Information and stories about technology news.

African Women
One area where the fight against poverty in Africa has had significant support is the continent’s tech industry. As more tech companies and startups move into Africa, the result is an increase in opportunities for Africans to enter the sector as developers and IT experts. In 2020, the number of professional software developers in Africa rose from 690,000 to 716,000, which is due in part to countries like Kenya making it mandatory to teach programming in school. The tech industry continues to provide many amazing opportunities for Africans and African women to rise out of poverty.

However, one group that has not experienced the full positive impact of Africa’s tech industry is women. Today, women make up less than 20% of the digital workforce. Despite making up about 60% of Africa’s workforce, women often find themselves in low-income and labor-intensive jobs such as farming that provide little opportunity for economic and career development. By not being as readily included in Africa’s tech industry, African women – especially those who are in deeper poverty – are at a strong disadvantage.

Thankfully, there are those who realize this discrepancy and are working to provide opportunities for women to enter Africa’s tech industry. Two of these organizations are Mukuru and WeThinkCode, a financial service company and an educational institution, respectively, that recently hosted a hackathon to help female developers show their skills and gain impactful career opportunities.

Opportunities Through Coding

Both institutions have great influence in the sphere of Africa’s digital economy. Mukuru is an innovative money transferral service located in South Africa, while WeThinkCode is an academy that provides top-class coding education to residents of Johannesburg in the Gauteng province. In September 2022, both organizations teamed up to host a woman-only hackathon, to which they invited female students of WeThinkCode and bursary recipients of the Mukuru Education Fund.

A “hackathon” is an event where multiple people get together and work on one or several coding projects over a specific period of time. The goal for this hackathon was for the selected female programmers to create either a financial education or management tool that Mukuru would then use to serve its customers. Designed to allow the attending women to put their coding skills on display, the event helped women win internships and important job shadowing opportunities.

Deidré Vrede, Mukuru’s CSI manager, cited the problem of women in Africa’s tech industry making up less than 20% of the workforce, and how she felt their hackathon was a great step forward in remedying this issue. “Judging by the innovation, skills and creativity on display [at this hackathon], the future of women in IT is bright,” she said. Nyari Sumashonga, the CEO of WeThinkCode, concurred, stating her belief that the young women that participated will be role models for future generations of women wishing to enter the tech industry.

Woman Leading Tech

Mukuru and WeThinkCode’s hackathon serves as a great example of the work occurring to provide African women with opportunities to gain meaningful careers in the tech industry, regardless of their economic status. Providing opportunities for impoverished women to prove their skills and climb the professional ladder will not only help raise them out of poverty but will also be a boon to Africa’s tech industry.

– Elijah Beglyakov
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Rwanda's Innovative Technology
Rwanda is a country located in the Eastern part of Africa that has been on the rise since the 1990s. The country has become a leader in innovation and technology, and it is one of the most innovative countries in Africa. Here are 10 facts about Rwanda’s innovative technology.

10 Things About Rwanda’s Innovative Technology

  • Rwanda’s innovative technology inspires the country to dream of “Made in Africa.” The Mara phone—the first phone in Africa—aims to create high-quality smartphones designed to promote digital inclusion. Using technology to improve the lives of people in Africa, Mara Phones produces high-quality smartphones designed to promote digital inclusion. Founded in 1996 by Ashish Thakkar, Mara Phones is a subsidiary of Mara Group, a dynamic African group with operations in the banking, technology, real estate and infrastructure fields.
  • Rwanda is using its technological potential to move the country from a developed nation to a developed country. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda is intent on turning Rwanda into the technology capital of Africa, like Singapore. For years Kagame has been drawing parallels between the two countries, following in the footsteps of the late Lee Kuan Yew, the man credited with transforming Singapore from a developing world status. Together with his successors, they have experienced global renown as the ‘master builders’ of the 20th century.
  • The Rwandan government has Stellar Ambitions, including a satellite program to help monitor water supply and anticipate natural disasters. In 2019, Rwanda launched its first telecommunications satellite, Rwa-Sat-1. The satellite now collects data from terrestrial sensors to inform the government about agriculture, meteorology, national water resources and disaster risks.
  • Today, Rwanda is part of just 13 African countries that have enacted explicit legislation on e-waste. In 2016, Rwanda’s law cratered common regulations for dealing with outdated electrical devices, as well as assigning duties in this area between the nation’s different organizations. By 2020, the so-called Enviroserve Rwanda Green Par e-waste management plant opened. Enviroserve offers services, such as remodeling, refurbishing and recycling of hardware, e.g. outdated mobiles, computer systems and other appliances. Furthermore, Rwanda has been championing the regional e-waste program of the East African Communications Association (EACO) alongside Burundi, Kenya, South Sudan and Tanzania, according to the World Economic Forum.            
  • Rwanda became one of the first nations in Africa to launch a national drone delivery system. Rwanda has been able to reduce service time delays and costs by using drones instead of conventional delivery methods to deliver medical supplies. To streamline blood deliveries, Rwanda’s government signed a deal with Zipline, a drone startup based in San Francisco, in 2016. Zipline’s autonomous drones would transform blood from a distribution center to a hospital.  
  • One of the forerunners in Africa in the development of smart cities is Rwanda. Kigali’s modernization is a part of a larger initiative by the Rwandan government to broaden and streamline access to public services. The government’s Irembo platform aims to develop e-government services that will enable citizens to submit requests for birth certificates and register for driving tests online. The Rwandan government established a partnership with Nokia and SRG to implement smart city technology in order to “improve the lifestyle and social sustainability of its citizens.” For instance, in 2016, the city began deploying buses with free Wi-Fi and cashless payment services.
  • The government of Rwanda introduced AI-powered chatbots to health care to help Rwandans have easier access to consultations with doctors or nurses. This is possible thanks to Rwanda’s cutting-edge technology. Today, patients can complete about 4,000 consultations per day from any location in the nation with just a mobile device. Babylon’s nurses are using the tool to increase productivity and help them make better choices for their patients.
  • To improve the technological aptitude of its youth, Rwanda has implemented a number of significant initiatives and policies. The “One Laptop Per Child” project, which distributes laptops to all of the nation’s primary schools, is one such initiative. The project has already given 203,000 laptops—which government funding paid for—to 407 schools. The Carnegie Mellon University branch in Rwanda is a partner in another impressive project. Through this collaboration, the University will offer Rwandan students instruction in IT, electrical and computer engineering as well as a degree.
  • A number of cutting-edge startups that have support from the government are based in Rwanda and have a positive impact on the nation. In contrast to other African nations, Rwanda’s government has complete authority over the nation’s technological infrastructure and operations. Long-term, this may stifle innovation, but it has helped the nation concentrate its efforts and resources on crucial areas that might be crucial to its future growth. In order to produce laptops that are “made in Rwanda,” the government, for instance, recently agreed to a contract with the South American business Positivo BGH, World Geostrategic Insights reports. The contract stipulates that the business will make 150,000 laptops annually.
  • Together with OneWeb, Rwanda launched its own satellite, the Icyerekezo. Rural Rwandan schools will now have access to fast internet thanks to the satellite. Icyerekezo (meaning Vision) is the moniker that students from Groupe Secondaire St Pierre Nkombo on Nkombo Island gave to the satellite. With the help of this exciting partnership, schools in isolated areas will have access to the internet, allowing them to take part in the ICT initiatives in classrooms all over the nation.

A Major Driver

The government of Rwanda made the deliberate choice to prioritize Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as a crucial component of the nation’s development agenda, which has led to the country’s innovation and technological advancements. A major driver of the expansion of the telecommunications industry in Rwanda has been the rise in demand for ICT services and the pressure to make the economy more competitive.

– Frida Sendoro
Photo: Flickr

Smart Farming
In many parts of the world, communities hugely rely on the success and yield of various crops to feed and financially support their inhabitants. As both weather patterns and air temperatures continue to fluctuate, smart farming could offer opportunities to adapt to those who these situational changes affect the most.

What is Smart Farming?

Smart farming is the use of various new technologies to allow farmers to improve both the quality and quantity of crops. This includes the use of AI, Wi-Fi-enabled machinery and drones. The use of such technologies could help improve productivity and lead to more sustainable farming practices.

Why Do Farms Need To Become Smart?

The Paris Agreement states that countries worldwide should reduce global emissions by the year 2030 to minimize the changing weather patterns. As environmental conditions change so too will farming. A number of these changes could impact farming including soil degradation, temperature differences and changes in rainfall and weather patterns, negatively affecting the productivity and yield of crops. In the face of this feedback loop of unsustainable farming leading to unsustainable environments, research suggests that technological advancements are necessary to break the cycle.

In the current global system, those principally responsible for environmentally damaging practices are not necessarily the ones that weather patterns affect the most. It largely falls on already disenfranchised communities, such as those living in the Global South, to bear the brunt of others’ pollution.

Smart Technologies 

Smart farming is just one example of the kinds of smart technologies which are increasingly becoming a part of our everyday lives. From watches to fridges, more of the things that surround us are using Wi-Fi. This growing digitization is known as the Internet of Things.

In the context of smart farming, digitization could allow farming technologies to effectively communicate with one another using sensors and automation to adapt to light and moisture levels in real-time, according to IoT For all. This leads to a huge increase in the efficiency of the farming practice and a much higher yield for farmers.

Agricultural Drones Offering Opportunities

Agricultural drones are a growing example of the kinds of technologies people will use on farms in the coming years. Drones are currently able to conduct imaging and monitoring of crops, however, Global Data explains that by 2030 drones will also be able to conduct advanced crop spraying and terrain monitoring.

According to the U.N. smart farming offers huge opportunities for communities that are struggling with the adverse effects of fluctuations in weather and climate. The donation of and investment in smart farming technologies provides communities with a long-lasting solution. Unlike food donation, an approach used in traditional foreign aid strategies, investment in these technologies would grant communities greater autonomy and provide them with a future-focused solution.

The Use of Agricultural Drones in Nigeria and Malawi

One strong example of the use of smart farming to improve access to food is in the West African nation of Nigeria where people use drones to plan design and construct rice irrigation systems. Using the drones on a farm near New Busa, situated 700 km from the nation’s capital Abuja, enabled farmers to adopt irrigation and drainage systems to the natural landscape. The resulting rice paddies were much more efficient leading to greater crop success and more food for both sale and the local community.

Malawi is a Southeastern African nation that has been facing big consequences of the recent droughts. High-precision drones and weather station data have been used to accurately predict crop yields. These images were then used by researchers to help devise solutions for the 80% of Malawi’s population who make their living as small-hold farmers.

– Florence Jones
Photo: Flickr

Innovations in Tsunami Technology
Tsunamis are dangerous natural disasters that affect populations on coastlines and contribute to increases in global poverty. Two teams of researchers in Japan and Australia are looking into new innovations in tsunami technology, hoping to decrease some of these negative effects.

Negative Impacts of Tsunamis on Coastal Populations

The effects of tsunamis can vary depending on their size and location. Tsunamis of a large magnitude can cause extreme destruction to a country’s infrastructure, housing and transportation systems. In poorer nations, where architecture is not as robust, the destruction of buildings can be devastating. In addition, tsunamis can also cause loss of life and increase the spread of waterborne diseases. Moreover, tsunamis can also damage natural resources and water supplies. 

In addition to the safety impacts, tsunamis impose hefty financial costs on nations. After a tsunami, money is necessary to repair the damage and provide support to communities and rescue teams. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ (UN OCHA) research found that “Tsunamis account for $280 billion in economic losses over [the] last twenty years.” Nations in states of poverty have a hard time providing monetary aid and require support from external organizations. This is why a single event can cause massive distress within a country, especially those with high poverty rates. 

Warning Systems and Detection in Japan

Japan is an example of a country that suffers from the negative impacts of tsunamis. The nation celebrated World Tsunami Awareness Day on November 5th and hopes to use new research to strengthen communication systems and preparedness, to uncover innovations in tsunami technology. The best way to minimize casualties is communication. Once people become aware of a possible tsunami, they can move to safer areas. In addition, Japan has implemented a new system that relies on drones for detection. Earlier detection also correlates with decreased effects because nations can prepare for impact more effectively. Innovations within this field, therefore, have the potential to save human lives. 

Satellite Research in Australia

An Australian research team has published research on the potential for using satellites to map out oceanic activity. This innovation in tsunami technology utilizes atmospheric waves to locate a surface activity that is at risk of causing a potential tsunami. Satellites can also map out paths of tsunamis approaching land. This information can allow countries to anticipate disasters and protect their citizens and infrastructure. 

Benefits of These Innovations

Research in Japan and Australia provides increased preparedness for tsunamis. Innovations in both communication and detection can help countries mitigate the effects of this dangerous natural disaster. Although we cannot prevent tsunamis altogether, these innovations can help decrease fatalities and destruction. 

Both innovations in tsunami technology can be expanded and used globally to decrease negative impacts from potentially deadly tsunamis and minimize negative economic repercussions.

– Hailey Dooley
Photo: Flickr

5G services in India
On Oct. 1, 2022, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi launched 5G services in India. Such services will improve many industries, including India’s agricultural industry which is in desperate need of it. Farmers in India still heavily rely on traditional farming methods. According to the India Brand Equity Foundation, approximately 58% of India’s population work in the agricultural sector. In 2020, World Bank estimated India’s employment in agriculture to be at 41.5%. Approximately, 62% of the land in India is used for agriculture. The country’s livestock population of about 535.78 million is the largest in the world. With its farmland and livestock, India is the world’s largest producer of milk, pulses and spices. Farmers of India play an important role in providing a means of sustenance to not only India but also the rest of the world. However, multiple challenges stand in the way of farmers in their attempt to meet the nation’s demands for food.

The Struggles of Farmers in Inda

According to a 2017 report that India’s Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare published, about 22.5% of India’s farmers live below the poverty line. One of the reasons behind this estimate is that 70% of farmers work on farms less than one hectare (2.5 acres) in size, thereby limiting how much they can grow. For comparison, the average-sized farm in the United States is 445 acres. Another reason is that the crop yields in developing countries are 30% to 50% less than those in developed nations. This is due to the lack of modern farming technologies and techniques and the decrease in soil fertility as a result of over-fertilization and sustained pesticide use. Poor access to market information on the price of their crops and lack of good farming infrastructure, like cold storage to preserve fruits and vegetables, also contribute to lower crop yields.

In 2020, many farmers protested laws that threatened guaranteed crop prices that existed for decades. Around 100,000 demonstrators and 31 farmer’s unions united and set up large camping sites on the highways of India. Protesters claimed to represent the farmers of India and stated that the laws would allow the private sector to set lower prices on their crops. This would further worsen the ongoing struggles of farmers in the country. According to federal data, more than 10,000 farmers and agricultural workers have committed suicide due to work-related stress and despair over their livelihoods. The laws aiming to deregulate agricultural markets were eventually repealed, thanks to the protests.

Turning it Around in Farming

With the introduction of 5G services in India, farming will be more manageable and profitable. Such services can allow farmers to manage their livestock remotely. Farmers can also monitor the health of their livestock and track their activities, their food intake and their fertility through devices such as 5G-connected collars, sensors and cameras. This allows them to be aware of important events, for example, when their livestock is going into labor. 5G technology can increase profitability and improve the sustainability of India’s agricultural industry.

Farmers can use 5G to connect to the web and keep up with the market prices of their products. They can also check weather conditions to see how much water their crops would need, based on whether it would rain or not. 5G services in India will allow farmers to use cellular-connected and camera-equipped drones. These are helpful in scanning crops to monitor their health, identify weeds, apply pesticides and water with more precision and provide high-resolution images to the farmer. Farmers can also be able to control their irrigation and reduce water usage by up to 40%. They can use soil probes buried underground to monitor their soil’s moisture, soil patterns and salinity. This data can also help figure out the amount and frequency of watering for their crops.

Limitations and Promises of 5G Services

Once 5G is available to all, farmers will benefit quickly. According to an article on AgriEngineering, a majority of Indian farmers have smartphones, and the number of Indians with smartphones is expected to reach 875 million by 2023. In 2019, 88% of Indians living in rural parts of the country already had access to 4G services. Airtel and Jio (telecommunication companies) users, whose phones already have 4G SIM cards, would not need new cards for 5G as they are already 5G enabled.

However, the current lack of cellular towers in rural areas could limit 5G services for some time. Fortunately, India’s National Telecommunications Commission has directed the country’s three top telecommunication service providers to build more cellular towers and signal relay stations in rural areas. It may take over a year for 5G services to be available across the entire country. While some Airtel and Jio users may be able to use their current phones to access 5G services, users of other telecommunication companies will have to purchase new phones. With the introduction of 5G services in India, the country is taking a significant step towards digitizing agriculture. The benefits of 5G will allow farmers to improve their livelihoods and secure a better future for generations to come.

– James Harrington
Photo: Flickr

Technology Access
All over the world, libraries provide the public with free resources in order to inform, educate, enlighten, empower and equip communities with the tools to succeed. Being such an integral part of communities, it is important that everyone has access to libraries or public spaces for educational purposes. Currently, most “economic, educational, health and social opportunities” are dependent on access to the internet. The Gates Foundation’s Global Library Initiative is working to expand technology access in public libraries around the globe.

The Global Library Initiative’s Strategy

The Global Library Initiative, which the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has sponsored, works in partnership with governments around the world to expand technology access, foster innovation, train community leaders and advocate for policy changes that benefit public libraries. By investing more than $1 billion globally to enhance the power of libraries, the Global Library Initiative is improving lives. Over the next 10 years, the Gates Foundation plans on implementing:

  • New models of public library research, training and practice.
  • More collaboration across organizations that support public libraries.
  • More support for global connections between public libraries and library organizations.
  • Sustain existing global library programs.

The Significance

“Access to information is a great equalizer” reported the Gates Foundation in response to the significance of The Global Library Initiative. After the technology boom, economic, educational, health and social opportunities almost always depend on an individual’s access to resources found online. A lack of internet access can usually translate to a lack of opportunity.

The World Economic Forum reported that the pandemic exposed the true digital divide across the globe. It reported that almost half of the world’s population had no access to the internet and fewer than one in five people in countries that are least developed around the world were connected. Furthermore, women are 30-50% less likely than men to use the internet to participate in public life.

Because so many people are unable to access the internet that would otherwise provide them with useful knowledge, funding and supporting libraries across the globe provides a smart solution. However, even though many countries already have public libraries, the communities they support often overlook their use and importance and underutilize them. In sustaining these pre-existing libraries, The Global Library Initiative can train staff to provide services to users, supportive networks and broadband connectivity rather than construct new structures entirely.

The Global Library Initiative at Work to Improve Technology Access: Romania

Because the Global Library Initiative is not contained in a single country, the program works with libraries across the globe. One example of the benefits includes their partnership with Biblionet in Romania. In partnering with the Global Library Initiative through the Gates Foundation, the Association of Librarians of Romania, and local and national governments, Biblionet allowed librarians to inspire and “breathe new life into Romanian Communities.”

The Global Library Initiative equipped 80% of all of Romania’s libraries with tech tools that offered strong internet connectivity. Then, the program funded the training of just more than 4,000 librarians in using the technology in order to ensure its accessibility to the public. In doing so, more than 41,000 farmers were able to file online applications for agricultural subsidies through public libraries. This resulted in more than $63 million worth of subsidies granted to them from the Ministry of Agriculture. Without access to the internet through the public library system, the farmers would not have received their fair share of subsidies.

The Global Library Initiative is bridging the gap between access to the internet and connectivity. The program allows more individuals to access free online resources that they would otherwise not have access to. Now, the disadvantaged have access to opportunities previously only available to more fortunate individuals, thus helping bridge the poverty gap.

– Opal Vitharana
Photo: Flickr

5G in Nigeria
On September 19, 2022, Ericsson announced that it had successfully launched 5G in Nigeria. The 5G hardware and software provider collaborated with Mobile Telephone Network (MTN) Nigeria to begin the first phase of deploying 5G technology throughout the country.

Phase one of the advancements has already started in certain parts of Lagos, one of the seven cities MTN aims to cover. Following this plan, MTN aims to roll out 5G networks throughout the country by the second half of 2022, to close the global digital divide.

The Continent’s Most Virtually Connected Country

Nigeria contributes to 29% of Africa’s internet usage and holds 82% of the continent’s telecom subscribers. This makes the country Africa’s most important information and communications technology (ICT) market.

According to a report by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the telecoms industry contributed up to 14.42% to the gross domestic product (GDP) of Nigeria in 2021. The commission accredits the growth to policy implementation, increased demand and investment.

The government of Nigeria (GON) views the ICT market as a key to the further development of the education, health care, agriculture and manufacturing sectors. The GON launched the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (2020-2030) in November 2019 to further diversify the economy from dependence on oil and gas. This program adheres to eight pillars including “Developmental Regulation, Digital Literacy & Skills, Solid Infrastructure, Service Infrastructure, Digital Services Development & Promotion, Soft Infrastructure, Digital Society & Emerging Technologies, Indigenous Content Development & Adoption.”

However, more than half of the Nigerian population does not have access to the internet. Those from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds have limited access to the internet, technology and ICT skills. This effectively creates a disparity in children’s education due to affordability, lack of infrastructure, perception of digital tech and already-present socioeconomic inequalities.

About 5G

According to the Ericsson website, “5G is the fifth generation of cellular networks, enabling faster connectivity and data transference.” It can use the same radio frequencies that smartphones, Wi-Fi and satellite communications currently use but with additional functions. The implementation of 5G allows reliable, accessible and secure real-time interactions between devices as well as efficient data processing at a higher capacity.

According to Ericsson, 5G is capable of aiding in economic recovery. Expectations determined that these new integrations in info and comms, wholesale/retail, public services and manufacturing will “contribute $13.2 trillion to the global economy by 2035.” Along with the internet of things (IoT) (how physical devices connect, exchange and store data), predictions stated that 5G digital technologies will reduce up to 15% of global emissions by 2030.

The Basics of Spectrum Trading

Spectrum trading applies the concept of property rights to radio frequencies. This ensures a more accessible market for users, increasing efficiency amongst businesses and companies which then invest back into new technology.

By relying on administrative assignments and increased accessibility, spectrum trading allows license holders to react to the rapidly changing markets. Some rights applied to license-protected spectrums include: how long it can be used, within what geographical area and what it can be used for.

In Nigeria, spectrum trading is under the jurisdiction of the NCC. Rules that the NCC set in 2021 outline requirements for eligible sellers and buyers by setting minimum spectrum-holding times and having “sound regulatory and financial standing with the Commission.”

In December of 2021, telecommunication companies MTN and Mafab Communications paid around $550 million for the licenses to distribute 5G in Nigeria. The companies received a deadline of August 24, 2022, to launch the service.

Complications with licensing consequently postponed efforts to develop 5G in Nigeria. At the start of August 2022, MTN had already prepared around 127 sites for testing. However, Mafab was still waiting for the proper licensing needed to distribute (both spectrum and Universal Access Service Licence (UASL).

Other challenges that have impacted the ICT sector include taxation at federal, state and local governments, several regulatory bodies, right of way (RoW) charges and damage to existing infrastructure due to cable theft.

Improving Connectivity for All

The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) is implementing a “digital economy policy” for Nigeria to enforce a sustainable digital ecosystem. The policies include improved data privacy and protection, increasing digital literacy for youths, enforcing reliable internet connections and integrating digital solutions for different industries.

The successful establishment of 5G in Nigeria would improve healthcare, food security, manufacturing and IoT. The upgraded network would allow healthcare professionals to provide better diagnostics and treatment with hi-tech machinery (EX: EKG machines), digital record archives and telemedicine. This allows for more affordable and accessible healthcare services for those residing in remote low-density locations.

Applications related to IoT will reduce manufacturing costs and accelerate the development of smart cities/smart grids to enhance productivity and create new revenue streams. Smart agriculture/farming supported by 5G could enhance crop and livestock monitoring systems, allowing precise identification of areas that need water, are prone to disease or require pest management.

Plans are in the works to launch in Abuja, Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Owerri, Kano and Maiduguri to fulfill MTN’s first phase in bringing commercial 5G to Nigeria. The telecommunications company aims to provide full national 5G coverage by 2025.

– Aishah French
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Affordable Cochlear Implants
A South Korean tech startup is pioneering a more affordable cochlear implant through automated production. TODOC specializes in making these implants, which use surgically installed devices to help those with severe hearing loss improve their hearing by bypassing damaged portions of the ear. Without the devices, hearing-impaired people are more likely to experience lower economic status, poorer education and more, especially in parts of the world where resources dedicated to people with disabilities are scarce. 

The average cochlear implant costs more than $20,000, putting it firmly out of reach for many in the developing world. At the same time, 80% of people that could benefit from having cochlear hearing live in the developing world.

With higher rates of hearing impairment and limited resources, TODOC’s more affordable cochlear implant poses a possible solution to an issue that is costing the world billions of dollars and pushing many into isolation and poverty.

How Deafness and Hearing Loss Contribute to Poverty

Hearing loss and deafness can create numerous barriers to success, especially when those living with them do not receive sufficient support. One study published in the journal Disability and Society showed that those in the United Kingdom living with hearing impairment on average had lower household incomes, greater difficulties making ends meet, struggled more with unexpected costs and had higher jobless rates than their unimpaired counterparts. 

Compared to those living in the U.K., which boasted an impressive Human Development Index of 0.932 in 2018, people with hearing difficulties are even more likely to face disability-related consequences when living in developing countries. A 2005 study published in the BMJ posited that though children with hearing issues are just as likely to see a doctor, 80% did not receive a hearing aid. As a result, children with hearing impairments on average saw their education delayed until they were more than 10 years old, putting them at a considerable disadvantage to their unimpaired peers. 

Barriers to Distributing Hearing Aids and Other Treatments

Throughout the developing world, similar situations are commonplace. One study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health demonstrated that the distribution of hearing aids to families living in proximity to Guatemala City, Guatemala significantly increased household incomes. Another study from BMC Health Services Research demonstrated that children living with disabilities in Sub-Saharan African countries faced numerous barriers, such as widespread poverty, cultural stigma and inadequate healthcare systems, to receiving diagnoses and treatments for their issues, which ultimately decreased their quality of life.

The economic consequences of unaddressed hearing impairment and the lack of affordable cochlear implants in the developing world has received wide documentation. The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that lower- and middle-income countries have contributed 57% of the $980 billion lost to healthcare costs, educational costs, loss of productivity and societal costs stemming from unaddressed hearing impairment. The number that WHO provided excluded the exorbitant amount of money spent on hearing aids. 

TODOC’s Plans to Improve Hearing For the Poor

Kyou Sik Min, who has previously worked for Samsung Electronics’s healthcare technology division and at other cochlear implant companies, started TODOC with the mission of expanding the cochlear implant market globally. To further this point, Sik Min named the company after the Korean word for the sound made when someone pats another’s shoulder “to create a company that comforts people with hearing loss by ‘patting’ the shoulders of people in difficult situations.” 

The company specifically focuses on creating high-quality, affordable cochlear implants for those who could not otherwise afford them. It also creates nerve stimulation and neuromodulation devices to help researchers and help with nerve pain. To reduce costs and increase output, TODOC has developed a system to manufacture its devices using automation. 

Currently, TODOC does not list a price for any of its devices. There are also questions of if and/or how the company plans to address the issue of the costs and accessibility to the surgery required to implant the devices and the therapy typically required to use cochlear implants.

At the same time, the company lists numerous innovations and improvements attached to its SULLIVAN model of affordable cochlear implants. This includes brain-machine interfacing and what the company calls “superior Neural Interface Technology,” which both have the potential to streamline the device’s implementation and use.

Looking Ahead

The company was invited to the Consumer Electronic Show in January 2022 to show its first line of implants and further advertise its products. In 2021, Min’s pitch for making a more affordable cochlear implant won the company $500,000 in funding at the Entrepreneurial World Cup Finals. Investors have also provided the company with more than millions of dollars in funding, including $3.5 million from the South Korean government. 

Overall, the investments demonstrate the international community’s confidence in TODOC’s ability to deliver on its promise to bring a solution to the developing world’s hearing problems and fight inequity within the cochlear implant industry.

Ryan Morton
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

African Digital Jobs
Africa is struggling to keep up with a global economy dominated by technology but African digital jobs are growing. Nigerian activist Oladiwura Oladepo co-founded the Tech4Dev organization to enrich the continent’s access to digital work opportunities.

Technology for Social Change and Development Initiative or Tech4dev is a nonprofit that originated in 2016 according to the Global Citizen site. Founded to solve the “world’s greatest problems,” the group provides access to the internet and computers in Africa and trains Africans in digital skills. This is especially vital in Oladepo’s home of Nigeria, where more than 100 million of the country’s 200 million population lack any digital services and many suffer from poverty, unemployment and starvation.

Tech4Dev’s Programs

Tech4Dev offers numerous specialized educational programs to create African digital jobs for different demographics. One program listed on their website includes “Women Techsters,” which aims to increase economic equity between genders and financially empower women. The “Basic Digital Education Initiative” also aims to teach elementary and high school students technology skills as well as basic STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) skills.

Another more-advanced program that Tech4Dev offers is the “Emerging Market Model Initiative.” The program emerged with the help of Microsoft to provide strong digital training to Nigerian adults through various government agencies. In addition to helping prospective learners, this program also equips said agencies with the ability to teach future groups of adults and increase overall digital literacy in the long term.

Although the programs have different target audiences, all of the programs have the same overall goal of teaching Africans online skills so they can find work and improve the lives of themselves and their communities. In Tech4Dev Executive Director Oladiwura Oladepo’s own words, this is “Using technology to advance sustainable human capital development in Africa.”

Technology and Economy Hand-in-Hand

The World Bank has stated that the digital economy is 15.5% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP), which is a monetary measurement assigned to the overall goods and services that a country provides. With this number expected to increase as digitalization increases, African digital jobs in countries like Nigeria could produce significant capital gains.

As President Enrico Lores of HP Inc. stated on the World Economic Forum’s website, digital access factors into more than just job opportunities. With remote learning, no online access means not receiving an education. Online medical access can mean life or death. Even ignoring formal services, the internet can provide vital information similar to how Oladiwura Oladepo shared life-saving information on Ebola precautions in 2014.

About Global Citizen

In 2022, Oladiwura Oladepo received the 2022 Waislitz Global Citizens’ Choice Award from the Waislitz Foundation and the Global Citizen platform. Global Citizen defines a global citizen as someone who takes action to fight inequity and poverty across the whole world through collective action.

Oladepo acts as a global citizen by using Tech4Dev to support Nigeria and all of Africa by setting the groundwork for African digital jobs. Global citizens like her have raised more than $41.4 billion in funding and aided the impoverished in both developed and developing countries across the globe. The site lists 1,560,219 active global citizens dedicated to eliminating global poverty today.

Henry Bauer
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Digital Ethiopia
In 2020, less than 19% of the Ethiopian population had access to the internet. The Ethiopian government widely owns Ethiopia’s internet and telecommunications systems, which has been the source of much criticism. The Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce itself noted that the lack of liberalization in the telecommunications and digital sectors limits competition and dampens efficiency, ultimately stalling the development of the nation. Given that it is one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, Ethiopia’s comprehensive strategy, Digital Ethiopia 2025, has significant plans to bring the country fully into the modern age.

The Digital Landscape in Ethiopia

People in Ethiopia have very limited internet access. On one hand, the infrastructure is not widely organized or well-oiled; outages occur regularly. The cost of an internet package surpassing the actual income of a household is not uncommon in the country. Internet cafes, or hotspots where people can access the internet, are many Ethiopians’ best hope for a fast and reliable access. Hubs are typically located in Ethiopia’s bustling urban regions.

On the other hand, barriers to access are not just structural, but also political. The Ethiopian government’s monopoly on Ethio Telecom has made it difficult to manage access for the entire country. Whatsmore, the state has periodically shut down internet access for political reasons, such as in the aftermath of Āmara president Ambachew Mekonnen. The government’s strict control over telecommunications in Ethiopia not only limits the possibilities of nationwide commerce but also disconnects Ethiopia’s economy from the rest of the world.

Digital Ethiopia 2025

The goal of this new digitization strategy is to bring technology to the people of Ethiopia, as well as to its industries. Digital Ethiopia 2025 focuses on e-commerce and the ability to digitize services in traditionally non-digital industries, like agriculture and manufacturing. Utilizing modern technology to operate in these spaces will create room for investment in agriculture technology. Digitization in the public sector, such as the implementation of a national ID database, would mean a boost in efficiency as Ethiopians all around the country connect to the internet through one streamlined system.

The other big push that Digital Ethiopia 2025 is championing is the privatization of the telecommunications sector. The government’s explicit control over media and news, internet traffic, and trade via telecommunication not only pose threats to privacy but also limits competition. The original plans to sell a large stake of government-held Ethio Telecom ended up on hold in May 2020, largely due to economic shifts as a result of COVID-19. However, moving forward with plans will likely be the key to advancing the market capacity of Ethiopia’s telecommunications sector and the economy as a whole.

Looking Ahead

Digital Ethiopia 2025 is Ethiopia’s first major step towards a more connected and efficient economy, as well as towards more protections for Ethiopians and their access to information. These efforts are critical to modernizing the economy and creating a self-sustaining digital sector.

 – Hannah Yonas
Photo: Flickr