The digital revolution offers the possibility of removing inequalities and building projects for a brighter future. Opening up to these opportunities means preparing children from a young age. Arielle Kitio, founder of the CAmeroon Youth School Tech Incubator (Caysti), explains how her start-up is helping younger generations in sub-Saharan Africa to get involved in the digital world.
How does digital technology enable progress?
Arielle Kitio: Taking advantage of digital tools helps us create new projects in our connected world, develop critical thinking and achieve our aims. I firmly believe that digital inclusion is one of the key levers for inclusion in our era because it makes all races, genders and languages equal.
In a fast-paced digital world, it’s essential to get as many people as possible excited about science and technology so that minorities are not marginalised from these opportunities.
How successful is digital inclusion specifically in Africa?
A.K.: In a region as vast as Africa where there is such a mix of local languages, religions and ethnic groups, it is important to get down to basics and describe the contextual realities. For Africans who speaks Wolof, there is a long way to go to learn digital tools because the language in this area is not their natural language.
Moreover, learning algorithms are mostly based on Western data. I’m thinking of Artificial Intelligence that doesn’t yet recognise a traditional African marriage. The algorithm is based on a man in a black suit and a woman in a white dress while local African customers are expressed in traditional clothing, the African boubou.
We have to learn how to create digital content and tools that fully understand the specificities of culture and language and adapt them to local realities. This is valid as much for African minorities as elsewhere.
What was the driving force behind your start-up?
A.K.: While studying engineering and computer science at university, I realised that girls tended to be less interested in technology, IT and network configuration. They delegated these subjects to boys, who, for their part, weren’t aware of opportunities and job prospects. This apprehension and lack of interest had already started in high school.
That’s why I firmly believe that digital learning must be encouraged from an early age, from primary school and right through high school.
After joining support groups during my studies, I wanted to go a step further, put my computer science degree and doctorate to use in the field of education and enable the distribution of technical knowledge.
What is Caysti’s main ambition?
A.K.: Caysti (opens in a new window)‘s ambition is to create new generations of technology. In particular, I want women to no longer be excluded, so that the voice of minorities is no longer marginalised.
What specific learning tools does Caysti offer?
A.K.: We rely on innovative and egalitarian learning tools. Caysti created abcCode: the first software in sub-Saharan Africa that introduces children to coding, robotics and the basics of Artificial Intelligence in their mother tongue.
abcCode is a half-way house for learning coding techniques through designing and writing code. Young learners are therefore better prepared for ‘advanced’ programming languages. They will understand the rules better in their own language. Writing their program in a fun way makes them more aware of their ‘algorithmic’ thinking.
Finally, our software works without needing an internet connection, which is necessary in some urban and rural areas of Africa.
How do you measure Caysti’s success?
A.K.: More than 5,000 young people aged 7 to 15 have been trained in our extra-curricular programmes in Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Our learners have gone on to win seven international technology awards. We’ve also just been ranked by the African Union among the 50 best innovations in the education sector.
Receiving the Orange Social Venture Prize in 2017 and joining the Orange Women Start programme in 2018 is real recognition for our start-up’s vision and mission. It’s a valuable growth lever for our business development.
The Orange Social Venture Prize for Africa and the Middle East (POESAM (opens in a new window)) recognises start-ups working in the information and communication technology sector. The award enabled Caysti to receive funding for key activities and increased visibility and public opinion. Orange advisors are following the progress of this Cameroon based start-up.
Women Start (opens in a new window)is an Orange initiative that promotes social innovation and women’s entrepreneurship in France, Africa and the Middle East. According to Arielle Kitio, the programme enables her to connect to the rest of the continent and the West. Orange mentors are helping Caysti with its legal, financial, HR and marketing priorities. Orange Cameroon and the Women Start initiative will enable 5,500 new young learners to access training.