In most cases, disruption is associated with how the “new kid on the block” caught the “old dog” off guard and took the market by storm. The disruptors usually have an innovation that seems simple at first glance but is in fact creative and usually links a concept to a real need in the market. The most recognisable disruptions are how ride-sharing services like Uber disrupted the taxi/cab industry, how social/digital media platforms disrupted the printed press and, over 100 years ago, how the automobile disrupted the horse and wagon. Join me on a journey of discovery, and let’s see how introspective disruption (the disruptor disrupting itself) can have far-reaching ripples of impact.

About Datahack4FI and our events

DataHack4FI is a pan-African, data-driven innovation competition that sets out to identify solutions to financial and economic inclusion. The competition debuted in November 2016. As a young African, I relate to the opportunities and challenges that young people on the continent face. We recognised the opportunities offered by a young workforce with a healthy entrepreneurial drive and chose to enhance this by addressing the challenge of low digital skills.

DataHack4FI was initially designed as a short-term engagement aimed simply at bringing like-minded youth together to solve specific problems by using a dataset that we provided. The first hackathon was hosted in Nairobi in 2016. We had a group of about 40 youths, and I vividly remember the excitement and enthusiasm these young people had. Within minutes of giving them the datasets, the majority of them were already eagerly sorting and analysing before the facilitators could even explain the problem statement or the expectations of the assignment. When we asked some of them why they were already tinkering with the data, they responded, “We are exploring what we can do.”

This response presented us (the facilitators) with an opportunity to redesign our approach to problem-solving. We needed to go beyond merely providing a platform to solve data-driven challenges and consider introducing mentorship programmes on real-life topics that can help the participants become effective data-driven problem solvers. DataHack4FI Season 1 was purely a hackathon with the objective of creating a platform on which youths could showcase their talent. From the lessons we learnt, Season 2 was restructured into a mentorship-focused programme, with subject matter experts supporting teams with data-science methodologies, system and solution design thinking, and real-world applications for financial inclusion. 

How the Datahack4FI competition came into existence

This initiative is primarily funded by the Mastercard Foundation. In its new strategy for Young Africa Works, it notes that over the next 12 years the number of young people in the African labour market will increase to 375 million. During the 2018 African Development Bank annual summit, the former central bank governor of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, highlighted that in the next two decades Nigeria alone will have over 90 million youths in the job market. This will be more than the entire population of Germany, the third-largest economy in the world. At this rapid growth rate, the pace of finding solutions through innovation must be faster than ever before. This youth population surge is our biggest motivator. With this youth surge and digital skills gap, there is a need to ensure DataHack4FI remains relevant in the evolving innovation ecosystem. 

In our current model (Season 3), we have introduced a professional programme in data science in partnership with Microsoft and Liquid Telecom. Of the 374 enrolments, 168 youths completed the coursework (a 45% completion rate). The 168 will be signed up for a final project (Capstone) and, after successfully completing the project, they will be awarded the Certificate in the Microsoft Professional Program in Data Science, valued at USD999. Parallel to the data science course, we opened applications to emerging technology companies that have an existing product or service and that are willing to participate in the competition. The emerging technology companies are required to define a specific business problem they are willing to solve by using data analytics. Once the companies are paired with a data enthusiast, the team will receive three months of expert support from our academic partners, which include the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, African Leadership University, Lagos Business School and Strathmore Business School. We are also connecting participants to investors and networking multiple stakeholders in the DataHack4FI community.

DataHack4FI Season 3

The structure of DataHack4FI Season 3 has a much more long-term focus than our previous seasons. This approach is probing questions such as: How do we foster an environment for youth employment opportunities? How do we support emerging technology companies to scale beyond their borders into the rest of Africa? What type of economies need to be built for these young people? Disruption for us means how we have shifted our efforts from creating awareness on the relevance of data science to actively contributing towards closing the 50% gap in data-science jobs in Africa. Connecting skilled data enthusiasts to emerging technology companies goes beyond an innovation challenge and towards creating opportunities for employment. In fact, what used to be a competition is now a means towards answering to the global question of how the future will be shaped for African youths.

The solution to creating sustainable opportunities for the youth will not be a silver-bullet solution and requires constant experimentation. Solution mapping and collective intelligence are part of what we advise DataHack4FI participants to leverage. As an innovator myself, I view DataHack4FI as a startup; we have successfully raised funds to support Seasons 2 and 3 from The Mastercard Foundation, the International Development Research Centre, and Microsoft. This support indicates that key stakeholders are aware of the need to empower youth and have the resources to do it. However, for our actions to have sustainable impact we all need to be committed for the next few decades. Every DataHack4FI season has been different from the previous one, but what has remained constant is our desire for growth and impact. 

Join us in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia at the launch events of Season 3