Apps for Africa

Published Aug-14-11

A crowdsourcing competition to help solve some of the real problems facing people in Africa.

Appfrica Labs, Uganda

The Story:

Apps for Africa The technological transformations that have swept across many parts of the world have also been making inroads into the African continent. For example, in East Africa alone there are more than 50 million mobile phone subscribers, with the phones also being used for business, health care and to promote literacy.

As the number of IT graduates and entrepreneurs grows in Africa there is an ever increasing appetite to use digital technologies for the greater good. Crowdsourcing and open innovation competitions give enthusiastic and smart brains the opportunities to stretch themselves to see where their creative powers will take them.

Crowdsourcing Contest Launched

In July 2010 the first Apps for Africa competition was launched, sponsored by among others the U.S. State Department and Appfrica Labs. It built on U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s Civil Society 2.0 initiative that encourages people to use digital technologies to connect their communities and solve shared problems.

Though games and entertaining apps are nice to play with, what the crowdsourcing competition really asked for was apps that offered solutions to the real problems and challenges facing people on the African continent.

Participants were challenged to find solutions to everyday problems in areas such as transparency and governance to health and education.

Submissions were accepted for two months and a range of ideas came in from Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. The winning projects were chosen by a panel of judges who looked at the potential impact of the apps as well as their creativity and ingenuity.

The three top winners were:

The first prize went to iCow a voice-based application that tracks the fertility of cows allowing farmers to maximize the breeding potential of their animals as well as their nutrition. The winner received USD $5000.

The second prize was awarded to an app called Kleptocracy Fighters that helps people to combat government corruption. It allows citizens to report by video, phone or text instances of corruption, for example evidence of bribery. The reports are then passed onto legal and media partners who decide what steps to take next. The second place winners received USD $3000

The third place winner was Mamakiba, an SMS-based savings calculator and pre-payment tracking tool that can help women on low incomes to save and pay for their maternal health needs such as clinical delivery. Many women across Africa struggle financially and the app is also able to show them how to budget and the purpose of financial management, which will help them to provide for their families. The third place winners received USD $2000.

There were also a number of honorable mentions who all received $200 each.

High Level Praise

The winners were hailed and feted by Secretary Hilary Clinton who said in a video address, “Your work to develop 21st century solutions to Africa’s challenges is a powerful example of what individuals can do to shape a dynamic, successful future.”

Apps for Africa, like similar contests shows how innovations and advances can come from the bottom up, as developers and designers are engaged with their own communities and their needs. Although crowdsourcing competitions such as this one are not going to solve all of the continent’s ills, they can go some way toward improving the quality of life for millions of Africans.

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