Mansour Ourasanah, from Togo in West Africa is one of three winners of the 2014 Vilcek Prizes for Creative Promise in the Arts, this year focusing on design. The prizes are awarded annually to young immigrants who have had a significant impact on the American arts early in their career, and include a $35,000 prize.
“We are delighted to recognize such a forward-thinking designer as Mansour,” said Marica Vilcek, vice president of the Foundation. “In his designs, he addresses complex social problems through elegant and thought-provoking solutions.”
Ourasanah, pictured, was originally born in Togo and immigrated to the United States at the age of 16. He is currently a senior designer for Whirlpool’s Advanced Studio in Chicago, where his role is to create innovative user-centric solutions for a new generation of global and hyper-connected consumers.
His work focuses on the importance of storytelling in the design of products that address complex emotional and environmental challenges. His most recent project, LEPSIS: The Art of Growing Grasshoppers — a vessel that can be used to grow insects for food in efforts to promote sustainable meat production and consumption amongst urban populations — is one example of his achievements in the design arena.
A 2003 New York Times Scholar and a 2007 IDSA Midwest District Merit Award Winner, Ourasanah completed a Bachelors of Art in Design from the University of Notre Dame and a Masters in Advanced Product Design from the Umea Institute of Design in Sweden. Ourasanah’s work has been named a finalist for the renowned INDEX: Design to Improve Life Award; the winner of an EID Design Award; a winner of the Greener Gadget Design Award; and a winner of an IDEA Award, amongst others. His work has been featured on CNN and in publications such as Fast Company, Wired, Popular Science, and The Guardian.
Women in Africa should “build up a tough skin” to succeed in the male-dominated technology industry. Ugandan technologist and social entrepreneur Evelyn Namara says female participation in technology in Africa is increasing, but gender stereotypes abound.
Namara is the East Africa regional manager for tech company Beyonic and a founding member of Girl Geek Kampala, a forum that seeks to erase stereotypes against women in technology.
“When I started my career in 2003 we had about 15% women representation in the industry. In my class we were about four or five ladies and so pursuing that career and then getting into the workplace where I was questioned on why I was going to a place to fix a server because I am girl, really encouraged me to find out why there were fewer women in the space and how that can change.”
Africa’s technology revolution has inspired many young entrepreneurs, but women remain under-represented. It is the same in the US’s Silicon Valley where women make up just 6% of CEOs of the top 100 tech companies and 22% of software engineers at tech companies, according to National Center for Women and Information Technology research. Another study shows women make up only 8% of venture-backed tech startups.
Namara describes a 2006 incident when she was employed at a software support company that helped SMEs set up their servers. She was sent out to check the servers of a local company but when she arrived, the head of IT was shocked the firm had sent “a small girl”. The manager got on the phone with Namara’s boss to express his discontent and fears that their data would be lost.
“I could see so many doubts in his mind. I felt sad. You don’t know me. How do you judge that I can’t do a job my organisation has hired me to do? My boss was my biggest cheerleader and he insisted that I should be given a chance. When I did the job the IT head was shocked and humbled. He asked for my number and often called to ask for solutions every time they had problems.”
This experience, Namara says, taught her to do her job “perfectly” because any mistakes would be attributed to her gender.
“The stereotypes are discouraging. If you have a low self-esteem you will never go to work. Girls need to know that it will be tough sometimes and people are going to judge you to your face. You just have to build up a tough skin.”
Namara argues that one of the major stumbling blocks in Africa is the culture which creates a mindset among girls that there are things they cannot do.
“The way we are brought up affects decisions we make later in life, from small things like boys being encouraged to play with toys and cars while girls play with dolls. Girls grow up thinking they are supposed to do softer things and the boys are supposed to take on more complicated things.”
You don’t have to climb up masts
“The sidelining follows through to all the decisions they make. They are told to do other womanly things because ‘are you going to be climbing up masts if you are working for a telco?’ This is a very, very big fallacy because there are so many core sections that you can be in within the technology industry and appreciate it as a woman, be very competitive and accomplish a lot. There is a lot you can do with technology.”
Girl Geek Kampala is one of a number of forums sprouting up across Africa that encourage female participation in the blossoming technology industry. Namara says such forums which connect students, early stage entrepreneurs and industry leaders, play a critical role in helping women to “step up” in the industry.
Above Addis Ababa’s concrete skyline, cranes tower high amid blasts from nearby drills and diggers. At the feet of buildings shrouded in bamboo scaffolding, excavators dig up dirt tracks, to be rep…
As the world celebrates the Global Money Week, more emphasis is being placed on increasing financial inclusion and literacy in Nigeria.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) along with players, stakeholders as well as regulators in the financial system have made financial literacy the goal of this year’s celebration.
A 2010 survey by Enhancing Financial Innovation and Access (EFInA) shows that 36 per cent of the adult population in Nigeria have access to formal financial services.
This means only an estimated 27 million out of 85 million Nigerians above the age of 18 are served by formal financial service institutions.
Of the adult population, 17 per cent are served by informal institutions and 46 per cent are completely excluded. These 58 million unbanked Nigerians are the primary targets of Financial Inclusion.
To this end, the CBN and other stakeholders intend to implement a National Financial Inclusion Strategy that would reduce the percentage of adult Nigerians that are excluded from financial services from 46.3 per cent in 2010 to 20 per cent by 2020.
The financially excluded are those who do not use any financial service or product to manage their finances. They transact using cash. Most of them according to a 2012 study by EFInA, are women, rural dwellers, farmers and illiterates. 52.3 per cent of the financially excluded adult population are female.
But having a right to financial services is one thing, deciding to exercise that right is another issue. Most of the people who are financially excluded in Nigeria, actually chose not to exercise that right for sundry reasons.
The reasons include intimidating and stressful account opening process, long distance and associated cost of visiting banks; unexplained deductions; low interest rate on savings; increased fraud rate, etc
DEMO-Africa has released the dates for the annual ICT conference to be held between 22nd and 26th September 2014 in Lagos, Nigeria.
The series of events will be hosted in collaboration with the Nigeria Federal Ministry of ICT , the LIONS@FRICA partners and National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA).
The five days affair will be kick started by the DEMO Africa boot camp on the 22nd and 23rd of September. The Lions summit will be held on the 24th September while the main forum will take place on the 25th and 26th of September.
This year will present yet another chance for the best technology startups in Africa to be recognized and exposed to the world. In this connection, DEMO Africa is inviting start-ups who are ready to launch to submit their applications between 15th March and 15th June 2014.
The applications will be subjected to a panel of judges comprising of key players in the ICT sector in July, 2014 who are expected to settle on the best forty based on their ability to link creativity, innovation and effectiveness.
The teams with the most compelling products and business models will then be given a chance to launch their products to an ecosystem of investors, IT buyers and the global IT press.
While making the announcement in Lagos, Nigeria, the Honorable Minister of Communication Technology Mrs Omobola Johnson expressed optimism in Africa’s journey towards being a fully ICT enabled continent.
“We are excited to host DEMO Africa 2014 in Nigeria. This presents a great opportunity to cross-fertilize ideas across African startups, as well as showcase our talents and skills in the innovation ecosystem.” She said.
Aid satire is on the rise, but will it lead to apathy or better aid?
The parody depicts an international charity that is divorced from its mission of “saving Africa” and preoccupied with less noble pursuits. Producers of “The Samaritans” hope to show Kenya on a lighter note, without the “slums and guns.” But the series has helped reignite a humorous self-reflection on the conduct of Western NGOs’ work in African countries.
Some aid workers feel that assistance to the very poor is not a laughing matter. They worry that increased scrutiny will discourage people from donating, thereby feeding compassion fatigue. I couldn’t disagree more. We need a fundamental shift toward nuanced, yet frank, discussion on development aid and an evolution of the Western mindset on charity work. Humor can help accomplish this.
People clearly want to laugh at and discuss Western stereotypes about Africa. Satire on aid is a blooming genre in African development circles. Since 2012, the Norwegian Students and Academics International Assistance Fund SAIH, where I currently work, has released two satirical videos: “Radi-Aid” and “Lets Save Africa — Gone wrong.” The two video clips have been viewed more than 3 million times and received extensive media coverage.
Sometimes the best comedy is often reality itself. The blog “I went to Africa and all I got were these pictures” is full of patronizing quotes and pictures from Westerners who visited Africa for the first time. This is the kind of scapegoat one would end up with by taking pictures with orphans and publishing them on social media under such hashtags as #loveorphans.
But why are so many people making fun of aid and Western do-gooders? The notion of helping a distant other, particularly Africans, is deeply embedded in many Western cultures. The ethnic conflicts that followed decolonization, such as the Biafran war in the 1960s and the Ethiopian famine in the ’80s, combined with the media’s lopsided approach to covering Africa, left an irreversible impression on the psyche of Western audiences. Paternalistic narratives of Africa as a starving, hopeless and most recently rising continent continue to reinforce its stereotypical perception as an economic backwater replete with tribal conflicts and always in need of Western intervention. For charities, the images of starving and lonely African children established the norm for NGO fundraising.
As a result, many in the West connect Africa to suffering and negative images. These impressions persist even when the situation on the ground improves. Fighting poverty is a good thing, but to act on stereotypes is not, and leads to superficial understanding of the needs of those we try to help. An act of goodness is precious, but it is important to have the skills and critical understanding of what one can accomplish.
Dumping unwanted Western goods such as used designer suits, old political campaign or sports team T-shirts and broken computers on African countries does little more than create garbage piles and environmental problems and tamper with the local market. In addition, it makes the self-congratulatory act of giving more important than the need of those on the receiving end.
Lagos, Nigeria gets new startup accelerator and incubation space
LeadPath Nigeria a seed capital fund that specialises in providing short, medium and long term funding to small and medium sized start-up businesses launched in Lagos, Nigeria on Friday 7th March 2014
With technology’s impact in Africa being more obvious by the day, Leadpath, led by Olumide Soyombo, is betting big on the premise that startups would revolutionize our daily experience right now and in the future.
To help maximize the impact of startups, LeadPath is stepping in to make the road to success easier by taking away the usual startup challenges such as funding, so the startups can focus on building their products.
The LeadPath Accelerator will make seed investments in startups doing business in software applications, mobile applications, electronic payments and big data. Typical investments range between $25,000 to $100,000 in the first instance, as well as follow-on investments from LeadPath and other venture funds. LeadPath will also offer office space (pictured below), mentorship and other services such as (legal, accounting ,tax etc) to their investees, helping them achieve scale and success in a promising but challenging market.
This fear of being seen buying condoms is what pushed Faith Ndiwa into a business that can be viewed by many as unconventional; that of discretely supplying condoms to whoever is in need.
The 28-year-old medical graduate of the University of Nairobi is the Chief Executive Officer 0f Labonte Limited, whose ‘Dial a Condom’ service, a revolutionary concept is taking the local market by storm.
Her company has provided a hot-line number which anybody who needs male condoms within Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa can call and have them delivered wherever they are in the towns.
“With sex being a taboo subject and everything related to it being shrouded in mystery in our African societies, many people feel embarrassed being seen buying condoms. Some people also fear purchasing them because of their status in the society. This should no longer be a problem as the condoms are now a phone call away,” says Ms Ndiwa, when we begin this interview.
The entrepreneur who started her business in September last year approached a condom manufacturing company in Thailand with her own design and specifications, which are different from other brands in the market.
“Our premium pack of Euphoria brand of condoms costs Sh200 and we charge a delivery fee of only Sh100 to whichever destination in Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa,” she says and adds quickly;
“They are unique because they are dotted and contoured unlike the available brands in the region, giving the users extra pleasure. The trendy dark little box that they are packed in disguises the condoms and many would at a cursory glance not know what is contained in the pack,” she says.
Her major clientele include a number of big shots in the society like politicians, directors of both public and non-governmental organisations and, surprisingly, members of the clergy.
Samsung Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC’s) Ministry of Primary, Secondary, and Vocational Education officially handed over a solar-powered Internet school (SPIS) in Kinshasa.
According to Samsung, this forms part of company’s efforts to improve learning and education through the use of new information and communication technologies in rural areas in Africa. It is also part of a government initiative to modernise the national education system through the acquisition of appropriate materials and tools.
"Each SPIS is built in a 40-foot (12-metre) long repurposed shipping container, making them easily transportable via truck to remote areas. The schools are specifically designed for African conditions and can withstand energy-scarce environments, harsh weather conditions and transportation over long distances," says Samsung.
"Fold-away solar panels provide enough energy to power the classrooms’ equipment for up to nine hours a day, and for one-and-a-half days without any sunlight. The solar panels are made from rubber, rather than glass, ensuring they are hardy and durable enough to survive long journeys across the continent," notes the electronic decives maker.
According to Samsung, the classrooms can comfortably accommodate 24 learners, and include several insulation layers and a ventilation system, to ensure a pleasant environment is maintained. Each classroom is fitted with a 50-inch electronic E-Board and different Samsung notebooks and netbooks, all of which are optimised for use in a solar-powered environment to stimulate interactive learning.
The classroom at one of the schools is equipped with, a high-speed Internet connection, 20 computers, audiovisual accessories and a video conferencing station.
Samsung has set an ambitious goal for itself in Africa: to positively impact five million lives by 2015, says Thierry Boulanger, business to business (B2B) Africa director at Samsung Africa.