IBM Interns Use Technology To Solve African Problems ‘Beyond M-Pesa’

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Written by Dana Sanchez

IBM brings interns together from Africa and the U.S. and asks them to challenge the status quo in a Nigerian tech research lab where students calibrate each other’s ideas to solve problems experienced in Africa, according to a report in AllAfrica.

Top talent was selected among African students from MIT, Stanford and universities in Rwanda among others, to leverage their exposure to local problems, the report said.

The goal is that the bond formed between the U.S. and African students lasts awhile – for “IBM innovation machinery in disruptive technology to continue innovating in Africa beyond M-Pesa,” the report said.

“IBM’s ongoing internship program at their Atrium office Research Lab in Nairobi is geared towards nurturing vibrant student developers…through influencing and mentoring their research ideas,” said Osamuyi Stewart, chief scientist of the IBM Africa Research Lab.

Students showcased live demos of their projects, based mainly on harvesting big data for predictive analytics.

All the projects pointed out new types of opportunities to explore in business. It’s one thing developing an app, and another, to come up with an app that people will buy because it solves a problem, the report said.

One intern’s app uses available mechanisms to ease the traffic gridlock in Nairobi.

Abother uses coloration and regression functions to establish characteristics between data. For example, interns learned the Kikuyu were No. 1 among Kenyan’s ethnic groups for mobile penetration. This app could potentially help investors. The system also displayed how the Kikuyu can be connected to the Bemba, an ethnic group in the Democratic Republic of Congo, for economic gain. Since the Kikuyu are connected to Rwandans through a mobile platform, and the Rwandans are linked to the Bemba through a fishing point of sale, more dots were connected.

This kind of research project could lead to IBM commercializing the tool, the report said.

Kerio Urban Water Management tool is another intern project that integrates data from non-government organizations and local agencies to manage water data. The team behind Kerio describes what it means for a city to experience water stress – lack of physical resources to meet demands.

Kerio helps determine groundwater projection levels and storage and in future where new boreholes will be dug in Nairobi. Nairobi Water Company said it needs to monitor its water system. Kerio will come in handy in this venture, the report said.

Interns Alan Shema and Antony Kaguara did a project on mobile advertising. The informal sector contributes 55 percent of the sub-Saharan Africa gross domestic product, the report said. In 2012, Kenyans spent $700 million in advertisement. Through an Android app, businesses may be able to directly submit ads onto screens in public transportion.