After 3 weeks of intense and exciting work, Project iSWEST, the flagship innovation bootcamp organized by Nsesa Foundation was climaxed with the Pitch Day on Saturday, August 26th at the Impact Hub in Accra, Ghana. The 60-seater auditorium was packed with friends, family and the general public, who were eager to listen to the pitches of students.
Four teams of students presented and demoed innovative solutions to problems in Ghana’s Agriculture sector along with their business models to a panel of judges and the general public. The teams were:
- Paragon which prototyped AQuarius, a smart irrigation device for greenhouse farmers.
- Genius 5 which prototyped Farmerton, an online organic grocery store for health conscious consumers
- AgroModo which prototyped DuaYie, a personalised virtual Agric extension service for local farmers.
- AQUAtech which prototyped StemAq, a smart fish pond management system for fish farmers.
Our judges were Mr. William Senyo, CEO of Impact Hub and Dr Alfred Yankson, Physics Lecturer at the University of Ghana, Legon. Teams were be assessed on the impact, sustainability, feasibility and business viability of their projects.
Team Paragon won the competition with their AQuarius project. They were awarded an iSWEST Innovation Kit as well as mentorship to further develop their solution into a startup.
Project iSWEST (Innovating Solutions with Engineering, Science & Technology) is a 3-week intensive innovation bootcamp for high school students in Ghana. This year’s program was the 4th annual edition and took place from August 7th to August 26th at the University of Ghana, Legon.
Twenty-seven (27) students, comprising 17 boys and 10 girls from different high schools across the country participated in this year’s edition. Having had only 2 girls in the past 4 years, this year’s edition saw the most number of girls participating. This significant increase in female participants was made possible through an initiative that encouraged more girls to apply by making the program free for them.
Additionally, this year saw the recruitment of fourteen (14) volunteers who contributed in various capacities to make the program a success. The volunteers were mostly students from various universities within and outside Ghana such as the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Regional Maritime University, NYU Abu Dhabi and University of Toronto.
Project iSWEST was in two parts, namely the workshop phase and the innovation phase. In the first week – the workshop phase, students received hands-on training in four courses: Computer Programming, Arduino, Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
For Programming, students were introduced to core concepts in computer programming such as variables, conditionals, loops, functions, classes and objects, culminating in the building of a Pong game. Processing, an open-source Java-based language and software was used for teaching because it is fun, interactive and easy to learn. The programming course was modeled after Dartmouth’s introductory computer science classes: CS1 & CS2.
For Arduino, students were introduced to the Arduino platform, basic electronics, sensors and actuators. At the end of the course, students were able to design and build a prototype of an Agricultural device such a soil monitoring system.
For Innovation, students learned the innovation process from need finding through brainstorming, selecting solutions with decision matrices and prototyping. The innovation course was modeled after Dartmouth’s Introduction to Engineering class: ENGS 21.
For Entrepreneurship, students were introduced to the Business Model Canvas and several case studies using Agritech companies within and outside Ghana. Students used the lessons learned to develop business models for their solutions. The course was modeled after the Lean LaunchPad course.
In the second and third weeks – the innovation phase, students received funds and were mentored to develop solutions to real-life problems in Ghana’s Agricultural sector. Students learned to use project management tools like Slack, Trello, Gantt Charts, and prototyping tools such as MockingBot. Students used lessons learned in all 4 courses to develop their solutions which were presented on the Pitch Day.
Our students were privileged to have mentoring sessions with 6 young African professionals who have either worked at or are working at Amazon, Microsoft, Intel, IBM, Google and Facebook, and are alums of Grinnell College, Stanford University, Princeton University and Dartmouth College. Not even the poor internet connection in Ghana could compromise the amazingness of the virtual mentoring sessions.
The program was organized by Team Nsesa, a team of highly motivated young Ghanaian professionals, passionate about creating change by promoting a culture of innovation. Nsesa literally means change in the Ghanaian language, Twi. Our vision is to spur an “Innovation Revolution” in Africa: a movement in which young people across the length and breadth of the continent are developing innovative solutions to problems in their communities using STEM.
The team members are as follows: George Boateng, alumnus of Dartmouth College, USA, John Kotey, alumnus of Columbia University, USA, Isaac Sesi and Victor Kumbol both alums of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Ghana. We met in high school and we now live in different parts of the world, tens of thousand of kilometres apart, across 2 different continents and time zones. But we’re driven by a common passion to see Africa transformed through science and technology and neither the distance nor the difference in time zones can stop us!
Breaking the Coding Barrier in Africa with Smartphones
One exciting innovation that happened this year was the pioneering of a new approach to democratize STEM education in Ghana by taking advantage of the proliferation of smartphones in Africa. We taught our in-house programming curriculum using smartphones rather than laptops. Our students, most of whom did not have laptops are now able to code in the comfort of their homes, or while stuck in traffic on the busy streets of Accra. We are the first program to teach coding with smartphones in Ghana and as pioneers of this innovation, we are really excited about expanding this innovation to spread all over Ghana. Soon, students all over Ghana and Africa will be coding on their smartphones having learned from our upcoming online self-paced course.
Partners and Sponsors
This year’s program was sponsored by the University of Ghana’s Physics department, which provided the venue for the program. Previous and current partners of Project iSWEST are: Clinton Global Initiative University, High School Society, and the following Dartmouth institutions: Thayer School of Engineering, Institute for Security, Technology and Society, and the Neukom Institute for Computational Science.
Several amazing memories were made during the program with the most prominent being the bonding over “gob3″, a popular Ghanaian meal consisting of fried plantains and beans stew. This love for gob3 manifested via the frequent references to gob3 in our online student-group chats. Students and volunteers alike just could not hide their excitement the days we had gob3 for lunch!
In their reflection essays and speeches, our students shared how the program had impacted them and expressed their gratitude with quotes such as:
- “Thank you guys for everything! This has been the best three weeks in my life ever”
- “One of the best experiences I feel blessed to have been a part of”
- “Project ISWEST 2017 was just an unparalleled delightful adventure. Everyone needs to experience this in a lifetime.”
Post Project iSWEST 2017: N-Clubs
We are excited about Project iSWEST 2018 and have began planning for it! Additionally, in order to keep the momentum ongoing, we are currently working on setting up N-Clubs (innovation clubs) in various universities in Ghana. These clubs will year-long versions of Project iSWEST where students will use our curriculum to build skills and develop solutions to problems in their communities. We are launching N-Club KNUST in September!
Over the past 4 years, we’ve impacted more than 100 students directly through our programs: our students have developed 10 team projects that have addressed problems in Ghana, our alumni have started 2 entrepreneurial ventures and won 10 major awards for their ventures including the MTN Apps Challenge and Education Startup of the Year. Two of our notable alumni Princess Allotey (iSWEST ‘14) and Eric Vondee (iSWEST ‘14) are already impacting others and making news headlines!
Princess after the program proceeded to start Kids and Math, to demystify maths and spread its the love to kids all over Ghana. She pitched Project ArithOut and won 2nd place plus $900 at Ghana Think Foundation’s Ghana Youth Social Entrepreneurship Competition. Eric after the program proceeded to start My Home Teacher, a service that makes it easy for parents to get tutors to teach their kids at home. In addition to the several accolades he’s already received, in March 2017 he was selected as one of 60 Young Leaders whose stories were chronicled in a historical book as part of the celebration of Ghana’s 60th Independence Day anniversary.
We are excited about the passion of our students and they renew our hope in Ghana and the African continent at large as a place to build a community of innovators and world changers. At the core of Project iSWEST is our desire to inspire youths of Ghana and Africa to believe that they can be innovative as well as empower them to develop solutions to the problems within their communities. Project iSWEST – Inspire! Innovate! Impact!