June 6th 2020 was a historic day for me, as I helped bring a vision to life with my partners Essa Mohamedali and Alex Tsado. We had been working for two months to design a program that would empower AI community leaders across Africa to connect frequently and grow more efficiently.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is in its infancy in Africa, and is driven by people who decided to start communities of learning on their own. As one of them, I can say that we mostly feel alone, have very few people to speak to for advice or just share war stories with.
Essa and I, under the guidance of Alex Tsado and Alliance4ai, set out to realize the vision of connecting all African AI communities like different nodes of one brain, to exchange information and solve problems efficiently.
This inaugural edition came with its logistical challenges as attendees struggled with the strength of their internet and unfamiliarity with our methods, but more than made up for the effort with positive comments from attendees confirming their need for a gathering like this.
We had two expert sessions and then two breakout rooms to discuss in-depth about “Jobs: making it easy for your members to find opportunities” and “Data: finding, curating, processing”.
After reading my section here on Jobs (of course :)), do
Personal branding for Tech professionals
Finding virtual opportunities during a pandemic
Jobs: making it easy for your members to find opportunities
African AI communities have been challenged with lack of relevant job opportunities for their members. Not only do we see few Africans in international companies but even within Africa, AI/ML jobs have been somewhat invisible.
With 8 AI community leaders we discussed why we are faced with such a challenge and shared potential solutions.
Top 3 Challenges
Lack of awareness on the need of AI engineers in most companies:
Companies in Africa do not see the need in hiring AI/ML scientists to manage aspects of their business. Some also do not have the capacity and resources to hire since they are startups.
- Communities need to create awareness on the need for data scientists or ML engineers. A few industries such as the petroleum and banking institutes in Africa hire some data scientist to work with them which is good. “Mostly banking Institute’s, for the rest not really. So you can just find mostly people who are in banking and maybe telecommunication if that’s what it’s called” – Rose Delilah Gesicho, Nairobi Women in Machine Learning – Kenya
- Creating relevance in our AI communities could enable companies and startups to see the need to hire data scientist and all. – Isaac Edem Ayitey, Cheetas Ltd – Ghana
Demand in Job application:
Interestingly, members who have gained required skills do not get jobs that need the skills they have. The job requirements are either too high and are meant for experts other than entry level or beginner level jobs or companies do not trust Africans to be capable.
“Most of the most of my members in my community see the job requirements as demanding and I agree because you’re looking for expats and mid AI, you’re looking for experts. You’re not looking for beginners.” – Janet Akorfa, Yielding Accomplished African Women – Ghana
- Build a strong portfolio: If people can put up a very good LinkedIn profile, it’s a good start and also share what they’ve done or what they are working on, on their LinkedIn profiles. Taking part in challenges – Lawrence Larbi, Blossom Academy
- Sticking to your niche and sharing posts about work in the field of AI other than other fields. If you stick to your niche and you post more or need to recruiters should be able to find you and know about your work.
- Serve as channels to your communities by sharing potential job opportunities with them, especially freelance. Most individuals are not in the known of some potential job opportunities so keeping them updated with links to job offers and their requirements would keep members in the known – Lawrence Larbi, Blossom Academy
- Breakdown of skills in AI to make it easier for both recruiters and job seekers. Having an AI scorecard so that when people in your communities are learning about AI, they can be checking off which one of these capabilities they built. And then they can also do some tests, see if they are beginner level, intermediate level advanced. – Alex Tsado, Alliance4AI – Nigeria, USA
Logistical challenges (Workspaces, Data, Electricity):
Absence of these resources make it harder to successfully learn and gain knowledge to meet the minimum job requirements. Internet data is expensive, intermittent cuts in power supply is unavoidable in Africa at the moment. Though the latter goes beyond the strength of the community, access to the internet and workspace can potentially be worked around.
- Access to affordable workspaces: Communities can pursue partnerships with workspaces/hubs/cafes where members could easily meet to learn, collaborate and communicate. Most of these workspaces come along with constant electricity flow and good internet which can be useful to them. Though these places might be expensive, communities should try finding equally good ones with affordable prices for a few hours in the day could be helpful. – Fabian Fawole, Alliance4ai, Nigeria
- Liaising with Telecommunication agencies for affordable data: AI communities or training institutions within a country could come together and approach Telecommunication agencies for help in getting affordable data packages for their members. This would enable members to participate in online sessions to build their skills to meet job requirements. – Lawrence Larbi, Blossom Academy -Ghana
- Lack of adequate AI training programs in our educational curriculum
- Inability to afford costs associated with training programs.
- No or minimal free AI/ML programs available.
- Favoritism and Nepotism at work places
Do you have answers to these challenges or think there are other challenges beyond the ones identified by our attendees? Complete this form to tell us more and attend the next gathering if you lead an AI community!
Numerous solutions exist to help solve the problems highlighted above and we believe this initiative is a step in the right direction to help African AI communities to break the current status quo. Continue the conversation by tagging us on twitter (@alliance4ai) or posting on our Forums module.
If you want to join us in shaping this great initiative, tell us more about yourself here.
Have a blessed week!
About the Author
Martha Teye is an MSc Computer Science student at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. She is also a Software Developer at Zlitch Technologies Limited, Accra. Martha is the co-founder of Tech Flair, an initiative that seeks to train Senior High School students with programming skills in Ghana. She has research interests in Machine Learning and the implementation of Artificial Intelligence in the educational sector.