The landing of three undersea fiber optic cables in 2009 opened up Kenya’s digital landscape to the world and brought the nation many opportunities for internet based services and business. It also presented new challenges such as cyber-crime and hacking. Having foreseen these changes and their impact on Kenya’s development, in 2011, Strathmore University established @iLabAfrica as a pioneering research and innovation centre which prepares youth, learning institutions, businesses, and public sector agencies for the emerging digital landscape.
Dr. Joseph Sevilla initiated @iLabAfrica after identifying a gap between Kenya’s youth’s technical skills and the needs of the nation’s growing ICT sector. This growth is especially strong in regard to mobile and internet penetration and presents a huge opportunity for Kenyan youth. Unfortunately, too many youth lack the skills they need to take advantage of these vital opportunities. Private sector collaborations, mobile app development, business incubation and numerous other projects all contribute to @iLabAfrica’s remarkable achievements.
Immediately upon its founding in 2011, @iLabAfrica started forging partnerships with local and international companies which distinguish themselves as leaders in ICT innovation. One of the earliest and strongest collaborations is the partnership with Safaricom Ltd. Safaricom is the leading mobile telecommunications company in East Africa and is renowned for the innovative and life-changing money transfer service, M-Pesa.
The collaboration between @iLabAfrica and Safaricom has yielded two very successful programs which train bright graduates in mobile application development and entrepreneurship. The first of these programs is the Safaricom Academy which offers a unique Master’s degree in Mobile Telecommunication and Innovation. More than a hundred students have enrolled in the program since its inception and acquired the latest training for mobile application development such as next generation application development and development for big data.
Safaricom offers scholarships worth more than 20 million Kenya shillings each year to deserving students in the Academy. The Academy is equipped with a classroom and an ultra-modern computer lab (thirty-one iMac computers and smart TV’s) which together create an excellent environment for learning and innovation. The Academy is expected to graduate more than fifty candidates in 2014.
The second @iLabAfrica-Safaricom partnership is a business incubator called @iBizAfrica. @iBizAfrica nurtures young entrepreneurs’ business ideas and helps them turn startups into full-fledged businesses. @iLabAfrica strongly believes in entrepreneurship as a key driver of economic development as well as a fundamental component to the reduction of unemployment and poverty. Part of @iLabAfrica’s mandate is to provide youth in enterprises with support structures which enable them to start businesses and grow them to maturity.
In line with this, @iBizAfrica provides office space, seed capital, mentorship and other business services to innovative startups in the country. The incubator also runs programs that expose its entrepreneurs to opportunities for growth and success. Such programs include competitions, symposiums and conferences. The incubator has the capacity to house 100 businesses with fully equipped office facilities and fast internet connection. With Safaricom, the incubator runs the annual App Wiz Competition where startups compete to bring full product offerings into market. @iBizAfrica is currently nurturing twenty startups and has already produced three fully fledged IT companies.
Another strong @iLabAfrica partnership is that with Samsung Electronics. This partnership champions the theme, “Built for Africa,” and has spawned a project which assists in the development of product concepts and mobile applications which especially provide value to Kenyans. Notable is the Kenya Law Reports App, a repository of Kenyan law and legal information. Another useful app is the Kenya Pharmacy and Poisons Board App which supports drug-vigilance and locates pharmacies. One can download these applications from the Samsung App Store. In support of these and other innovations, Samsung Electronics has funded a fully equipped research computer lab at @iLabAfrica.
@iLabAfica also runs a Centre for IT Security which offers a Master’s degree in Information Security, Ethical Hacker Training and Certification, a short course on digital security, IT security research and professional IT consultancy services. This Centre assists companies, organizations and businesses secure their information system assets from increasingly intrusive and dangerous cyber threats.
With so many new information challenges, the demand for highly qualified digital marketing professionals is enormous. More businesses, huge corporations and organizations now want to reach their customers online. In order to bridge the gap between the existing digital advertising skills and demand for these skills, @iLabAfrica has partnered with Google, the world’s largest digital advertising firm, to train graduating university students and marketing professionals on Google’s cutting edge digital advertising tools and technology.
The training is conducted by highly qualified Strathmore University Faculty trained in Ireland at Google’s Headquarters for Middle Europe, Middle East and Africa. The Faculty is in direct liaison with digital advertising experts in Google in Kenya and worldwide.
The eHealth Centre in @iLabAfrica pioneers projects and research to promote healthcare delivery and access in Kenya and throughout East Africa. Some of its notable projects and research:
1. The development of an Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response application, a web and mobile system for the Department of Disease Surveillance and Response in the Kenyan Ministry of Health’s rapid data collection on diseases across the country.
2. The development of an Early Infant Diagnosis system for tracking HIV test data for infants at the facility level.
3. The development of a Monitoring and Evaluation System for Mother-2-Mothers South Africa which will track patients in the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV/AIDS Programme.
Our latest work in eHealth involves the development and implementation of a Mobile and Web-based Laboratory Information System (called BLISS) to support the operation of public health laboratories in Kenya. The project solves the problem of lack of evidenced-based clinical diagnostics in public hospitals by improving specimen and test results tracking. The pilot project in Bungoma and Kapsabet District hospitals in Kenya was a major success, and we are now looking forward to scaling up the project in other public hospitals in Kenya, as well as replicating the program elsewhere in Africa.
In addition to our health, information security and business development concerns, another priority area for Strathmore University’s @iLabAfrica is the promotion of education through ICT. E-learning has emerged as one of our key focus areas due to its ability to scale the learning experience beyond the classroom. @iLabAfica has run several high impact e-learning projects. Some of these projects include Annual Teachers Conferences and Mobile Bootcamps.
For three years now, @iLabAfrica has trained teachers and school heads on e-learning and on teaching with technology. This training is expected to transform teaching and learning in our primary and secondary schools by incorporating e-learning tools and resources into teaching methodologies. @iLabAfrica has worked with Google, HP and Intel on training programs for teachers.
@iLabAfrica organizes a three-day bi-annual Mobile Boot Camp to introduce students and young professionals to the emerging mobile technologies. More than 1400 students and young developers across East Africa have already benefited from this activity. The Kenya ICT Board and companies such as Google, Microsoft, Ericsson and Safaricom have supported this mobile initiative.
In addition to e-learning services, @iLabAfrica runs a robust IT outsourcing division that provides services and software products in web development, digital publishing and mobile applications, technical writing, multimedia and flash development as well as software and web quality analysis testing. Under this division, we have worked with local and international companies to deliver many software products.
These companies include Danu Technologies, Alkira LTD Australia, Kenya Pal Ltd. and the Kenya Climate Innovation Centre. @iLabAfrica also provides consultancy services through the Strathmore Research and Consultancy Centre Limited (SRCC). SRCC has been in operation since 2003 and coordinates the consultancy work of @iLabAfrica Research Centre to ensure that clients receive high quality advisory services.
Through SRCC we offer services in the following lines of businesses: Information Technology, Computer and Information Security, General Management, Business Process Outsourcing, Corporate/Government Academics, Project Management, Monitoring and Evaluation. Currently, @iLabAfrica is involved in a major project to rollout County Operations Management and Revenue Collection Systems in several counties across Kenya, beginning in Kiambu County.
This work involves the deployment of “County Pro,” an award winning solution for automating operations/revenue collections. The application is an out-of-the-box solution for managing centralized/decentralized government processes and providing analytical and decision support systems at the county, sub county and ward level.
Over the last three years, @iLabAfrica has grown tremendously in terms programs, research projects, personnel and collaborations. In the future, we will widen our research, capacity building and business incubation footprint in Africa. @iLabAfrica partnerships continues to grow and include collaborations with IBM, HP, Intel, Oracle, Deloitte, Clinton Health Access Initiative, Association of Public Health Laboratories, Alkira LTD-Australia, Softlock, EC Council, The Idea Foundation, New Leaders of Africa Investment Group, CIO East Africa and the World Bank.