Award winners show how the web is changing lives in Africa

2014-04-02 08:19

The winners have been named in the Africa Connected awards, which celebrates life-changing initiatives powered by the web.

Most of the African tech world gathered in Kenya for the awards in a glitzy event held at a posh hotel in the capital, Nairobi, yesterday.

The five winners out of 10 finalists – in turn selected from more than 2 000 entries from 35 countries – each walked away with cash prizes of $25 000 (about R260 000) and technical assistance for six months from headline sponsor Google.

Africa’s smartest tech minds, including Pierre Dandjinou, vice-president of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which coordinates the internet’s global domain name system, and Emma Kaye, founder of mobile service BozzaMobi, were in attendance.

All five winners are from east and west Africa, and three of them are women – perhaps an indication that the tech world is starting to shed its reputation of being a male-dominated industry, at least in Africa.

Key to their success was the use of Google tools to transform lives.

Kenya’s Sitawa Wafula is an influential voice on mental health issues based in Nairobi. She uses Google Blogger for her award-winning blog, My Mind My Funk.

In neighbouring Uganda, qualified physician Eunice Namirembe runs the Medical Concierge Group, which uses Google’s application programming interface dashboard and Google Maps to help expand access to healthcare services in the country’s rural areas.

Across the continent in Nigeria, Eseoghene Odiete learnt how to create handbags using Google Search and YouTube. She also used Google to find contacts for blogs and websites to feature her Hesey Designs range, created in Lagos. She now has a website where buyers can place and pay for orders.

Also in Nigeria, singer Eric Obuh, who became known to the world through a BBC documentary placed on YouTube, uses his own channel on the video service to distribute his music. He also uses social network Google+ to raise awareness about children living in the slums of Lagos.

And in Ghana, Christopher Panford’s Technol Services, a tracking company that uses Google Maps to keep track of cars under vehicle financing loans in Accra, helps people such as taxi drivers by reassuring financiers – who would otherwise not grant the loans – that their vehicles are safe.

The other five finalists, including South Africa’s Timothy Maguire, did not walk off empty-handed – as each got a surprise consolation prize of $10 000.

“With Africa Connected, we wanted to celebrate how the web is changing lives in Africa,” said Affiong Osuchukwu, Google’s boss for the Africa Connected initiative. “And to show how it is contributing to the socioeconomic development of the continent.

“Selecting the shortlist was no easy task: each winner shares a unique perspective of how they have used the internet to solve a problem, earn a living or create opportunities, not just for themselves, but also for others around them.”

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