Madagascar is an African island that is known as an exotic tourist destination. But now, the combined efforts of bloggers and freelance ICT gurus in the country’s capital are working to put the country and the continent on the global tech map.
These efforts have culminated in a tech startup hub called Habaka Innovation Hub. “The hub emerged in response to the acknowledgment that there is much that ICT can do in this country to solve issues in addition to generating business values. However, with isolated initiatives it would be hard to achieve huge impacts,” explains Harinjaka Andriankoto Ratozamanana, the startup’s CEO and co-founder.
The word “Habaka” stands for “space” in the perspective of air or clouds. The initiative kicked off by organizing user generated conferences, which were broadcast on national radio. “We are planning to host [a range of] ICT events, conferences and training meetings,” adds Ratozamanana.
At present though, the startup is really focusing on the young people by giving them a chance to learn coding and programming. It has introduced what it calls CoderDojo, part of a global movement of clubs benefitting from free coding mentorship for young children aged between seven and 17 years. In CoderDojos, these juniors learn to code through an open source program, recognized worldwide and available for free through Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to build up websites, software apps, programs, games among others.
According to the stakeholders, the African coding and programming picture is currently very grim. With only 1% of kids in developed countries leaving school with coding knowledge, the African statistics for the same are worrying. The number of these kids is virtually zero.
“We are the first French-speaking African country to benefit from this program across the continent. For its implementation, we work closely with the US State Department on AfricoderDojo but especially with CoderDojo foundation for mentorship,” explains Ratozamanana.
CoderDojo in Madagascar was started in September 2014. Currently 100 young, mostly female participants, with an average age of 12 attend every week in three clubs in the cities of Antananarivo, Fianarantsoa and Toamasina. These clubs are also officially sponsored by Airtel Madagascar with the Ministry of Education providing free tablets.
“In adopting this program, we diversify efforts to the world of technology in Madagascar and create a situation where boys and girls, of all economic and cultural backgrounds, can learn computer programming at the initial school stages,” Ratozamanana explains “We are very proud today to take the lead in this movement in Africa because we support the opportunities of digital literacy of a new generation of citizens to use the internet fully.”
The startup is upbeat about the process of supporting these initiatives and looks forward to adding more and more. “We will continue implementing these clubs in all major cities in Madagascar. Six other clubs are being set up; two new clubs in Antananarivo, additional one in Fianarantsoa, a new club each in Antsirabe, Brickaville and Ambatondrazaka,” Ratozamanana tells us.
Habaka is also in the process of setting up a simple web and mobile platform that will gather data and updated information useful to entrepreneurs and emerging entrepreneurs. This will be a list of sector stakeholders such as private institutions, NGOs and various support organizations, among others, with proper contacts, legal information and other advice.
“This tool has not been in existence before in Madagascar and it will offer global visibility of the sector. It is still difficult to make a proper market analysis regardless of the field that you are interested in. Entrepreneurs and investors lose valuable time gathering market information something they would get with just a few clicks,” Ratozamanana informs us.
“We are confident in the future because our community continues to grow and we have academic professionals from all over the island on our side,” concludes Ratozamanana. “Each one of them is contributing in their own ways to make Madagascar a hub of the Indian Ocean and reference point on the African continent.”
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