy and one really has to be resilient and believe in what they are doing so that they can keep going.

 

Why did you decide to focus on the use of ICT for Education? According to you, what are the main advantages and issues in the use of technology for learning and education?

I decided to use ICT for education because the world has gone digital. It is the fastest means of reaching an audience today and as smartphones get cheaper, they become more easily accessible to even the low-income earners. In Africa, a smartphone is cheaper than a TV set and like everywhere else in the world, people are spending more time on their smartphones than on anything else, even to keep children entertained.

 

What is the learning model/approach behind your apps?

Children learn best while they are having fun. And this is why we have focused on using well designed and brightly coloured apps to educate children. We believe that learning doesn’t have to feel like a boring classroom lesson. It should be fun.

 

Are your apps designed for being used by children alone or as a tool to support teaching at school or in the family?

Depending on the age of the child, our apps can be used alone or with the supervision of an adult; be it a teacher, parent or guardian.

 

What’s the aspect of your job that keeps you awake at night?

How to ensure we have enough money so that we can keep doing what we do. Because with funds, every challenge is surmountable.

 

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?

Start small, fail small. When launching a new product, build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and test it. Observe consumer reaction and ask for feedback before you proceed. Sometimes, what we set our mind on building is not what the audience wants. It is only by hearing from them that we can build and roll out a product that will be utilised and enjoyed.

 

According to you, what role the ICTs could play in strengthening the local development and the business ecosystem in Africa?

ICT’s are very important to the technological and overall development of Africa. A lot of innovative work by a number of companies targeted at various areas of development, including governance, health, education (such as ours) and more is currently ongoing and already creating impact.
The combined effect of all these will result in better standards of living, improved opportunities, better educational outcomes and general improvements to Africa’s development. In our field we are making relevant education more accessible to children at in the lower rungs of society.

 

How can Lizzie’s Creations be considered an inclusive business?

Lizzie’s Creations is certainly inclusive, our focus in whatever we do is to impact women and children mostly are less privileged. This is one of the reasons why we transitioned our apps to an ad-revenue model which allows access for even those who cannot pay for the in-app purchases.

 

In terms of revenues, what is the core business of Lizzie’s Creations?

We primarily monetise through unobtrusive in-app advertising and in-app purchases.

 

How many apps have you developed? How did you choose the app team? I saw, for example, that the last app that you have launched in July 2017 is dedicated to African fashion.

We have developed 3 main apps. In all our apps, the over-riding theme is always the promotion of some aspect of African culture while promoting education. We aim to keep teaching the younger generation about the African way of life.

Our latest app, Shakara, is a dress-up game for girls who like fashion. We built it with African fabrics and African fashion styles because we believe African fabrics are vibrant and beautiful and our style is unique. So it is our aim that our young girls should learn about these fabrics and styles and take pride in them.

 

There is any collaboration with parents and teachers in the development of the app themes?

We do some collaboration. Before we start working on our apps, we conduct a poll and ask parents and teachers what they think of our idea and how they feel their children/wards will most benefit. Then we use their feedback to build a beta version which we use for further testing. It is after these tests that we finally release an app into the store for children to download and use.

 

Is the government supporting somehow the social entrepreneurs in Nigeria? What could it be done better?

To some extent, they try to be supportive. But as with most systems that don’t work properly, sometimes finances disbursed or budgeted for SME’s do not necessarily get to the SME’s. This can be mitigated by building a more transparent system.

 

What is your message to social entrepreneurs?

Social entrepreneurship most often seems like an uphill battle. Because investors want to invest in money-making businesses and social ventures are mostly about making the world a better place first and profit-making comes second. But more and more, we are getting a new breed of investors who are primarily looking for social entrepreneurs to invest in.

So I would say to new and aspiring social entrepreneurs that they should follow their passion. Somewhere, somehow, if their idea is a good one they will always find somebody else who believes in them and their vision and will be willing to work with them to help them grow.

 

What is your message to women in tech?

Kudos to them and more grease to their elbows. Women are bright, resourceful and hardworking. We can do anything a man can do and we even do some things men can’t do.

 

What are your plans for the future?

My plans for the future are to keep growing and to keep teaching children about Africa: our culture, our languages, our way of life. I love what I do. I will not be leaving it anytime soon.

 

 

Read more:

AfroTalez: traditional folk stories come alive through ICT”