NawiriTech, company founded by Equitech Futures alumni, empowers young people in Africa to develop data skills
by Abby Thompson, Alumni Network Manager
Three recent Equitech Futures alumni - Clinton Manoti, Andrew Kamau Kimani, and Apollinaire Abi - founded NawiriTech, a social impact company based in Nairobi to help young African innovators develop their data skills and accelerate social impact on the African continent. “Nawiri” means “to thrive or flourish” in Swahili.
NawiriTech runs data science "sprints" - intensive, month-long virtual programs - that train young professionals in foundational data science skills. The inaugural cohort of students represented 5 countries: Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Nigeria, and Ghana. When asked why they chose to focus specifically on the continent of Africa, Clinton said, “There’s incredible drive and ambition in African youth. The median age in Africa is 19, the youngest in the world, so it’s a very exciting place to nurture talented youth who can tackle global issues.”
As Andrew, Apollinaire, and Clinton were learning AI and data science in the Equitech Scholars program and the Applied Data Institute, they realized their peers working in the social sector wanted to learn the same skills, but lacked a platform to do so. NawiriTech was founded to bridge this gap. The recent "Workforce Wanted: Data Talent for Social Impact" report by data.org and the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation identified the need for over 3.5 million data professionals for social impact over the next decade. NawiriTech was founded to meet this urgent need for data-empowered social impact professionals.
“We learn so much from applicants in their interviews, like how they want to use data for the problems they encounter in their jobs, but the candidates don’t have a place to learn and get tailored support,” Clinton said. The team decided that NawiriTech would launch sprints - short 6-week programs that are rigorous and intense, while allowing working professionals to learn while still in full-time jobs. The intention is to cater to those with several different levels of experience, offering different sprints for beginner, intermediate, and advanced learners.
NawiriTech was incubated in the Technology and Learning Lab at Equitech Futures and the founders received funding and mentoring from Equitech Futures faculty to launch the startup. Nawiritech's programs are completely funded for admitted students through support from Equitech Futures. “We are really grateful to Equitech Futures for supporting this expansion of data education in Africa. It’s a huge selling point to prospective students to have access to a high-quality program that is fully funded. Eliminating that cost barrier increases demand and helps us reach the most deserving and ambitious people who cannot access expensive data science bootcamps," Clinton says.
NawiriTech sprints are named after famous African scientists. For example, the Wangari Maathai Sprint is named after the Kenyan social and environmental activist who was the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize. NawiriTech hopes to pay tribute to many iconic African scientific leaders. “We wanted to use our program to spotlight the innovators we know from Africa since these leaders are often not as widely recognized as they should be,” says Clinton.
When asked about their aspirations for the future, Andrew said he’s inspired by how humbly NawiriTech has begun - starting with an idea Clinton had to tutor peers in data science. “It’s so expensive to get this kind of training, especially in Kenya. I really hope NawiriTech is a place where we empower people with data literacy. Many people talk about financial literacy, but data literacy is just as important. Every citizen of every African country needs to have data skills,” Andrew says. He hopes the programs can even be offered asynchronously in the future to reach more people.
Before coming to Equitech, Andrew says he was unaware of the inequity of access to data education. He credits Writing Lab faculty, Krittika Bhattacharjee, for allowing him to research what educational inequality really means and to dive deep into what it means specifically in Kenya. Andrew read How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates, and it inspired his passion for working to solve climate change. “We’ve had several droughts for the last 4 months here in Kenya, which leads to food insecurity. But people don’t know about this stuff,” he says.
Clinton hopes NawiriTech will improve access to employment opportunities for young people across Africa, especially in the social sector.
“Some people don’t have support systems, and we were privileged to have that. Abhilash gave us an opportunity to level the playing field and challenged us to go and do it. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him,” Clinton says. “I really wish we could build a system where opportunity isn’t tied to privilege or family status or who you know but rather tied to talent and potential. Because someone believed in us and gave us an opportunity, we want to do the same. If someone has the zeal, then someone has determination. I’ve come to realize that if you have the right team, resources, and mentors, I think we are all capable. We just need someone to mentor us on the journey. Africa’s youth can build solutions and solve problems. It doesn’t always have to be people with big resumes when others are given the opportunity to flourish.”
Andrew adds that “to face challenges head on, you might not know everything. People have really big dreams but they worry they won't realize them. You don’t have to know everything when you start something, but as you go, it starts making sense along the way. Whatever dream you want to achieve, just get started.”