Europe and Africa link up on ICT research

November 27, 2012

David Dickson

David Dickson
Correspondent, SciDev.Net

No-one doubts that information and communication technologies (ICTs) make a substantial contribution to development, even in the poorest countries.

Indeed, many have suggested that such technologies are helping developing countries to leap-frog the earlier stages of industrial transformation that the so-called developed countries have each had to pass through, offering a quick route to social and economic development.

But developing countries, particularly those with a weak research and development base – as is the case in most of Africa – will not be able to achieve this on their own. They need support and assistance from countries that already have high level of ICT skills.

For the next two days (28 and 29 November) more than 200 ICT experts and stakeholders will be attending  the ‘2012 Africa-EU Cooperation Forum on ICT’, being held in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon.

The meeting aims to strengthen and support the development of cooperation on ICT research and ICT for Development (ICT4D) between Africa and Europe.

Those participating will include policy and decision makers, heads of stakeholder institutions and international organisations, and academics from both Africa and Europe. Topics to be covered range from e-learning infrastructures, to what are described as “living labs”.

There will also be an emphasis on how ICTs can help Europe and Africa collaborate more closely in research. In particular, on the first day of the forum, (28 November), the AfricaConnect project, which has featured in regularly our news columns (see for example, here), will be formally launched in Europe.

I will be attending the forum and posting regular blogs describing some of the main presentations and workshop discussions. And hopefully I will be able to pick up some broader information about future funding for research in developing countries in the EU budget. It promises to be a fascinating meeting.

This blog post is part of our 2012 Africa-EU Cooperation Forum on ICT blog, which takes place 28-29 November 2012, in Lisbon, Portugal. To read news and analysis on ICTs please visit our website.

Q&A with the winner of the Aid Innovation Challenge

October 26, 2012

Mićo Tatalović

Mićo Tatalović
News editor, SciDev.Net

Before AidEx2012 closed yesterday, I caught up with Divyesh Thakkar, an international partner with the SUNLITE project, who enthusiastically presented the solar lantern here on the first day, which won the Aid Innovation Challenge award. We spoke about the importance of local innovation,  and his advice to other innovators as well as to aid and development agencies.

Why is local innovation important?

It basically does what people need rather than what they want. It’s very important to actually target a product to be produced, which is going to make a real change to people’s lives, rather than make a product and sell it to them and say that this is going to change their lives.

It’s got to be, like I said, a natural process so people see the benefits of using it rather than actually saying ‘If you use this you will see the benefits’. You know what I mean?

[By developing these products in the countries that need them helps in this] you get feedback from the people on the ground; you are actually interacting with them.  If a large company does this and if there is not that communication, you don’t have a picture of what people on the ground really feel. You don’t understand the needs. They [the companies] go: ‘If we develop this, this will work for them’ – this is how people tend to do it. That is also important. But it’s important that you address what they [the people] really need: that is a very important concept in the field of development.

What would be your message to other potential innovators? What do they need to succeed?

You need to have continuous scanning. You have to be out on the field seeing what people are using, how they are using it, when they are using it, what they are using it for. Make it sustainable, so they can manage it, they can maintain it, they can use it, they can repair it. By interacting with these people, then you can put your ideas to the scientists or the innovators to develop something and then send it back to them, to the people, and say ‘Now guys, use this’. It must be of good quality, it must be affordable, and it must be something, basically, a streamlined process. So they don’t see a big difference, because anything new, people are quite reluctant to change.

Your solar lantern is very similar to traditional kerosene lanterns.

Yes, so, people didn’t see that much of a difference, and they can relate to it. It’s only a few things that need to be done.

What would be your message to big development agencies and aid funders with regards to local innovation?

Give us a chance of an audience and we can show you what we can do.  Because if you talk to us, we can actually bring in ideas, or projects, or products which will really suit your needs and save you a lot of money, it will also make a difference to the way you work and for the people you’re helping.

Do you think there many such innovators out there already?

There are so many people, as you can see here at AidEx, who are trying to bring their product to market. The aid agencies also are also very restricted with the money they have: there are a lot of ways that you can actually bring these things together. You need a forum, you need to get these innovators together, ideas together, because sometimes us innovators, we can actually share synergies and develop something which is very good for the betterment of mankind.

This blog post is part of our blog on AidEx2012, which takes place on 24-25 October 2012 in Brussels.

AidEx2012: innovation highlights from day two

October 25, 2012

Mićo Tatalović

Mićo Tatalović
News editor, SciDev.Net

Earth House Systems‘ Earth House Frame is a Finnish design for affordable, earthquake-resistant, housing after emergencies or in developing country settings, which can be put up without special tools or professional workforce. It consists of a metal frame which can then be filled in with locally-available materials: wood, mud, or whatever is available. House can last for more than twenty years.

The costs for India would be around 1,500 Euros per house, which means that with government benefits and microfinancing schemes people could have this house for as little as US$15 a month, according to Sami Juola, chief executive officer of the company. The company says its solution “is an ecological, safer alternative to tents and disposable temporary first aid and transitional shelters”.

Two innovations with mosquito nets; from India, MAGNet, a long-lasting insecticidal net in which the insecticide is impregnated into the filaments themselves, rather than being coated or treated on the surface of the net. The manufacturer, V.K.A. Polymers from Tamil Nadu, India, is now developing other innovative anti-mosquito products based on local plants and indigenous knowledge.

Meanwhile, Danish Bestnet is making mosquito nets more fashionable, adding coloured patterns on their Net protect range. Apart from making them more attractive to use, this technology could also be used to print instructions and educational materials on the nets; as well as branding information and logos, which may allow private businesses to pay for production and distribution of mosquito nets out of their marketing funds.

And apart from the new ideas, there are several solutions that have been around for a while, but can still be scaled-up to help more people. One of these is the Hippo Water Roller Project from South Africa. It allows people in tough rural conditions to transport water more easily – instead on their heads, as it usually done – they can push or pull a rolling barell of water on the ground, using a handle attached to it. The barrel contains 90 litres of water (equivalent to four buckets carried on the head) but weighs effectively only 10 kilogrammes when transported in this way. Some 42,000 of these have already been distributed to 17 African countries, where they are estimated to be helping 300,000 people.

This blog post is part of our blog on AidEx2012, which takes place on 24-25 October 2012 in Brussels.

Indian solar lantern wins aid innovation challenge

October 25, 2012

Mićo Tatalović

Mićo Tatalović
News editor, SciDev.Net

An innovation fully invented, developed and produced in India has won the AidEx Innovation Challenge award. The award was announced yesterday (24 October) by a panel of three judges, all innovators themselves.

The lamp was the product of a brainstorming session followed by two years of research and development, including field testing the lamp in India, Divyesh Thakkar, a partner with the Sunlite project that developed the lamp, told SciDev.Net.

The solar lantern resembles and is meant to replace a common kerosene lantern, which is costly, dangerous (burns and fumes) and harmful to the environment (carbon dioxide emissions). The solar lamp is cheap (no need for fuels – it is powered by sunlight) and does not emit any gases. It is also extremely robust – as demonstrated by throwing it on the floor with no visible damage.

Solar lantern (Credit: Sunlite Solar)

One of the judges, Michael Pritchard, inventor and chairman of LifeSaver Systems, said the lamp was “really innovative, with lots of great, thought-through features”.It wasn’t an easy job for the judges, as the other shortlisted innovations presented at the awards ceremony were equally appealing: the first foldable tap stand (FASTAP); a thirst aid bag; and portable solar lights.

The FASTAP, currently being tested in Ethiopia, takes under a minute to assemble on site, and provides six easy-to-use taps to connect to local water sources, each capable of handling 20 liters of water in under three minutes. It has been designed to minimise the risk of infection. For example, compared to traditional taps in use it reduces drinking water’s contact with hands and the opening on the water container, both of which may contain dirt and bacteria.

The thirst aid bag has a large opening on one side – so even a person in distress after an emergency can easily fill it – which closes with a Velcro mechanism, and an opening for drinking on the other side. The filter removes microorganisms and chemicals (such a pesticides in case of a flood): as was demonstrated at the awards ceremony by filling it with a black mixture of horse manure and giving the water filtered in seconds to the judges and the audience. A single filter will last a family of four for one month of use: it will filter around 1,000 litres of water at a cost of some 3 pence per litre.

Commenting on the shortlisted innovators at the award ceremony, Trevor Baylis, inventor of the wind-up radio, said: “These people have got the guts to get off their back and do something”.

This blog post is part of our blog on AidEx2012, which takes place on 24-25 October 2012 in Brussels.

Theft and ‘shipability’: two important factors in aid product design

October 25, 2012

Mićo Tatalović

Mićo Tatalović
News editor, SciDev.Net

When discussing inventions and innovations it’s easy to focus only on the actual end use of the product, but it is evident here at AidEx2012 that innovators have other things on their minds, too, when designing new humanitarian products.

Products such as portable solar lamps are likely to be stolen in a humanitarian disaster setting. Although innovators try to keep the costs down, the final product can still be sold at a profit, so some innovators have included features to avoid theft.

For example, the award-winning portable LED lantern, JS30 MOB, from India has a hatch specifically designed to allow users to lock it up: tampering with the hatch will destroy the whole lamp, rendering it useless. Similarly, Solar Muscle a small, sturdy solar-powered LED light,  shortlisted for the best innovation challenge award at Aidex, has four small holes that allow it to be tethered to a wire or a wall preventing theft.

‘Shipability’ seems an even more important consideration for innovators: halving the weight of a shelter tent halves its transport costs – which may mean a difference in thousands if not millions of pounds which can then be spent on something else.

This is also a key advantage of Thirst Aid Bag, an innovation developed by UK-based Pure Hydration, and shortlisted at the Aid Innovation Challenge: it purifies water just as well as many similar products out there, but its flat surface (before filling) means agencies can pack a thousand packs in a single pallet, which can provide the equivalent of one million bottles of water, according to its representative who presented it here.

Similarly, Solar Muscle solar lights look like small tiles, 9 x 9 x 2.5 cm and weighing only 120 g, which means thousands can be packed in a single truck, cutting transport costs and carbon footprint; and LIFESAVER jerry cans that purify water have just been redesigned to look like cubes so they can be packed more compactly for transport.

So next time you see an aid invention, ask yourself how easy it would be to transport and keep safe in a field setting.

This blog post is part of our blog on AidEx2012, which takes place on 24-25 October 2012 in Brussels.

Innovations and new designs for aid

October 24, 2012

Mićo Tatalović

Mićo Tatalović
News editor, SciDev.Net

It’s been an exciting morning here at AidEx2012, lively with lots of innovations and sales people keen to talk about their products (but also a few grumpy ones who don’t seem too keen to speak to media and appear to be here purely to make sales).

Here’s my list of some of the more intriguing innovations exhibited here.

LIFESAVER jerry cans that people can use to purify surface water: in an emergency, one can just fill the can with dirty water and it gets purified with all bacteria and viruses removed. A can will last for up to five years providing clean water for around 0.013 US cents a litre. A new, more compact design is being presented here, which can save space in transporting.

Huginn X1 drone, produced by Skywatch, is a unmanned flying vehicle with an installed camera. It can be used to transmit video and images in real time from a disaster zone back to rescuers who can then better plan the emergency response. It is designed to be used after only few minutes of training and by people with little technical knowledge; and its small size, speed and precise navigation system make it a “perfect tool for reaching otherwise inaccessible or dangerous areas”.

Compressed Earth Block Machines, produced by Leading Edge Group from the United States, is a petrol-powered machine that takes mud and soil and turns it into bricks for buildings. The machine can also provide business opportunities as the buyer could use it to make and then sell on their own bricks, which test better than industry standards, according to the company representatives here. The machine will make around 960 bricks per hour which can be built directly into the buildings on site.

Bubble Pure Air, created by a Spanish company ZONAIR3D, is an airtight bubble that provides sterile environment for medical operations in natural disasters or humanitarian emergency settings. It is an inflatable and easily transported unit (weighing around 100 kilogrammes) ready to be used in ten minutes. The aim is to reduce infections, and the unit is already in use in Brazil, Cuba, Mexico and South Africa.

This blog post is part of our blog on AidEx2012, which takes place on 24-25 October 2012 in Brussels.

AidEx2012: Innovating for humanitarian aid and development

October 23, 2012

Mićo Tatalović

Mićo Tatalović
News editor, SciDev.Net

This week sees AidEx2012: The Global Humanitarian & Development Aid Event billed as the “only event of its kind” in Europe for buyers and suppliers, taking place in Brussels, Belgium (24–25 October).

The event has sponsored the attendance of local innovators and aid suppliers from Sub-Saharan African and South-East Asian countries, including Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nepal, the Philippines, and Togo.

AidEx is giving an Aid Innovation Challenge award to one of four shortlisted new ideas for products and services for the humanitarian aid and development sector. Shortlisted ideas include a portable solar lantern and a water bag with built-in purifier.

It will also give a Humanitarian Hero Award. Two of the four shortlisted candidates are from Kenya: Evans Wadongo, executive director of an NGO called Sustainable Development For All who has “developed a simple solar lamp mostly from recycled materials, that is changing lives in Africa”; and Abbas Gullet, secretary general of the Kenya Red Cross, whose “timely interventions and leadership” have made his organisation a national and international success.

I will try to catch up with some of these innovators and report on goings-on here, building on our recent coverage of the concerns that some of the exhibitors had, when they cited a need for better links between the aid and science communities, and to promote innovation in conflict relief.

And it will be interesting to see if any of the themes from last week’s European Development Days remerge.

But it will be busy: apart from the exhibition featuring more than 200 suppliers, there are concurrent practical workshops on issues such as the “use of modern technology to support effective humanitarian delivery” and “recent innovations in aid”, as well as a conference discussing issues such as “new models of aid delivery” and “social media and aid”.

This blog post is part of our blog on AidEx2012, which takes place on 24-25 October 2012 in Brussels.

Misconceptions in science journalism: African experience

September 21, 2012

Aregu Balleh

Aregu Balleh
Correspondent, SciDev.Net


It is not uncommon to find people from the media, including novice science journalists with misconceptions about science journalism. A misconception which is all too common in this respect is that science journalism is a branch of journalism which aims to communicate hard and complex topics in a way that the scientific world can understand them. As a matter of fact, this is where the major problem of communicating science emanates from.

Despite its own distinctive features, the ultimate purpose of science journalism should be nothing less than packaging messages from the science and technology world in a simple and understandable manner for the consumption of the common audience.

Therefore, science journalism targets the masses, and not just scientists who can understand scientific jargon.

“Messages should be correctly packaged to suit the audience, taking into account their knowledge base and the intended outcome of the communication,” Ochieng Ogodo, SciDev.Net Sub-Saharan Africa News Editor told science journalists in Addis Ababa to discuss ways on how to make science and technology information  more accessible for African  development.

Many scientific topics are complex in nature and can only be understood by people in the scientific world.  So, it requires breaking down the information embodied in science, in a suitable and professional manner, to communicate it to a broader audience. This is where the role of the science journalist becomes vital.

“The role of scientific journalism is to educate the masses so that they can make informed choices, or are made aware of preventive strategies,” said Ogodo.

The existing reality in Africa shows that science remains under-communicated due to a number of reasons, of which, the most important is that many scientific works are published in technical language that can only be understood by few.

Giving a specific reference to Kenya’s  experience, Ogodo  described  the existing gap in science  communication: “many feel distanced from the secret world of science feeling like the scientists are ‘them’ and  those who don’t do science are ‘the rest of us'”.

Therefore, messages packaged by science journalists should not only be simple and understandable but should also take into account the fact they can affect the lives of many. Science journalism also goes beyond the public domain to affect policy.

The best science story based on the criteria of the World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ), is one that can result in the change of policy or political action, Esther Nakkazi, freelance science journalist  and  WFSJ mentor explained.

This blog post is part of our Making Science and Technology Information More Accessible for Africa’s Development blog, which takes place 19-20 September 2012, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. To read news and analysis on science journalism please visit our website.

Awakening the innovating giant in Africa

September 21, 2012


Esther Nakkazi
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net


Awakening the giant within is what two funds, the Rwanda Innovation Endowment Fund (RIEF) and the Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA), intend to do for African innovators.

With support from President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, who is a great fan of information technologies (IT), the RIEF is a sure way for any enterprising individuals, students, researchers or youth in Rwanda to commercialise their innovations and get marketing experience.

Didier Habimana, from the UN Economic Commission for Africa’s Sub-Regional Office for Eastern Africa (SRO-EA) told a meeting on ‘Making Science and Technology Information More Accessible for Africa’s Development’ in Addis Ababa this morning that each successful project will have availed to it up to US$50,000 and up to 5–10 projects will be funded.

RIEF’s priority funding areas for now are agriculture, manufacturing and ICT. Basically the winning innovators will get financing for their ideas or products, mentoring and professional advice; they will be matched, build teams and gain entrepreneurial experience.

“We are convinced that great companies will come out of this initiative,” said Habimana. This initiative was started this year and is supported by the Government of Rwanda officially launched in partnership with the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and One UN Rwanda.

Ms. Aida Opoku-Mensah, Director of ICT, Science & Technology Division at ECA has since said that, “supporting innovators, protecting their knowledge and commercializing their innovations is the essence of the RIEF”. So go on and make that application today.

Or you can also apply for the 2013 Innovation Prize for Africa now running for the second year. The concept is almost the same but I like the fact that its tagline is “the future we innovate” meaning that there is a belief that the best way of predicting the future is to create it.

According to Eskedar Nega, Programme Officer UNECA/ISTD who was speaking at the same forum, IPA is an invitation to link arms, use our potential, create efficiencies and commercialize the best ideas. “This is the future Africa deserves — a future we innovate,” says Nega.

It is a different approach to African innovations since most of them languish in laboratories due to lack of funding to commercialise them.

IPA is focused on five critical sectors: agriculture and agribusiness; ICT applications; health & wellbeing; manufacturing & services; energy, environment and water.

The winner takes home US$100,000. The second prize is US$25,000 and the third which is a special prize for social impact innovation is US$25,000. The deadline for the 2013 prize is October 31st so go on and apply now.

This blog post is part of our Making Science and Technology Information More Accessible for Africa’s Development blog, which takes place 19-20 September 2012, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. To read news and analysis on science journalism please visit our website.

Africa yet to harness the power of the media for its science development

September 20, 2012

Aregu Balleh

Aregu Balleh
Freelancer, SciDev.Net

The workshop organizers picked a theme which is so crucial but often overlooked —making science and technology information more accessible for Africa’s development.

Yesterday  there seemed to be a growing consensus that in Africa communication gap remains to be one of the greatest factors impediment to the advancement  of science, technology and innovation  as a sector and limiting  its contribution to development.

Speaking at the workshop founder and former director of SciDev.Net,  David Dickson, explained (citing studies) that lack of dissemination of research findings is the third major obstacle to uptake of scientific information in development policymaking, following low scientific understanding of policymakers  and limited openness of politicians.

“The communication of accurate and accessible information about science to both policymakers and the wider community is essential in two major ways: to achieve inclusive social and economic development, and to ensure adequate and continued support for scientific research,” Dickson noted.

By way of addressing  the needs of both policymakers and the general public, the  media  play an essential role in providing the conditions in which a knowledge society can flourish.

As Africa moves ahead towards attaining sustainable development —  aided and  driven by science, technology and innovation —  the role of  the media in communicating such development to the public will remain vitally important.

Such essential role of the media is now already being recognized in Africa, according to Dickson.

“The demand for improved science communication and for improved science communication skills is increasing rapidly across the developing world, and in particular across Africa,” Dickson said.

Nevertheless science journalism in the developing world is still grappling with various challenges.

Lack of openness on the scientific world; lack of professional capacity of journalists; and lack of capacity of media editors represent few of the major challenge being faced in communicating science. Science journalists’ role as science communicators — when they get it all wrong —will be dangerous for they will fail to be critical and instead end up doing a public relation work for the scientist or the research organization.

And the consequences of such mistakes will be more grave with science reporting  than in other areas of journalism.

SciDev.Net Sub-Saharan Africa News Editor, Ochieng’ Ogodo stressed that investment in the professional development of  science journalists in Africa is a key to addressing media professionals’ capacity needs on science,  technology and innovation reporting.

The role the media should play can be summed up into three major areas, Dickson concluded:  to provide accurate and accessible information; to provide platform for debate; and to act as a protector of the public interest.

This blog post is part of our Making Science and Technology Information More Accessible for Africa’s Development blog, which takes place 19-20 September 2012, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. To read news and analysis on science journalism please visit our website.

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