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CongoBrazzaville - Mberi Kimpolo, Charles LebonIn our mission to find the Next Einstein, whom we believe will be an African, we need to diversify our agenda in terms of the skills set that young Africans need – The Next Einstein will be a scientist with great tech skills.  

As a great believer of a convergence of science, technology and humanity, I believe our Next Einstein Forum (NEF) ambassadors network should encourage cross-sector and background thinking in order to achieve its objectives and make a bigger impact. Young African leaders from diverse backgrounds must come and work together towards a common purpose – to find solutions to African problems.

Technology plays a key role in driving positive change that is required to address challenges that Africa in particular and the world at large face. We witness how technology is shaping the face of tomorrow’s world with initiatives like smart cities. Through amazing progress in technology, everything is becoming smart – What about people who will live in tomorrow’s smart cities, shouldn’t we help everyone be smart?

I am privileged to work for an international technology firm, ThoughtWorks, whose core mission is to run a sustainable business, deliver quality software and make the world a better place. ThoughtWorks provides me with opportunities to travel around the world and have global perspectives on a number of problems that Africa faces. It is important to share my technical perspectives and contribute in platforms like NEF to propose solutions for these problems. As NEF ambassadors, we can leverage the AIMS programme to promote STEM programmes across Africa and make accessible quality education a reality for the whole African youth, especially those from underprivileged communities.

In this article, I share my experience and learnings from my professional journey and recent stay in India, which the main goal was to learn new skills, gain more experience and return to Africa to contribute to its development.

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I have been a careful observer and learner in identifying things that work in India and that Africa can learn from, as the two communities have many things in common. Progress made in the Indian tech sector, its impact and how this is used to improve their society is a great learning experience.

I learned that the African student diaspora in India is as large as around 100,000 students. Young men and women who left their families are hungry for knowledge and passionate about quality education, which in my opinion is key for today’s youth to plan for a better future. I was inspired to see that many of them were ready to sacrifice for knowledge and better education. In solidarity with them, and learning from the difficult experiences they encountered, we launched the Knowledge Sharing Campaign (KSC) to support them.

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Brutal Mob Attack On Three Helpless African Students in Delhi, India

I had some experience launching the Young African Technologists (YAT) prior to moving to India. I believe that Africa must develop a produced-in-Africa strategy for Information Technology. Young Africans need role models to inspire the next generation of engineers. Both YAT and KSC aim to empower the youth so that they can make a positive impact in their respective communities and Africa at large. We believe this can be achieved by exposing young people to technology innovations and promoting career opportunities within the technology sector.

KSC is driven by a remembrance of our roots, awareness of our current privileges, and acknowledging how sharing stories of our personal journey can inspire more people, especially make an impact in the lives of African youth. The key principles that govern KSC are derived from the following.

  • “In Africa, when an old man dies, it’s a library burning” – Amadou Hampâté Bâ
  • “The best way to value our knowledge is to share it and appreciate feedback” – Charles Kimpolo

We shape KSC’s key objectives in a way that ensures we respond to students’ specific challenges as we learn from their backgrounds and skills prior to joining the program. KSC mainstream program focuses on developing skills using Agile Practices, learning to use open source technologies and building awareness for social and economic issues. Communication and presentation skills are developed using the Pecha Kucha framework. Agile is one of the better ways of developing and delivering quality software. We teach students key Agiles principles and how their implementation makes a team more productive. Students work in an Agile project structure, we encourage each of them to choose and play one of the following roles: Developer, Quality Analyst (QA), UI/UX, Business Analyst (BA), based on their specific backgrounds and interest. Through hands-on project experience, KSC interns recognised why more emphasis is made on individuals and interactions as opposed to processes and tools. They understand that having a working piece of software is more important than a beautiful documentation. We demonstrate the value of customer collaboration and why it is more important to contract negotiation. Working as a team, they appreciate how being ready to respond to change is more important than blindly following a plan.

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KSC interns in the first group developed an online bus ticketing platform. Students learned HTML, CSS, Javascript, Python and Django as the project tech stack. This video showcases their journey and their learnings from the sessions. In the second group, students built the KSC website (which is still work in progress), which aims to provide a central portal for information and knowledge sharing. Students learned HTML, CSS, Coffeescript, Python supported by Flask. In this video students share their experiences.

At the end of each internship program, every KSC intern starts on her or his own journey, armed with new skills and desire to go back home and help develop their respective communities. Each intern now has a series of new accounts for online applications, including Trello, GitHub, Fuze, Stack, which enable them to work as a team. More importantly, these help them contribute to online content, which traditionally in the past, had limited African contribution. KSC’s Github open source repository is a great counter-example.

As shown in the above KSC reach map, in a few months KSC has engaged and positively touched the lives of hundreds of young African students covering over 50% of African countries, out of which 40% were women. We hope that these numbers can quickly scale. We wish to replicate this experiment in other parts of the world where we know there are many African students with similar, if not tougher, challenges.

KSC interns who completed their studies went back home and are sharing their skills. We have for example, Senait Miheretu from Ethiopia, Oundo Victoria from Uganda and Roanny Onanga from Congo-Brazzaville who are all proud to call themselves KSC ambassadors and participate in the development of their societies. Roanny is now running a series of KSC workshops (in French) in Brazzaville. He is in the process of starting his own company, Ortech-Congo, which will provide IT consulting services.

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The pride that these students have to call themselves KSC ambassadors, having a means and will to give back to their communities is inspirational. If you are still wondering why KSC made us believe that knowledge is the power that liberates one from the prison of ignorance and changes our lives in a way that makes us ready to make a difference in our society, watch this video.

For more information, contact a ThoughtWorks office or email us at knowledge-sharing-campaign@thoughtworks.com.

Dr. Charles Lebon Mberi Kimpolo, the NEF Ambassador for the Republic of Congo, has expertise in Data Analysis based on his background in Computational and Applied Mathematics. Charles joined the Strategic Planning Division of Wits University as a specialized expert in the field of Data Analysis and Research. He has experience in building tools to manage strategic planning, and in monitoring and evaluation processes. Charles has hands-on experience in Agile software development, delivery, consulting, and client engagement. Charles has been involved in all aspects of software delivery including requirements gathering, conceptualization, development, testing and deployment using the continuous development and continuous integration approaches. Charles is the Founder of the Knowledge Sharing Campaign (KSC), a community platform that brings together IT professionals and students in the African Diaspora, who want to share knowledge and experience with each other. KSC is “driven by remembering our roots, acknowledging current privileges, promoting excellence in education through technology and motivating bright minded African students to return to their respective home countries to contribute to the development of their societies.”