Preparing Africa’s next generation for leadership in digital data and innovation

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young Africans Big Data
Young Africans attend a short course on Big Data Analytics with Python at the AIMS Cameroon Teachers Training Program (TTP) Lab, Yaoundé, Cameroon.

“Attending this short course was a learning opportunity for young Africans like myself as the training also allows us to connect and interact with other people. Together we were able to discuss ideas and find ways for intellectual development aimed at strengthening our ability to make a significant contribution to the development of our community. I am grateful to all the partners of this training program including AIMS Cameroon, IDRC, the Work Bank Group for making this session more hands-on and interactive.”
Photo: Faith Mpara
Faith Mpara
Representative of Participants

In today’s digital world, the use of emerging technologies has become a day-to-day business requirement be it in public or private organizations. In particular, the application of Big Data promises to improve government service delivery, complement official statistics, and facilitate development in sectors such as education, health, urban development, transportation, and humanitarian relief services. While there is a significant need for Big Data analysis in different fields and industries, lack of human capital and equipment to conduct Big Data analysis is a serious hindrance to Africa’s ability to use data science and analytics for purposes of human development, business and governance. A question of our interest here is: How would you accelerate technological and data-driven innovation in Africa? Regardless of how you answer this question, we bet that there will be a human dimension involved in your solution. We share a pan-African approach to enhancing the digital skills of young Africans in the field of big data. To make a bigger impact in this space, it is important to join efforts with various capacity development initiatives such as the Microsoft 4Afrika initiative.

The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) is a pan-African network of centres of excellence for post-graduate training, research and public engagement in mathematical sciences. AIMS aspires to enable Africa’s brightest students to flourish as independent thinkers, problem solvers and innovators capable of propelling Africa’s future scientific, educational and economic self-sufficiency.

Through its Industry Initiative, AIMS leveraged the support of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) to initiate a Big Data for Development Short Course Program (BD4D-SCP) with the goal to boost capacity in data science, particularly, big data analytics. With additional support from the World Bank Group and relationalAI (a US-based Artificial Intelligence company), a series of short courses have been rolled out across AIMS centres of excellence in Africa. These short courses continue to boost AIMS capacity development objectives that include increasing the number of data scientists in Africa and providing a platform for practitioners to interact, work on innovative development solutions, collaborate and exchange ideas.

“We are happy to work with partners like AIMS, trying to build a community of people who understand what Big Data is and how we can use it to meet the Sustainable Development Goals and reach that last mile to reach people who might not have access to certain services. When we approach Big Data, we need a critical perspective, because it can do a lot of things, but we need to make sure that we are not just re-creating the world that we see in front of us today. We need to make sure that we are using Big Data in a way that expands inclusion in society, in banking services, in access to food security. We need to bring our critical perspectives to bear.”
Dr. Kathryn Toure
Dr Kathryn Toure
IDRC Regional Director, Nairobi-Kenya

Due to space limitations, over 48 professionals in Rwanda, including 22 women, took part in the inaugural short-course in March 2019 under the AIMS BD4D-SCP, titled: “Big Data Analytics with Python (BDAWP)” delivered in collaboration with the World Bank at AIMS Rwanda in Kigali. The participants represented 31 institutions across 13 business sectors including Agriculture, Development and Humanitarian Services, Education, Energy, Finance, Geographic Information Systems, Health, ICT, Insurance, Meteorology, Statistics, Tax Administration and Telecommunication. The training was led by Dr Dunstan Matekenya, a Data Scientist with the World Bank.

“The best part about delivering the Big Data short course in Rwanda, Senegal and Cameroon was seeing the tremendous enthusiasm and willingness to learn shown by the participants: I could see that these young men and women are literally hungry for knowledge. This not only made my job very easy but also gave me the motivation to keep this collaboration with AIMS and bring in more partners to continue these kinds of training in Africa.”
Photo: Dunstan Matekenya
Dr Dunstan Matekenya
Data Scientist, World Bank Group

The five-day BDAWP course took a practical approach to equip participants with the most essential tools in the shortest possible time; the course emphasized learning by doing through several assignments that gave participants ample time to practice. A series of additional training sessions were conducted in Dakar, Senegal (July 2019) and Yaounde, Cameroon (February 2020). The BDAWP training demonstrated that there is a high demand for industry-driven training for emerging young African professionals who are keen on building their capacities in emerging technologies in a much more practical and cost-effective way.

While the funding for this initiative ended on April 30th, 2020, the demand for training in machine learning, data science, and big data analytics is still very high in Africa, with overwhelming numbers of students interested in the courses. Furthermore, the training and innovation challenges were not done in other countries within the AIMS network and beyond. In this regard, the team is keen and committed to scaling up these capacity-building efforts to more countries and more people in Africa. To this end, AIMS and the World Bank Group are actively looking for interested sponsors and partners to support the scaling up of this innovative and important capacity building program on the continent. This includes funding for the core program as well as sponsorship and seed funding for the innovation competitions and mentors for the young teams.

Authors

Dunstan Matekenya

Data Scientist, World Bank

Charles Lebon Mberi Kimpolo

Director of the Industry Initiative, Global Network Secretariat of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences – Next Einstein Initiative (AIMS-NEI)

Trevor Monroe

Program Manager with the Analytics and Tools unit. Development Economics Data Group at the World Bank

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