With nearly 200 million people between the ages of 15 and 24, Africa has the youngest population in the world, and it is set to double by 2025. Their ability to understand and solve pressing social and economic challenges with the solutions of tomorrow – digital solutions that are locally relevant and can be scaled up – is truly poised to transform systems.
These statistics came alive when I had the opportunity to attend an event hosted by Girl Effect, one of a few events tied to last week’s World Economic Forum in Africa but stemming from the local community in Kigali, where I met the winners of the 2016 MsGeek Rwanda Awards, a DOT Rwanda partner (part of the organisation I founded, DOT: Digital Opportunity Trust).
An annual competition designed to inspire young Rwandan women to think critically and design solutions to issues faced by Rwandans today, MsGeek Rwanda challenges young women to create a digital innovation that solves a community need, accompanied by a business plan. The participants shared their pitches, and two in particular stood out as resonant examples of the power of young people to transform systems and cause a ripple effect of impact in their communities.
Twenty-two-year-old Rosine Mwiseneza realized that drought and unpredictable weather were affecting farmers’ productivity, and that existing methods of irrigation were inefficient. To solve this problem, she created the “Ivomerere System” – an automated irrigation system that uses sensors to detect soil moisture. She explained to me, “If it detects that the soil moisture is dry, it sends a command to the system and the water pump will start extracting water from the tank and irrigate the field. It will detect when there is enough water in the soil and send a command to the system to stop pumping water.”
Ange Uwambajimana, a 22-year-old woman from Tumba College, developed an”‘IV Drip Alert System” after realizing that current monitoring of IV drip systems puts 1,200,000 patients at risk of severe health infections or even death. The shortage of nurses in Rwanda is acute – so this system’s automated, affordable, and efficient monitoring of IV drips for hospitals is a critical innovation.
As Rosine and Ange presented their businesses and ideas, the smiles of pride and excitement grew. These young women were passionate about their impact, and as the evening went on, many other young women gathered around them to brainstorm next steps and new innovations. It was a powerful moment, and clear that we will soon see these digital skills and innovations rippling throughout villages and hospitals in Rwanda and beyond.
"Taking digital into their own hands"
Young people like Rosine and Ange are taking systems and digital innovations into their own hands. Their local solutions – built, sustained, and scaled through peer-to-peer networks – are poised to transform systems like healthcare, education, and agriculture.
Imagine a self-sustaining network of daring social innovators like Rosine and Ange across the continent – connected, impactful, and driving inclusive growth and change. Building solutions to meet the needs they see around them, impacting the lives of hundreds, if not thousands.
It’s possible, and it’s happening. When I witnessed young women learning from and building on Rosine and Ange’s ideas, I was seeing the ripple effect of youth-led digital social innovations in action. It takes just one person with an innovation to inspire multiple other young people – a ripple effect of inspiration, a catalyst for a movement. Let’s support these young digital innovators to build locally relevant solutions to pressing needs, scale up their efforts, and inspire ever more young people to create their own ripple of impact.
These are the youth who will lead the fourth industrial revolution through purpose-driven, digital, and inclusive solutions to gaps in systems and challenges in their communities.