These are the (An)droids you're looking for

Ghana Summer 2012 Blog

Written by: Alessondra Springmann

July 27, 2012

Jovana is teaching Android basics including layout, while I sift through business plans our students have turned in. Louis is helping with regular expressions and the stock market app, and LiAn was instrumental in getting the financial sections of business plans written.  For the most part, they're really good, and show an understanding of the markets, their users, and their products.  Really excited to see some live and rough demos this afternoon.  

We've had some interesting conversations with Google and Dorothy Gordon of Mobile Monday at the confusingly-named Advanced Information Technology Initiative at the Kofi Annan Centre [sic] for Excellence in Accra about how to improve the program for next year, specifically in terms of recruiting.

Our current students are mostly 300- and 400-level students, as well as some recent graduates.  Dorothy suggests targeting younger students, especially those with established entrepreneurial skills (you couldn't throw a ball of fufu in the campus hostels without hitting someone running a computer repair or data analysis enterprise out of their dorm room).  This would give them more opportunities to mentor younger students, as well as to apply for incubator programs like Meltwater.  It'd also mean that program alumni could help with future recruitment of future students, taking some of the onus off of our hosts for finding qualified MIT AITI participants.

Tuesday saw the passing of John Atta Mills, Ghana's president.  Within a few hours, his vice president was sworn in as his successor.  Ghana has been calm, sad, and hopeful that this peaceful transfer means the elections in December will be equally placid.  (Recent elections in neighboring states were marred by violence and numerous deaths.)  

Yesterday was LiAn's last day of teaching (she has to leave early to go deal with visas in China before starting her job in Singapore) and my birthday, and the students were tremendously generous.  Gifty and Priscilla went to Art Center and picked up this amazing cloth called piecey-piecey, sewn from patches of a dozen different pieces of fabric, as well as necklaces made from local glass beads.  We reconverged on the Coconut Grove Hotel's pool deck later that night for a free salsa lesson, joined by a couple of our friends from Meltwater as well as Oliners, a Tufts alum, and Anna.  Neither Mills's passing nor the evening drizzle could dampen the mood at the Grove as we taught our students to salsa under the clouds and the first quarter moon.

Monday we finally were able to visit the Google Ghana office.  Run by Estelle, an alum of Busy Internet, a team of 10 works, focused on marketing and business development, while enjoying a splendid view of Accra.  In a place where people may use the Internet once a month to search for one thing, how do you promote better access to networks, make search, email, and web information relevant, and make it sustainable for people to keep asking a computer for information?

In the US and Europe, we take consistent access to the Internet completely for granted, both in terms of ubiquitousness and speed.  (In Japan, you'll see one unprotected wireless network for every 100 you encounter.)  Want a book?  Prime it from Amazon and it'll be on your doorstop in a few days.  Need medical advice?  Ask Dr. Google.  If you need a thing or knowledge, the infrastructure exists to get you that almost instantaneously.  

Here a friend working at an NGO needed a scale for some laboratory work, measuring things to hundreds of a kilogram.  Where can you get such a precise balance?  It's not like you can Prime one overnight, go to Google Shopping, or check online inventory at a store.  Is there a reliable laboratory equipment supply in Accra?  Who do you talk to at the university to find something so simple?  It could be a several day effort to track down a scale with the required precision.

Google sees this as an opportunity to build infrastructure to support having not only business online, but the ability to do business online eventually.  It's a great time to be in emerging markets, what with the amount of technology we have available to us.