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Herman Chinery Hesse, founder of SoftTribe, Africa’s equivalent of Microsoft

Last week, I was astounded and inspired by the story of 15-year-old Kelvin Doe (aka DJ Focus) from Sierra Leone on YouTube. Within two weeks, the video has generated over 3 million views on the video sharing site compared to the 15,000 views it had generated when I first chanced upon it. Kelvin is the youngest person in history to be invited to the “Visiting Practitioner’s Program” at prestigious US university MIT. The Visiting Practitioner’s Program according to MIT, “offers opportunities for community partners to visit MIT to participate in a variety of activities, including guest lecturers in classes, consultations with students, time in labs, dinners at iHouse and the IDI.”

Coming from war ravaged Sierra Leone where people struggle with the daily hustle of providing for life’s basics such as food, shelter, and clothing; he wowed the respected MIT faculty with his self-taught innovative skills in engineering. These rare skills have allowed him to create his own community based radio station using scrap material from the dumpsters and created gadgets such as a generator from a deteriorating voltage stabilizer. “They call me DJ Focus because I believe if you focus, you can do an invention perfectly,”

Scaling up our Educational system to net more Kelvins
Kelvin’s story is only reminiscent of so many other brilliant but needy geniuses who unfortunately have been left behind by the ramshackle ‘colonial’ educational system prevalent in many African countries. Our educational system filled with so much theoretical knowledge bears no semblance to the realities of the current labour market requirements where rigorous analytical thinking and creativity amongst others are treasured. I have seen companies spend tremendous amounts of monies retraining their university recruits to make them productive in the basic functions of their jobs. This is not right!Studying Chemical Engineering at the university, I was often shocked when the meagre laboratory work we undertook was conducted with equipment manufactured in my dad’s generation. Many a time, myself like the rest my colleagues struggled for days unend to connect the theoretical knowledge taught in the lecture rooms in areas such as fluid dynamics, heat transfer, and thermodynamics to the practicalities on the ground.

In the 21st century and the near future, the effective utilisation of science, technology, innovation and creativity backed by an entrepreneurial setup where government together with the private sector act as agents of social change are the dynamic forces that are shaping the world and propelling nations to economic prosperity. Thankfully, we do not have to reinvent the wheel. The endless connectivity of the internet implies the availability of an array of knowledge and information exchange that should catalyse us to collaborate effectively across borders to solve our developmental challenges with a unique Pan-African solution. This requires collaborative synergistic inputs of all stakeholders especially government, industry and academia. It is only by so doing that we will begin to realize that our collective destiny as a people is ultimately tied on the extent to which we can effectively and efficiently harness our resources.
I look forward to the day when government with the assistance of the private sector will begin to set up technological innovation and entrepreneurial funds backed with sustainable business models that can be replicated with economies of scale. This is the only way we can ensure Kelvin and others like him roaming the streets from Accra to Nairobi, Freetown to Johannesburg, and Cairo to Lusaka have a sustainable future.