Nigeria was jubilant recently when five Nigerian high-school girls were announced world champions at a tech competition in the US. Most importantly, this feat is sure to motivate and awaken a new generation of young tech champions in the country, writes Patrick Egwu.
Five Nigerian teenagers were crowned champions at the World Technovation Challenge in Silicon Valley, San Francisco, USA, winning a prize worth US$10 000. The female students won the junior gold medal after beating competitors and teams from technological giants like the United States and China, as well as Spain, Turkey and Uzbekistan, who were among the 12 finalists in the 115 country-strong competition.
Iridescent, a nonprofit organisation that empowers under-represented young people globally to become innovators and leaders, made the announcement that the two teams that won the top prizes at its 2018 Technovation World Pitch Summit, the world's largest entrepreneurship programme for girls aged 10 to 18, were from India and Nigeria. The two teams were named winners in the senior and junior categories respectively at the Global Innovation Celebration held at San Jose. The celebration was the final event in the week-long World Pitch Summit, to which finalists and visiting teams travelled from around the world for networking, field trips to tech companies and career-building workshops.
The senior category winners, Team Cantavits from India, hope to track and dispose of electronic waste in an eco-friendly manner through its app, Eedo. The app provides an end-to-end connection between e-waste producers and authorised recyclers.
Africa's Golden Girls
The five Nigerian teenagers were selected from 2 000 mobile app developers to represent Africa at the World Pitching Challenge and won the junior title under the team name "Team Save a Soul". They are Promise Nnalue, Jessica Osita, Nwabuaku Ossai, Adaeze Onuigbo and Vivian Okoye, all from Regina Pacis, a high school in Anambra state, South East Nigeria. They are now widely regarded as "Africa's golden girls" after developing an app they named the "FD Detector" (FD stands for "fake drugs"). It helps in the fight against fake and often dangerous pharmaceutical products in their country. The app leverages a drug's barcode to verify its authenticity and expiration date. They also set the record of becoming the first Nigerian teenagers to officially visit Silicon Valley, where they will pitch their winning app to investors.
An annual challenge
Every year, the Technovation Challenge tasks girls in the age group 10 to 18, working in teams of one to five people, with creating and developing an Android mobile app that addresses a problem in their own community. The 2018 World Pitch Summit is the final event, coming after more than seven months of hard work, innovation and problem solving by more than 19 000 girls in 115 countries, supported by more than 5 000 mentors. Finalists were pitching for seed funding and scholarships. More than US$50 000 was awarded across the teams.
Read: Ugandan medical solution wins the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation
As soon as the announcement of the winners was made, Nigerians took to social media to congratulate and celebrate the "golden girls". One of the first to celebrate with them was Vice President Yemi Osibanjo, who, through his Twitter handle, said, "These young ladies, in junior secondary school, developed a mobile application called 'FD Detector' to tackle the problems of fake pharmaceutical products in Nigeria. Congratulations! We are very proud of you."
Under the tutelage of Uchenna Onwuamaegbu-Ugwu, the founder of Edufun Technik, a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education centre, the girls spent five months researching and developing the app before departing for the US for the grand finale.
"This is great news of national pride. These amazing girls spent five months researching and developing the FD Detector app while their mates watched video games or engaged in other things that interest teens their age," said Chinwe Okoli, a manager at Roar Nigeri, a technology-enabled innovation hub. "It shows that young Nigerians have the brains to invent the future we all wish for if given the right opportunity. These girls may not have thought about this if they were not given the chance to learn and be exposed to technology and its benefits."
Okoli went on to say, "This points to what and where the developmental efforts of government should focus on - creating an enabling environment to harness young talent for national development."
The FD Detector, when in full operation, will add to NAFDAC's already existing technological devices, Mobile Authentication System (MAS), Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) system, Black Eye and TruScan, to help in the detection and elimination of fake drugs in the country.
Young Nigerians motivated
The recent achievement of the girls is motivating and challenging young Nigerians to strive for greatness and think outside of the box.
"I am very impressed by their achievement. They have set the pace for others to follow," said Blessing Udeobasi, a student at the University of Nigeria. "I always complain of not having enough time and being too busy to do other things aside from my academics. But these girls have proved me wrong. They were able to devote their time to the rigorous process of writing code for software and programming, despite their busy academic schedule. I am inspired to stop complaining about time and start doing something that will help change society and bring positive change."
Okoli believes the feat recorded by the students will serve as a source of motivation to other students in high school. Most importantly, innovators and tech enthusiasts will be pushed in the direction of ground-breaking discoveries.
"What these girls just did will motivate millions of young people in Nigeria. It shows that in spite of all the challenges we have as a nation, you can still achieve breakthroughs and amazing feats if only you push and dedicate yourself to it," she told This is Africa.
"This is a big motivation for me and other young people, especially those still in high school," said John Chukwu, a communications scholar at the University of Nigeria. "The app they developed will go a long way in addressing so many issues with fake drugs in Nigeria."
Chukwu added that the government needed to invest more in this team of girls to enable them to develop their talent and potential fully. "They should not be left like that, but sponsored to compete in other international competitions such as this as a way of developing their potential and abilities further. Facilities should also be provided for them to upgrade on what they already know."
"The government, investors, companies and organisations should support these girls with scholarships as a way of motivating them, because they won this for Nigeria and Africa. They should also be given all the protection they need, like intellectual property rights. Register them as a company and invite professionals to push them forward," Okoli said.
Industry experts and observers believe that there is 'rising hope' for Nigeria and indeed Africa in building a new generation of young tech experts and techpreneurs whose innovation and ingenuity can spur the continent to greater heights, posing a threat and competition to Western domination in the tech world.
This is coming to fruition, not just with the recent achievements of the five Nigerian girls, but with the overwhelming level of tech strides and tech activities going on in the country and the continent at large.
For example, back in May, four Nigerian pupils from White Sands School, Lekki, Lagos, represented Africa at a tech competition, the Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge in Florida, USA. Here they joined their peers from other parts of the world to develop a marketable and innovative idea that can solve a real-world problem by using science, technology, engineering and mathematics principles. At the end of the competition, the Nigerian team were declared winners in the Smoke-Free World category. The students had developed an app that can help build a relationship between tobacco farmers and companies and, at the same time, encourage the positive and beneficial use of tobacco.
Similarly, a team of three young Nigerians won gold at the 2018 World Adolescent Robotics competition in China. The team, which is made up of a male and two females, had been invited by the China Association of Science and Technology to represent Nigeria at the 18th edition of the event, which focussed on resolving the water problem around the world.
In Nigeria, Summer of Code is sometimes organised to train young people in programming, software and tech designs. Not too long ago, Youth for Technology (YTF) held its annual 3D Africa HackforGood event. Described as "an innovation accelerator for students, entrepreneurs and creatives", it hosted a design and prototyping challenge at the University of Lagos.
The organisers said the goal of the event is to provide African youth with the opportunity to create the world's next best innovation - transforming the mindset and continent's narrative from "Aid to Africa, to Made in Africa."
For three days, 50 young hackers from across Nigeria, comprising students, recent graduates and early-stage entrepreneurs, were given access to cutting-edge technology, mentoring and instruction to develop functional prototypes to address issues in their communities.
The participants, divided into eight teams, conceived ideas and developed prototypes to solve problems in specific sectors - health, agriculture, security and transportation - with the help of a 3D printer. These prototypes were pitched to a jury and judged on the criteria of impact, technology, marketability and collaboration in terms of teamwork and the pitch.
At the end of the event, Team Rex, which created the Smart Pathfinder for the blind, an obstacle detecting device that works with Bluetooth, emerged champions, winning prize money of US$1 500. Team Rex hopes that the device can be modified in the future to include a GPS tracker and be voice automated.
The 3D Africa HackforGood is the only fourth industrial revolution technology platform that is built on a collaboration between the private sector, academia and civil society. This threefold relationship places YTF in a position to deliver hands-on-experience with relevant technology and teach skills linked directly to industry needs and demands.
In this spirit, the girls from Team Save a Soul will be hoping to break more records and set new ones while aspiring to revolutionise the tech world with their future innovations. "Leveraging technology to save lives is our utmost priority," Nigeria's "golden girls" have confirmed.