Funding young innovators key to Africa’s development

Schoolchildren experiment with a  candle
Copyright: Moses Michael-Phiri

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  • Forum calls for need to fund African youth to aid innovations
  • As the youth mature, they could innovate more to aid development
  • African governments and the private sector urged to help fund science initiatives

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[LILONGWE, MALAWI] Harnessing science, technology and innovation among the youth holds key to Africa’s economic development and unlocking challenges such as youth unemployment, a forum has heard.

Experts at the Africa Science Week held last month (27-30 June) in Malawi said that if science is to have the impact needed, its funding must be flexible to back young innovators.

The forum which was hosted by Malawi’s technology and innovation incubator, mHub, noted that while funding challenges remain, investing in mathematics is key in developing a scientifically literate society.

“As their scientific minds mature, the youth can apply and validate their ideas.”

Rachel Sibande, mHub

The forum urged African governments, private firms and nongovernmental organisations to help fill the gap in funding science initiatives.

Organised by science stakeholders under the Next Einstein Forum (NEF), an initiative of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, the meeting brought together experts from Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe to discuss best practices for attracting and retaining young people, especially girls and women in the sciences, according to Thierry Zomahoun, AIMS president and NEF chairperson.

Rachel Sibande, a Malawian technology expert, and founder of mHub, explained that by influencing the youth to embrace science, they can use new technologies such as drones and the internet quicker to innovate solutions that communities, especially farmers, can use to boost productivity and improve efficiency.

“As their scientific minds mature, the youth can apply and validate their ideas in the community,” said Sibande.

Anthony Muyepa-Phiri, the director-general of the National Commission for Science and Technology, noted that innovations created by the youth could revolutionise the African continent. “Tech discoveries by the youth who are interested in developing games using scratch and coding mobile apps, hardware programming and digital media can go a long way in providing solutions to day-to-day challenges,” Muyepa-Phiri explained.

To demonstrate the critical impact of science on society, an inventor, Zack Salawe Mwale, 26, tested an energy-efficient machine, which can cook nsima — a local food made from maize.

He explained that the invention could save forests because millions of Africans still use firewood to prepare food.

 “It took me three years of experimenting until in 2015, when I made a breakthrough. Today, at the command of SMS [short messaging service] from a mobile phone, my product cooks nsima,” said Mwale, who dropped out of college as an electrical and electronics student at the University of Malawi’s Polytechnic in 2012 and pursued the nsima cooker project.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.