31 January 2018

Rwanda: 45 to Compete for U.S.$25,000 Innovation Award

At least 45 local technology innovators and data scientists were selected to compete for the second edition of DataHack for Financial Inclusion (DataHack4Fi), an innovation competition aimed at encouraging finance, technology and data enthusiasts to address challenges associated with business and financial sectors.

This was revealed by the organisers yesterday during a one-day workshop in Kigali.

The competition organised by 'Insight 2 Impact' in partnership with the Private Sector Federation's ICT chamber will see winners bag cash awards worth $25,000 (Rwf 21.2 million)

Those who were selected will undergo a series of online training in data science and other technology related courses after which 25 finalists will compete with other finalists from six countries.

Organisers highlighted that all DataHack4FI finalists will meet at the grand finale which is expected to take place in Kigali in May.

"The idea is to create a generation of innovators who can create solutions that address business challenges, and financial needs of low-income communities particularly women and youth using data and analytics," Nkosinathi Ncube, the head of Application Lab at 'Insight 2 Impact' told The New Times.

Unlike the first competition where organisers were looking for idea-stage innovations, this year's edition targeted tech innovators whose companies are at operation stage, as well as data scientists with relevant qualification in programming, statistics and math.

Ncube said that the decision to select those who have their innovations running is because they believe their impact would be bigger, and that scaling them would be easier than those at the idea stage.

Overall, organisers want to tap into the potential of data, which is clearly underlined under this year's competition theme; 'Unlock Your Data's Potential. Usage of data is important in driving decisions, Ncube noted.

Today, thousands of companies and governments across the world rely on collecting data, analysing it, and storing and processing it to inform decisions and policies.

Robert Ford, the vice chairman of the ICT chamber emphasised that supporting companies whose innovations are tapping into data can harness the data revolution, which Africa and the world is currently relying on to drive development.

But Ford thinks that the government and regulators are making it hard for companies building solutions to access data, citing an example of a company that has been building a platform that would help to integrate all payment systems to leverage data through data mining and inform people on their spending partners.

"But when he took this innovation to the regulators, they asked him to deposit millions of money yet he probably needs 10 per cent of that money to be successful. We need to review current policies and structures," he said.

Rwanda passed a data revolution policy last year, which would focus on building big data and analytics capabilities to derive insights that contribute to enormous social-economic development.

The country is also home to African Centre of Excellence for Teaching and Learning Mathematics and Science (ACEITLMS) located at College of Education, and the African Centre of Excellence for Data Sciences (ACE-DS), located at College of Business and Economics.

Alexis Kabeja, the chief executive officer of Liquid Telecom argues that promoting data innovations and raising awareness around data, building infrastructure that can enable countries collect, store and process data is critical.

"Data has become an important factor in running our economies and businesses. But infrastructure like data centres are very critical in realising the potential of data," he said.

The government through the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR) is, however, building a multimillion data collection structure.

The building is expected to be completed next year and will accommodate a data science campus and training center that will be run with stakeholders to put in place legal aspects and infrastructure information sharing systems.

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