Today we would like to feature two amazing, inspiring and successful Cameroonian social entrepreneurs: William Elong and Arielle Kitio (both Forbes 30 under 30), who seem to be on all innovation fronts in Cameroon: Willian is the CEO of the start-up, Algo Drone Holdings, that provides drone solutions both to deliver medicines in rural and displaced communities, and for agriculture purposes; Arielle is the CEO of CAYSTI, a social enterprise that provide tech education solutions to youth. Together, they are launching (today) a coding school in Cameroon, in collaboration with the Israeli coding School ‘Developers Institute’, and provide coding camps to reduce the ‘tech literacy’ gap between displaced persons and host communities; and finally, they recently created a low-tech handwashing device to respond to COVID-19 in Cameroon!
They have reached very successful partnerships with UN agencies, global philanthropists, and the international private sector. So, let’s learn a bit more about these two tech rising stars and what they did for displaced and host communities during COVID-19!
What is the top challenge that your solutions are addressing with regards to displacement?
When we saw that Cameroon was one of the first African countries severely hit by COVID-19, we decided to put our resources together to tackle hygiene and safety needs during a global health crisis period. We developed a low-tech hand washing solution to address the immediate urgent needs of displaced and host communities in Cameroon. In parallel, we target the long-term livelihoods needs of displaced and host communities by providing coding camps, to reduce the "Tech literacy" gap of displaced people, and strengthen income-generating opportunities during this time of crisis.
The COVID-19 pandemic showed us the need to: 1) address immediate crisis-related needs; and 2) think about long-term resilience and livelihoods of both displaced and host communities in Cameroon. Our parallel tech projects seek to address these inter-connected needs.
Cameroon is currently facing three massive parallel humanitarian crises that generate high levels of displacement, risks, and vulnerabilities – and yet little global attention.
First, the Far North Region continues to be impacted by the Boko Haram armed conflict with half million people displaced in that region. Second, Cameroon’s eastern regions are hosting 270,000 refugees from the Central African Republic. Third, an internal conflict has been raging in the Western part of the country since 2017 and has internally displaced 700,000 Cameroonians.
Tell us how you do that? What is special/unique about your approach?
We are local young entrepreneurs working with young people for young people with a strong focus on technology tools. We look at the challenges affecting our country today. We use our technical capabilities to build leadership within communities. Our programs are not just humanitarian, but they also have a strong business component to help people we support sustain themselves on the long term.
For instance, not only did we develop and distribute our hand washing solution throughout the country (through UNICEF for instance), but we are also teaching youth to build such (or similar) products so they gain the skills needed to ensure sustainable livelihoods solutions.
What gave you the idea of tackling this challenge?
With the COVID-19 example, we noticed that healthcare is a serious problem within local communities and many times, it starts with some basic hygiene practices which are not followed because the tools are simply not there. You can't say to people to wash their hands everyday during a humanitarian workshop and don't care about how they can actually do it.
So, because we are working on different tech solutions to tackle different problems (e.g. the drones, the tech schools), we thought we had a responsibility to provide a simple, easy to use, easy to maintain and locally-produced solution to address this need. The whole process took us less than a month, and UNICEF is now distributing the product throughout the country.
What is your key message for World Refugee Week?
We would like to say that " A refugee is someone like you and us and who was at the wrong place at the wrong time, it can happen to anyone so it's our duty to act together and support talents within that community. And tech is a great tool to do just that."
Willian Elong is the CEO of Algo Drone Holding, a start-up that provides AI-based solutions and unmanned aerial vehicles for agriculture, security, and delivery in Cameroon and other developing countries. He is Forbes 30 under 30.
They work together to identify and respond to social and economic challenges in Cameroon, like during COVID-19 rapidly and effectively.