U.S. hosts ‘job creation’ apps development brainstorming session

Harare, November 7, 2012: The United States Embassy will host a daylong brainstorming session November 8 in Harare to encourage African innovators to develop mobile phone and web based applications that promote job creation, help businesses connect with potential employees, and tackle other challenges faced by young Zimbabwean job-seekers.

“This year’s competition — Apps4Africa 2012: Business Challenge – draws on the experience of our 2011 Apps4Africa contest, which attracted over 300 participants in 20 countries,” said Sharon Hudson-Dean, Counselor for Public Affairs at the U.S. Embassy. “Last year, a Zimbabwean team won third place and this year we hope to see more Zimbabweans step up to the challenge and win.”

Sponsored by the U.S. State Department and Appfrica International, the contest hopes to inspire Zimbabwean and other African innovators to develop mobile, web, and desktop applications (“apps”) that address the challenge of youth unemployment in Africa.

The November 8 brainstorming session will be facilitated by Marieme Jamme, a blogger, technologist and social entrepreneur with a passionate commitment to helping empower fellow Africans through education, leadership, social entrepreneurship and economic development. Jamme has coordinated Apps4Africa contests across West Africa Central and Southern Africa since its inception in 2009.

“In previous years, we held ‘app competitions’ which rewarded African innovators who sought to solve difficult local problems using technology,” says Jamme. “However, the biggest feedback we got from A4A participants was that they were more interested in follow-on support for their various initiatives following the competition. Drawing upon that feedback, as of 2012, our new model means there will be no longer be a strictly defined number of winners; rather we’ll review every application and judge it based on sustainability, scalability, profitability, in addition to social impact.”

The winners will receive prizes, mentorship and seed capital to help them start and nurture their businesses. Competition winners shared a prize pot of $75,000 in 2011; in 2010, the winners shared $15,000 and equipment (laptops and mobile phones).

“We feel such companies are in the best position for growth, and thus ready for our funding and acceleration program, which aims to prime them for follow-on investment. The competition is open to any company, startup or innovator living and working in Africa,” said Jamme.

Apps4Africa was launched in 2009 as a way to energize African innovators to work with civil society, private companies, and local investors to develop on-the-ground technology-based solutions to local problems on the continent. In the inaugural competition in 2010, Apps4Africa: Civic Challenge spurred apps developers to find innovative technology solutions to everyday problems on issues ranging from government transparency to health and education.

The winning app — called iCow — was developed in Kenya and allows farmers to track the breeding periods of their cows to maximize farm yields.  In 2011, Apps4Africa: Climate Challenge encouraged Apps developers to confront the challenge of climate change adaptation. The Southern Africa winner, myHealth in Botswana, helps users take health precautions by providing information about diseases that are related to weather conditions, such as diarrhea and malaria. The App assists users in scheduling doctor appointments to receive appropriate care. UnsApp, from Zimbabwe, was second runner-up (third place); their app creates a web forum to share adaptive management techniques for improving food security. Two other Apps developed in Zimbabwe received honorable mentions from the judges.

Since its inception, the contest has spurred the development of hundreds of Apps across the continent, addressing issues from disaster preparedness to health and disease monitoring.