Awesome ladies in Python 2!

After one month of dedicated training, the second class for the ladies in python has come to an end. They took part in the intro to python programming where basically the basics in python language where taught them. We had the slow learners and the fast learners; and we ensured they came to the lab outside training sessions to enable us put them through the ones they find difficult. The training started off with 15 ladies in attendance but a few of them didn’t make it to the last lap and that was quite challenging to us. Nine persons were certified with outstanding performance and will continue to the intermediate python programming class.

Our appreciation goes to the Google RISE awards…

The ladies with their certificates

 

 

A Remarkable Summer Experience at the iLab

Hi everyone! I’m Zane Cochran, the visiting instructor at the iLab for summer 2013. While I have been here I have had the opportunity to teach a variety of courses including Physical Computing, Beginner and Intermediate Python Programming, and Photography. It has been a remarkable experience being in Liberia and getting to work so closely with the other talented members of the iLab team!

 

As an introduction, I am a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and studied computer science at Berry College. This fall I will begin graduate studies in Human Computer Interaction at Georgia Tech University. I first heard about the great work that was being done in the iLab from Dr. Ellen Zegura, a professor at Georgia Tech who works closely with the Carter Center and frequently partners with the iLab’s efforts. I arrived in mid-May and will sadly be heading home at the end of June, though my time here has been wonderful.

 

One of the most exciting opportunities I have had in the iLab is getting to share my passion for physical computing with a very select group of students. Physical Computing is a course where students are encouraged to learn the concepts of programming and circuit design through building fun and interactive objects. Through overwhelming support from many friends and colleagues in the U.S., I was able to raise the necessary funds through a crowdfunding campaign I created called “Makers in Monrovia” to purchase all the equipment, tools, and components necessary to allow physical computing to have a permanent presence in the iLab as more and more students discover it.

 

The course was met with equal excitement by the students who were accepted into the program. Throughout six rigorous weeks of training, they learned principles of interactivity, prototyping, hardware design, and programming using the Arduino platform. Arduino is an inexpensive microcontroller and a programming environment that, while popular in North America and Europe, is just now beginning to emerge in Africa. The students completing this course will be among the first few here to have used it extensively. Their greatest accomplishment, however, will be demonstrating their final creative projects at the end of the course. These final projects are all targeted toward an interactive object that improves life in the kitchen, though each is very unique and the result of students using their imaginations to innovate. The will have a great opportunity to present their prototypes during a public event where they will get to explain their creative process and the outcomes of what they learned during the course. I was also privileged to have given a public talk during the evening on the subject of Physical Computing and the impact it is having both in the world of computer science and in Africa. The talk was well attended and generated interest for future courses and opportunities to learn more about this exciting new field of learning.

 

Teaching Python courses is quickly becoming a summer tradition at the iLab. I was happy to teach three Python courses during my stay in Liberia. In addition to a Beginner and an Intermediate Python course, I enjoyed teaching the newly created Python for Girls course. This course consisted of 15 specially selected young women who showed a particular interest in learning programming. Through the few short weeks of this class, it has quickly become one of my favorite courses to teach. The young women in this class have dedicated themselves to becoming amazing programmers and through their hard word and willingness to help each other, they are succeeding! My other students who will be completing the Intermediate Python course have also done remarkably well and are excited to take the fundamentals of programming that they have learned and apply it toward a variety of interests including database management, web development, software and mobile application design, and learning additional programming languages.

 

Finally, it was a real treat for me to be able to share my second passion, photography, during the Introduction to Photography course that I taught. I was quite shocked to see how quickly students improved their style and technique in capturing the unique life and landscape of Liberia in the few short weeks that we were able to meet. One particularly interesting aspect of this class was the students’ willingness to meet with me outside of class on Saturdays for a “Photography Outing” where we would travel together as a group to various places around Monrovia to gain practical experience using the DSLR cameras and implement the techniques I taught during our class lectures. This led to a number of unique experiences and the collection of student photography can be seen at the course’s Flickr page here. Though the course has concluded, the students will continue to use the iLab’s DSLR cameras and meet as a regular group to capture photos of this beautiful city and country.

 

In every course, the intelligence, dedication and passion that I have seen in my students is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. Whether it’s students staying well past the end of class time to share what they’ve learned during class on their blogs or coming in on Saturdays to meet during an unofficial programming group I created to learn Processing (a visually-intensive language based on Java), the self-motivation I have seen in these students is unparalleled and speaks well to continued growth and future of Liberia. I’m just thankful to have been a very small part of it!

 

 

Google RISE program – “Girls in ICT”

iLab’s Girls in ICT program

  • Is meant mainly for girls in high school or those who have recently left high school/starting university.
  • Is free to participants.
  • You can take one or more courses.
  • Lasts June- August.
  • Even has an international element to it – with Ugandan, Kenyan and South African collaboration!

The different trainings offered are:

  • Mastering the Internet.
  • Introduction to Social media.
  • Introduction to Python Programming.
  • Intermediate Python Programming.

       

The ICT for girls at iLab started with a two days ICT Careers workshop with over 40 (forty) beautiful ladies in attendance. Two representatives from Google (Roxanna and Nana) were there to speak to the ladies and you know what?…. the ladies were indeed motivated. .

African tech and innovation hubs, let’s work together to make the Next Big Thing come out of Africa

There are A LOT of interesting things happening in the innovations, entrepreneurship and ICT fields in Africa. I had the privilege of representing  iLab Liberia at a meeting of the Afrilabs network of tech & innovation hubs in Africa last weekend, as a pre-event to the Global Innovation Lounge of the re:publica conference, in Berlin, going on this week. There were all in all about a dozen African labs present and meeting for the very first time.

 

Africa is not one story or one market. However, the choir of our voices can be louder together. As later mentioned by one of our hosts, GIZ’s Christian Gmelin, having Erik Hersman open up the huge re:publica digital media conference with a keynote “Innovating Africa”  turns the typical setup to a new direction – it was not the West talking about Africa and spreading there but rather a story of how Africans innovate at all levels of the society. Hersman presented some of the developments in Africa, highlighting that ideas and innovations come from the edge, from outfits and the disruptors – this means that we need to be on the lookout to learn from anyone – and the powerholder corporations, beware! And right now, there is a lot happening in Africa – and there are now more efforts to work collaboratively across the continent

 

So what’s in it for iLab?

 

The meeting and the conference were energizers, eye-openers and door-openers.

 

First, it was absolutely great to feel the energy amongst peers – all the hubs have a community of their own – but now there is also a network of hubs that makes us stronger, as we the users of the labs are getting to…well, thousands, if not perhaps already tens of thousands! And that makes for a powerful feeling of doing things together, around the continent.

 

Secondly, discussing with peers and hearing and seeing the stories at each of the places was – in addition to being entertaining – very thought-provoking and a learning experience.

 

Some of the key trends and developments that we discussed included:

 

-          Hubs moving up in the value-creation chain, i.e. moving gradually from being tech and coworking centers to being incubation and accelerator hubs, places that coach and develop companies (of course, not everyone has to be like that. At iLab, we are not quite yet at a phase where 5 or 10 startups could be incubated at iLab – but we are moving towards a pre-incubation phase, having various events and programs in place that encourage entrepreneurs to work together and it won’t be long before we have the first set of companies working out of iLab.

 

-          Hubs thinking about sustainable funding and business models – how hubs generate all or a substantial portion of their income by their own activities in a moderate time. As for iLab, this year’s budget is not fully covered by grants – we are looking to generate as much as 15-25% of our budget through various paid services.

-          It’s certainly not just “traditional IT” that these tech and innovation hubs are embracing: hubs that foster social innovations, physical computing and hacking/making and green technology had some of the most creative things happening. ILab is just starting out and experimenting on physical computing (Starting next week!) but already knowing that some of the other hubs have, there are great possibilities to learn

 

Thirdly,  the Afrilabs meeting and the joint Global Innovation Lounge at re:publica was a about initiating new contacts and collaborations – both in terms of collaboration between the various hubs on the continent, but also between hubs and donors, venture capitalists, academics and so on. We started our first collaboration with Hive Colab in Uganda, regarding Girls in ICT and more specifically Girls in Programming.

 

Pictures? Oh yeah, hub manager from around the world in action

Workshopping at Supermarkt. It used to be an abandoned Supermarket in a run-down area. Now several spaces in the area have been taken over by creative industry professionals and the areas has revived as well. It’s a great place for co-working and doing workshops.

 

Springtime in Berlin, very pleasurable weather. Whenever doing groupwork, most preferred to talk outside. The sun is good for creative thinking!

 

Some of the results from the first day: how do we make Afrilabs, the network of African tech and innovation hubs as success story.

 

The second day: after getting a few more into the city, the hubs briefly presented themselves, some of their unique features and challenges – to launch workshops on the most mentioned topics.

 

Topics of the second day.

 

The hubs that were present at the event.

 

The Global Innovation Lounge is not about flashy corporate style, but rather business and innovations coming from the grassroots. We demonstrated this feel by “hacking and making” our area at the conference – with inexpensive materials and a big heart. Jay Cousins from ICECairo leading the pack.

 

So…we all got our handmade pillows made.

 

Erik Hersman delivering the keynote: “Innovating Africa” and claiming that the statmakers got it all wrong – patent statistics are not really the way to define where innovations are happening.

 

This is what an early phase innovation might look like – a DIY 13-phase security system.

 

From a VERY early proto to a crowdfunding capable production version – the BRCK from Ushahidi

 

The crowd was gathering at the Lounge, it was busy most of the time

 

African hubs and their managers.

Pitching A Brighter Future for Liberia

Blair Glencorse is in Liberia working on the Accountability Lab, which aims to find answers to problems of accountability. He also started pitch salons, a cross between speed networking and TED Talks.

 

 

While walking around Monrovia recently, I asked a Liberian friend if he could imagine his country as a place where resources were managed sustainably, women were treated equally, corruption was fought consistently and social enterprise was seen by young people to provide real opportunity. “Where on earth would we start?” he replied. We started several days later when I invited him to Liberia’s second Pitch Salon- held again in partnership with the brilliant and generous iLab Liberia and with the support of the RSA- where the Pitch Salon recipe of great ideas, brilliant people and unique format once more led to some fantastic discussions.

 

As always, the pitchers gave an “elevator pitch” for an organization, cause or idea that is engaging, accessible to an informed listener and has the potential to change the world for the better. The pitches this time around were as diverse as they have ever been at a Pitch Salon. Pandora Hodge, a serial entrepreneur in the making, talked about her idea for a student-run art house cinema in Monrovia; Nora Bowier, an environmentalist and community-rights advocate pitched about her pioneering work on natural resource management around the country; Tom Gwagee, the image of a modern African businessman, discussed his idea for a Liberian bike factory using Dutch thinking and techniques; Maryealee Pennoh, a women’s rights activist, gave an impassioned speech about her idea for a summer camp for disadvantaged girls; and Robtel Pailey, an academic with a real understanding of practical problems, discussed “Gbagba” her book used to teach children about the dangers of corruption.

 

The audience of forty or so from across the private sector, government, civil society, media and donors-  and including many of the pitchers from the inaugural Liberian Pitch Salon- listened in, feasted on food from one of Monrovia’s favorite restaurants and provided advice and connections to the pitchers. Business cards were exchanged, funding possibilities were discussed and there was a real sense that the concepts were beginning to move towards realities. There are very few outlets for young Liberians to express their ideas in a collegial atmosphere to people who can really make them happen, and the Pitch Salons are beginning to fill this gap. In keeping with the concept, a film-maker at the event even suggested that the Salons themselves be recorded professionally and shown on Liberian television in the future so that the ideas can reach an even wider audience.

 

A few days later, I bumped into the same Liberian friend I had invited to the event, and asked him what he thought of the Pitch Salon experience. “I saw up-close the passion and creativity of Liberian youth” he said; “the question is not where we start, but why we haven’t started doing this earlier”.

 

Blair Glencorse is an RSA Fellow and was awarded a Challenge and a Catalyst Grant for the Pitch Salons. You can follow him on Twitter @blairglencorse

 

Via iLab, Liberian Journalist Presents at New York Film Festival on Global Human Rights

Tetee Gebro is a Liberian Journalist reporting for New Narratives and working with SkyFm, a local radio station here in Monrovia.

 

Recently, Tetee reported on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) on her radio show. This report brought about a huge outcry in Liberia among both the traditional people and human rights activists with diverse opinions on the topic.

 

Because of her coverage, Tetee was asked to appear on a panel at New York Film Festival on Global Human Rights. This was a glorious opportunity for Tetee and Liberia’s entire journalism community.

 

In order to participate in the panel, Tetee was to appear virtually via Internet, but because of Liberia’s lacking telecommunication infrastructure and slow Internet connection, it appeared almost impossible for this opportunity to become a reality.

 

As Tetee’s organizers tried to find a place with reliable internet service and an evironment that could afford her to appear by video over Skype, iLab Liberia was the only public resource center in Liberia that could provide Tetee with the resources to participate in the panel discussion.

We were immediately contacted and as usual, we invited Tetee and her local organizers to a meeting to understand the nature of the event and to ensure that all Tetee could required to make this event possible could be available..

 

 

iLab prepared a computer running Skype and a projector with and adequate bandwidth just sufficient to ensure uninterrupted video and voice transmissions. With the help of iLab, Tetee was able to successfully attend and presented at the Firm Festival. See more about Tetee’s presentation at the Film Festival here.

 

iLab is the only technology hub in Liberia that offers free technological opportunities that could not otherwise be found in this country. With the lab’s popularity spreading, we are moving to a larger space this month so we can better accommodate users’ needs and interests. We are always looking for potential funders who would like to see Tetee and other Liberians given the resources that iLab has to offer; contact us if you would like to contribute to iLab’s future and that of Liberia!

 

Thanks

 

Carter