Contact: Chris Cory, firstname.lastname@example.org, 212-346-1117, 917-608-8164
Covering the story: Scharff and her colleagues will be available in Senegal in the town of Thies, some 35 km from Dakar, as well as in Dakar enroute, and by telephone (00221 77 200 7754) and email (email@example.com). They will also be available in the US by mid-January.
Apps for Africa — by Africans
Pace professor’s “boot camp” in Senegal January 4-9 to train app developers who can “meet the needs of their countries”
New York, NY, December 27, 2009 — Wireless mobile technologies are exploding in Africa, where mobile phone subscribers have grown to well over 200 million. The continent is the fastest growing mobile market in the world. Beyond that, the devices are boosting economic and social development — helping small fishing crews find markets, hospitals treat remote patients, and voting monitors make elections more fair.
But “developing mobile applications adapted to the African market is a challenge and an opportunity demanding a deep understanding of the African needs and realities.” And that will take many more local app programmers.
So says Christelle Scharff, 35, an innovative associate professor at Pace University’s Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems, who is on the forefront of efforts to train and empower this important area of African manpower.
“African students will play a crucial role in this enterprise but need to be better trained and prepared as software developers, engineers and entrepreneurs to be actors in this promising field,” she says.
The first week of January, Scharff travels to Thies, Senegal, 35 km. outside the capital of Dakar, to lead her second Senegalese “boot camp.” With colleagues, she will train 24 students both in the development of locally-appropriate apps, and in entrepreneurship for launching them.
KomKom and Wannigame. This year’s boot camp builds on one Scharff organized during a sabbatical in Senegal last year — and on her insight that mobile phones, after all, are computers that can be programmed.
Because cell phones are far more widespread than computers in the developing world, Scharff focuses on applications that do not need Web access. Rather than posting school assignments on a web site, for example, professors and teachers need apps for sending them as SMS messages.
In addition to programming, Scharff, a certified Scrum master (Scrum is a technique of managing programming teams), also introduces collaborative “technologies we take for granted” in the US but that students in developing countries do not know like wikis, Google Docs, and Facebook. “The students in the first camp went crazy with Facebook and pretty soon were posting messages in Woloff [their own language]” Scharff recalls.
Out of last year’s camp came four apps and four websites, including
• Accounting apps that are helping leather and textile craftspeople manage their sales and expenses. One of them, KomKom, earned one of 10 prizes in its category in an international contest sponsored by Nokia that had 1700 entries.
• “Wannigame,” which teaches numbers to six-year olds by having them respond to messages on a phone screen — with SMS sent to their supervising parent or teacher. The apps are described at http://atlantis.seidenberg.pace.edu/wiki/senegal/Outcomes.
Camp graduates are in demand. Two of them already have interned at Manobi (http://www.manobi.net), a mobile company in Dakar, and UNICEF has started asking Scharff to recommend workers with the kind of training the camps provide.
App competition. This year, Scharff added a nationwide competition for socially-valuable apps. The 12 team entries — “that many is a success, considering that Senegalese universities are not yet teaching this field!” — include apps for small businesses and for letting university students manage their schedules, grades and exams directly on their mobile phones.
The competition judges are from IBM‘s Academic Initiative and the Cell-Life NGO in South Africa, the University of Guelph in Canada, and a New York mobile company, SonicBoomGames (http://www.sonicboomgames.com/).
Crucially for the future of home-grown apps, word is spreading. Last year boot-camp members came from just one of Senegal’s six major universities, but largely thanks to a training Scharff conducted for 22 faculty members, this year the competition has gathered students from four of them. Scharff is overcoming what she calls “a dark point” in the African mobile story: “most of the social initiatives in mobile are concentrating in English-speaking countries of Africa rather than French-speaking countries” like Senegal, a former French colony. Scharff, born in France, became interested in French-speaking West Africa when she met students from the area at her university in Nancy and traveled there on vacations. The initiative’s web site, http://mobilesenegal.com, has photos and results. Further descriptions and a video of Scharff are at http://mobileactive.org/profile-series-christelle-scharff-teaching-mobiles. WHEN AND WHERE. The boot camp starts Monday, January 4 at the University of Thies. Participants will meet with beneficiaries of their work (teachers and traditional artisans), and will present their work during an official reception January 9th at the Lat Dior Hotel in Thies. Two companies — Nokia and Pearson Education – as well as the National Collegiate Innovators and Inventors Alliance have endorsed and/or partially funded the project. The boot camp – one of several now growing up in parts of Africa – is run with colleagues from the University of Thies and the State University of New York at Stony Brook. About Pace. For 103 years Pace University has produced thinking professionals by providing high quality education for the professions on a firm base of liberal learning amid the advantages of the New York metropolitan area. A private university, Pace has campuses in New York City and Westchester County, New York, enrolling nearly 13,000 students in bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs in its Lubin School of Business, Dyson College of Arts and Sciences, Lienhard School of Nursing, School of Education, School of Law, and Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems. www.pace.edu. Visit Pace at Pace.edu | Facebook: Pace University News | Twitter @PaceUNews | Flickr | YouTube; follow Pace students on Twitter: NYC | PLV –