Afroes , short for ‘African heroes’, is a mobile-first enterprise. They’re on a mission to position African youth for productive futures by, innovating in skills acquisition, engagement and connecting to opportunity.
Anne Githuku-Shongwe is a Social Entrepreneur, Social Innovator, a Development Professional and a thought leader on digital and social innovation. Anne founded Afroes in 2010, as a digital enterprise. Creating gamified learning solutions designed to reach, teach and connect Africa’s young women and men to life skills, through their mobile phones.
Her vision is to revolutionise learning in Africa, with a focus on delivering positive, Africa-focused mobile phone entertainment to the youth market across the continent. Anne and Afroes have received multiple awards including, the prestigious Schwab Foundation/World Economic Forum Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2013.
Gathoni Mwai is a Sustainable Development professional. She has over 7 years experience working on social development issues in Africa, and on the use of data, technology and innovation for development.
Having been brought up in Kenya she is passionate about the country, its people and seeing them all thrive. Gathoni joined Afroes as project manager for the development of the PeaceApp award winning Haki II: Chaguo Ni Lako, ,a mobile game that was used for peace building in Kenya, in the run up to the 2013 elections following the post election violence experienced in 2007-8.
She recently completed her Masters in Sustainable Development Corporate Responsibility. Currently, she takes on the role of Kenya programme manager, where she is tasked with scaling the Afroes product range and developing partnerships.
Join us on this inspiring journey as we share the stories of these two front-running African women in tech.
Tell us the story behind Afroes
Afroes (the name comes from a play on the words African Heroes and Heroines) was inspired by conversations with my children. I was worried that they weren’t being exposed to any positive African media content; and that their ideas and aspirations for Africa were being influenced by the Western media’s pervasively negative messages about the continent.
I wanted to do something to change that. But it was whilst I observed my son excitedly relating things he’d learned while playing the computer game, Civilisations, that I realised that, children who play computer games are a captive audience for anything you want to teach them.
I knew from that point onwards that I needed to harness the power of computer games, to deliver positive messages to African children. Given the growth of mobile phone usage and ownership across Africa the idea of computer games evolved to mobile phone games.
How effective has the Afroes’ strategy been, in achieving its set goals and what successes have you recorded in recent times?
The Afroes strategy has had to be very adaptable to the changing times, technology and issues that affect African youth. At our core ,our main goal has been to inspire and empower young Africans with 21st Century skills, which will help them transform their lives and the lives of people in their communities.
We have set out to build partnerships with like-minded organisations that see mobile phone technology as a medium to change mindsets and positively impact young Africans. In the last 3 years we have been lucky enough to receive the following awards:
- Winner of PeaceApp – promote digital games and gamified apps as venues for cultural dialogue and conflict management, 2014;
- Winner, Gender Mainstreaming Awards, Empowerment Initiatives, South Africa, 2014;
- Winner, ICT Innovation Award for Gender Youth and Vulnerable Groups, Kenya, 2014;
To date we have had over 800,000 users download our games and 100,000s more through offline activations.
Our core our main goal has been to inspire and empower young Africans with 21st Century skills Click To Tweet
What challenges have you faced in the course of running your business and how have you been able to walk through them?
Sustainable financing has been a major challenge. We have been lucky enough to have our games fully funded by our project partners, but this has been quite limiting. Another challenge we have had is convincing programme/ solution stakeholders to adopt an alternative media/ mediums, strategy and methodology to reach and engage their traditional intended audience; as well as appeal to a new demographic of social issue based content advocates, stakeholders and consumers.
How important is technology for Africa’s future and how well has the African market tapped into it?
Technology is important on a global scale. What is more important for Africa is appropriate technology to enable sustainable growth and livelihood development for all. The African markets have not only tapped into the technology, but are leading the charge in technological innovation.
From Mpesa (mobile money), to the use of drones to transfer essential goods. Recent statistics have showed that 2/3 of young people own a smart phone, giving them access to a world of information, allowing them to tap into new ideas and adapting it for themselves.
Technology is important on a global scale Click To Tweet
If you had to binge watch any movie series, which would it be?
The Wire – because it’s on my watch list but I’ve never watched it.
Tell us about the Job Hunt game launching soon and the concept behind it
JobHunt is a mobile game designed to simulate the online/ digital work experience. The concept of this game is to create awareness on digital jobs and the opportunities to earn an income for young people. In the game you bid for jobs, improve skills and ultimately build the skills required to win jobs in this space.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve learnt on your entrepreneurial journey so far and how has it helped you in the course of your work at Afroes?
Being an entrepreneur is not an easy life, very often you need to be motivated even when things may not be working in your favour.
There is this image of a man digging in a cave with a huge diamond just a few digs away. He has to choose whether or not to keep digging, not knowing if he has reached the diamond or not.
This for me sums up the life and motivation of an entrepreneur and my journey with Afroes – if you believe in your product, your idea your company you have to keep digging to find that diamond. So we must keep digging.
What the next step for Afroes in another five years?
Over the last year we have been redeveloping the Afroes strategy. We have streamlined our strategy to enhance the current games catalogue and from our research we have decided to target specific areas that affect African Youth, such as Jobs and Health.
What one quote resonates with what Afroes represents?
“The future of Africa lies not with external actors but within Africa itself. The future of Africa lies here in Africa.” I strongly believe in Africa and the power of her people to make a difference in our lives.
For too long solutions to our problems have been sought from outside, but we have the solutions. Afroes is playing our part by producing games and stories on mobile devices that speak to Africans, which represents Africans and that can ultimately transform Africa.
The future of Africa lies not with external actors but within Africa itself. The future of Africa lies here in Africa Click To Tweet
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