Technology for the People: Notes from the ONE Africa Symposium
Editor’s Note: The following guest post originally appeared in Devex and has been reposted here with permission.
On February 15, ONE hosted the first ONE Africa Symposium in Johannesburg, South Africa. The symposium was designed to highlight novel technology and innovation unleashing Africa’s economic potential and promoting sustainable development. The 300 attendees were a cross-section of innovators, policymakers, students, academics and creatives.
We were inspired by a dynamic range of speakers whose innovative projects challenged attendees to go back to their communities and do something for Africa.
I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight two speakers in particular – Dr. Ashifi Gogo of Sproxil and Lai Yahaya of Transparent Aid – and share the technologies they are using to drive change in Africa.
Sproxil uses SMS technology to authenticate medicines in countries such as Kenya and Nigeria where people regularly die from fake medicine. Fake drugs are big business in developing countries, making up a significant part of the annual $200 billion counterfeit drug industry. As Dr. Gogo said at the symposium, “700,000 people die each year from counterfeit TB and malaria drugs; it’s like playing Russian roulette with your health.”
Sproxil has introduced a system where buyers can check on the authenticity of a drug by scanning a code on the medication packaging, sending an SMS text and receiving an immediate reply attesting to the drugs authenticity before making a purchase. Pharmaceutical companies pay Sproxil for this service and it is proving to be both an effective business model and a life-saving innovation.
Having worked as a development consultant for many years, Lai Yahaya was frustrated with the lack of transparency surrounding aid flows and programs in developing countries. He decided to launch an online platform to publish aid information so that citizens of any community could exercise their “right to know” by finding out which development projects were being executed in their communities.
Transparent Aid democratizes aid by exposing, for example, what percentage of a contract was going to buy cars or pay for expensive foreign consultants. By publishing information, it allows citizens to be active participants in their development through local and participatory assessments of aid expenditure. Transparent Aid is still being developed, but will ultimately be a powerful resource for donors aiming to demonstrate program efficacy, as well as for beneficiaries seeking to play a larger role in the development of their communities.
While we heard about several exciting and innovative new technologies, one of the most important messages was to beware of overlooking the importance of people in favor of technology. The two can’t be mutually exclusive.
Ory Okolloh, Google’s policy manager for Africa, said: “What makes change happen is the people using technology – they have to be engaged and still organize and take action in order for technology to have any relevance to us.”
The symposium was the first in what is expected to be an annual event for ONE Africa. As ONE co-founder Bono said in his closing statement, “The 21st century belongs to Africa. People say, ’Africa? I thought it was China.’ And I say: Ask the Chinese, because they are all going to Africa.”
Spread the word, Africa is leading change and innovation now.