Soweto school girls solve social challenges using artificial intelligence

Between 7 and 9 December 2018, 50 Soweto school girls showcased their smarts, creativity and competitiveness in the first AI in Soweto boot camp. The girls, aged between 15-18 years old, used design thinking and artificial intelligence (AI) to think holistically about how they could tackle social challenges using technology.

Based in South Africa’s most iconic township, and in collaboration with headline sponsor Old Mutual and technology partner Microsoft South Africa, the intervention showcased the aptitude and skill of tomorrow’s problem solvers addressing challenges of today, under the banner of ‘AI for Good’.

AI in Soweto is the first of a series of ‘AI in Townships’ events, which is an Educate 1 Million, (Edu1MIO) initiative. Edu1MIO is a social impact programme of the Kgalema Motlanthe Foundation and Fliptin Technologies. Its aim is to expose children to technology using practical, hands-on, experiential learning using the disciplines of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics, Virtual Reality (VR) and Internet of Things (IoT) in order to motivate them to follow Science, Technology, Engineering, Art Design and Mathematics (STEAM) careers and Entrepreneurship.

Mrs Gugu Motlanthe, patron of the Edu1MIO programme, explained that it exists to open opportunities for youth in under-served communities. “We believe in our young people’s potential to be tomorrow’s leaders, but that will only happen if we create opportunities for them to be equipped with the skills of tomorrow,” she said.

The intense 2-day boot camp on 7 and 8 December at Microsoft South Africa was followed by a showcase event at eKasiLabs Soweto on 9 December, where the girls presented their solutions.

‘AI in Soweto’ comprised a series of workshops and hands-on ‘building’ sessions whereby the scholars learnt the nuts and bolts of AI, design thinking and pitching to come up with relevant, cutting edge solutions. This was followed by access to some digital courses.

Mustapha Zaouini, CEO of Fliptin, explained that the agenda has been carefully crafted to offer a thorough understanding of what AI is, while engaging the participants’ intellect, creativity and curiosity. “We want to create a pipeline of promising girls who can be future tech professionals. We see supporting girls who are academically strong and enthusiastic in this arena as a key aspect of bridging the digital divide in our continent.”

In addition to Old Mutual and Microsoft South Africa, other partners included TRACE, the leading brand and multimedia platform specialised in afro urban music and entertainment who is committed to African Youth empowerment through various initiatives, Proudly Sowetan a Socio-Economic Transformation Institute, eKasiLabs an incubator which supports start-ups in the Innovation Hub priority sectors in various townships in Gauteng and design thinking partners, Greenside Design Center and USFL.

Johnson Idesoh, Chief Information Officer of Old Mutual said “Championing mutually positive futures every day is part of our DNA. We are very excited to be part of an initiative that will identify and grow a pipeline of female future IT experts.  Initiatives like this will go a long way to helping Africa rise and claim her rightful space in the Digital Age.”

Lillian Barnard, Public Sector Director at Microsoft South Africa said Microsoft has a long history of supporting STEM education, with a particular focus on technology and computer science education.

“Supporting initiatives like the AI in Soweto boot camp is part of our commitment to providing education and support around AI. Data is the new oil of the digital economy and the ability to derive value from data using predictive analytics and AI is already a highly sought-after skill. Providing young women with this skill will ensure their employability in the future. Microsoft believes in the empowerment of women in the technology sector and we are working to ensure that women play a more prominent role in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

The winning team won prizes which include further skills development and AI training, as well as the opportunity to compete in future events and benefit from networking and being mentored by leaders in technology and business.

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