The New Thought Leaders in Africa’s Drone Industry: World Bank’s Drone Youth Scholars

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The Youth Scholars have gathered from across the continent to attend and contribute to the African Drone Forum, where they participate in training and plenary sessions and have the opportunity to meet  high level regulators, funders, and technology leaders.   “These Youth Scholars have already shown leadership qualities and potential – and they are all ambitious.  They are thirsty for an industrious, successful career – and they want to contribute to their communities,”  says Johnny Miller, organizer of the project.  Miller is co-founder of AfricanDRONE, a pan-African organization dedicated to enabling the African drone industry, and a drone artist who uses his artwork to highlight social issues.  Miller explains that all of the scholars have chosen to include drone technology in their work: which include a wide range of industries.  “There’s a bottom up excitement to be working with a cutting edge technology in a time of technical revolution,” says Miller. “These African Drone Youth Scholars are solving real world problems – they are solving problems in architecture, service delivery, infrastructure.  They are making real contributions.”

DRONELIFE spoke to three of these emerging industry leaders.  Elly Savatia, a drone scholar from Kenya, is a social entrepreneur and founder of a youth organization.  “I’m a tech optimist,” says Savatia. “I’ve been into robotics since high school, and I believe that technology is the backbone of growth.  If well-harnessed, this type of technology has the potential to make change – and I see myself as a change maker.”  Grace Ghambi, a university student in electrical engineering in Malawi who works with the largest provider of electric power in her home country, agrees that the technology has enormous potential for addressing current issues. “Malawi is facing a lot of challenges that drones can have a lot of influence on,” says Ghambi, describing programs in Malawi using drones to mitigate disease-carrying insects.

From the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Raissa Dikamba is a university student in agronomy sciences – and already on the board of a small startup working in precision agriculture, providing drone services on a lend/use model.  She explains that crop diseases such as the Mosaic disease that attacks cassava, a staple food, are a serious economic problem in the DRC: but one that can be helped by using drones.  “If I can propose a technology solution to the problem, I can really help communities,” she says.  “I want to improve what I can do with drones, and learn new use cases.”

All of the Scholars are using the opportunity to leverage the combined power of the group to solve technology and business problems.  “We’ll stay connected, and we can work in synergy with each other,” says Dikamba.  “I know that if I have a problem I can’t solve in a certain area, I can call on my colleagues from the group for help.”  Ghambi says that opportunity to meet other scholars and the business leaders attending the Forum has been invaluable.  “Youth Scholars are doing amazing things,” Ghambi says.  “The networking opportunity is amazing.”

These youth leaders have a clear view of where the future lies, and the focus and determination to realize that view.  “I recognize the impact that drone technology can have in everyday life,” says Satavia.  “I want to connect, to network, and be able to communicate that.  I see myself as an inventor – I want to see Africa to become a center of technology.”

“Let’s take advantage of the problems that we see – those are opportunities for us as young people to make change,” Satavia says.

When asked what advice she might offer other people who want to get into the drone industry, Ghambi gave profound advice – for drone technologists at any stage of their careers.  “I would tell scholars that if they are interested they should just start with whatever they can to get exposure,” she said.  “Don’t wait for funds, don’t wait for opportunities, just start – it won’t be easy but when you start to figure it out, the opportunities will be there.”

“What the world wants now is knowledge,” says Ghambi.


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