Five women-focused startups that support and develop digital innovations to benefit African women have emerged winners in the third AFD Digital Challenge.

The winning projects included applications to promote women’s education developed in Nigeria, a Kenyan online platform that allows information to be shared between cross-border women traders and smart incubators in Cameroon.

15 applications were short-listed by AFD experts from among the 300 received, based on their relevance, sustainability and impact on development. A panel of judges made up of 6 digital technology experts then whittled this list down to choose the 5 winning projects.

Each of the five winning start-ups will receive not only a cash prize but also support over one year to ramp up their project. They will be monitored by an external incubator that will be selected following a tender process.

“By supporting exemplary start-ups that are leading the way in Africa’s digital ecosystems, AFD is achieving its objective of promoting innovation through development, at this time of digital revolution”, said Rémy Rioux, AFD Chief Executive Officer.

Success Award: Two winners (Each received €50,000 prize money)

Sauti Africa – Kenya

The Sauti Africa mobile platform was set up by two women, Mary Rowlatt and Julia Lipowiecka, to provide cross-border women traders with the information they need to trade their goods safely, legally and profitably throughout East Africa.

Direxiona – Egypt

The Direxiona platform was set up by Nayrouz Talaat, a business journalist and entrepreneurship graduate, to connect women who want to learn to drive with female instructors. Since its launch in 2016, Direxiona has helped more than 150 women learn to drive and overcome their fear of getting behind the wheel, with more than 10,000 lessons already taught. The aim is to reach 50,000 lessons by the end of 2019.

Initiative Award: Two winners (Each received €15,000 prize money)

Zenafri – Nigeria

Elizabeth Kperrun, a communications, business management and entrepreneurship graduate, is the woman behind Zenafri, the business she heads up today. The idea for her project came from the simple observation that education is key to enabling young girls to make informed choices in any situation. From this came Zenafri, a business that develops educational games and applications for children and young African women.

Agence Universitaire pour l’Innovation – Cameroon

In Cameroon, as in other low-income countries, 15% of newborn babies die each year as a result of being born prematurely. One of the reasons for this is a shortage of incubators. In Cameroon, there are fewer than 100 incubators available to more than 7,000 health-care facilities.

The Agence Universitaire pour l’Innovation (AUI), an association of engineers and academics, decided to tackle the problem head-on by developing a smart neonatal incubator.

This incubator is connected to a digital system and fitted with an integrated phototherapy unit, sensors and a camera. Medical data are monitored and made available in real time via a mobile application that doctors can also use to adjust an incubator’s settings remotely and check incubator availability.

This has resulted in a marked improvement in the care of premature babies. The AUI’s incubator was designed and manufactured in Cameroon, will be cheaper and comes with a two-year manufacturer’s warranty, as well as technical support available throughout the country.

Judges Award: One winner (Received €2o,000 prize money)

Lenali – Mali

Only 10% of Mali’s population is connected to social networks–a significant digital divide in a country where mobile technologies are becoming increasingly accessible. The reason for this apparent paradox lies in the fact that 60% of the Malian population is illiterate and cannot access these networks as they need to be able to read to use them. Lenali, a digital development company, developed the MussoDèmè online training platform to address this problem.

Its user-friendly interface can be accessed by a wide range of users thanks to voice guides that come in several African languages. It also includes resources to help women gain the knowledge they need to access economic assets, grow their businesses and achieve formal recognition for their studies. The project is the brainchild of Mamadou Sidibe, a network and systems engineer and Android developer, who hopes to make the platform available both on- and offline in the future.


Musa Suleiman
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