23 Mar A Brave New West Africa
Unlocking the Potential of An Entire Peoples
[This is the 1st in a series of 6 posts]
February 20th – 22nd was a historic moment for entrepreneurs in Accra, Ghana. What was supposed to be the largest hackathon ever held in West Africa, turned into the largest hackathon ever held on the entire continent. This was a big moment, not only for us at Hack For Big Choices, but for the talented people of West Africa. The turnout was awe-inspiring: 400+ attendees with over 200+ hackers. These numbers may pale in comparison to hackathons held in places like Silicon Valley, but for a region starving for change, it was a significant show of unity and signaled a course for the future of West Africa.
Sub-Saharan Africa is often overlooked as a region for leaps in innovation. Most in the western world lack the awareness of the rapid growth happening there. This was the primary reason why we chose to hold the hackathon in the region. There is a strong economic emergence happening and the world needs to pay attention. Ghana serves as the central hub of activity with high potential for investment growth in young startups looking to shake things up in the world. They just need a little push.
When we put out the call to action to the peoples of West Africa to join the hackathon, we had reasonable expectations to run a solid event. However, when we started hearing that people were spending their entire life savings to travel from far off regions to attend the event, we knew something special was going to happen. We held the event at the headquarters of Hub Accra, our main partner, and we reached far beyond capacity. Participants worked throughout the night and slept in any space they could find on the floor because most could not afford the price of local hostels and hotels. There were severe power outages, but this didn’t deter these future pioneers as they used the light from their laptops and phones to push forward. To witness this was a deeply humbling experience and it served to remind the rest of us how much we take for granted in the western world: the constant stream of power, easy access to water, clean sanitation, prolific internet, and access to education opportunities. These very issues were tackled at the hackathon.
In order to focus the efforts and talents of participants, we presented them with three major issue categories: Design & Technology, Healthcare, and Education. Under these categories, we found there was a particular emphasis on solving food safety, education access in remote regions, health data in action, and pregnancy complications. The pregnancy issue was, ironically, was being tackled by a team of men. The following were the winners under each category.
Design & Technology: SmatGreen. SmatGreen was inspired by the rising demand for a sufficient and stable power supply in the nation and the will to curb fire outbreaks caused by power fluctuations and appliances being left on.
Healthcare: PharmSee. PharmSee is a pharmaceutical search engine which allows users to search for much needed medications and provides the location of the nearest pharmacy which has stock.
Education: Prepa. Prepa bridges the gap between the disparate quality of education that exists between rural and urban areas by creating a common platform for idea sharing and prepares students adequately through exam simulations that can be accessed by anyone across different locations.
The hackathon served as a major signal that there is a great yearning for positive change in Africa and, if given the right opportunity, the people there will tap into endless reserves of potential and produce big impact innovations. They are telling us: Pay attention! We are the next generation of change agents.
[Next up: The talented people of West Africa.]
– Ehb Teng
Community Manager, Hack For Big Choices