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newtimes - 12 days ago

Why Google investment in Rwanda is a big deal

Rwanda is currently exploring various areas of cooperation with American tech giant Google to accelerate the country’s digital transformation. The development will touch several areas including a flagship fintech innovation programme, startup and developer ecosystem as well as digital skilling. Other areas of mutual interest include digitization of SMEs, places, and arts and culture and also policy cooperation. But how significant is this investment for the country’s ambition to positioning itself as an innovation hub? According to Esther Kunda, Director General, Innovation and Emerging Technologies at the Ministry of ICT and Innovation, the flagship project will, among others, build on the current focus of fintech support. She said that the programme will be built on three pillars including training and community building to support developers, Incubation support for fintech startups, as well as corporate innovation to support the private sector to build and incorporate fintech into their institutional innovation. Rwandan startups to win big While the initiative seeks to train a total of 500 Rwandans, at least 700 developers have already entered the programme, said Kunda. “They are in android mobile application and cloud development through the Google for developers’ programme to increase the pool of experienced developers in Rwanda,” she asserted. Under the deal, Kunda says Google will work with the Ministry of ICT and Innovation and Kigali Innovation City to increase the number of Rwandan startups in Google’s competitive pan-African accelerator programme, commonly known as Google for Startups. This year, she pointed out, Google admitted its first Rwandan-based company, Tabiri Analytics, a cyber-security startup founded by Carnegie Mellon University-Africa students, whose engineering campus is home to some of the country’s advanced tech developers. Kunda also highlighted that in line with the government’s goal to have 8.4 million people, the digital skilling will support a Training of Trainers (ToT) pilot for Rwanda’s Digital Ambassadors. The Digital’s Ambassador Programme, a nationwide initiative aimed at increasing digital literacy among Rwanda citizens by recruiting digitally-savvy youth to deliver digital literacy training. “The current pilot enrolled 20 Digital Ambassadors and broadcasters of ICT to be trained, who then trained 700 people in a month. Further plans to expand the support are being explored,” she asserted. According to Kunda, Google in partnership with Rwanda ICT Chamber, will also train 200 iWorkers (young people using digital platforms for work such as online freelancers, digital ambassadors)  to set up a Google Page and on Google Ads, enabling them to support SMEs grow their online presence. “Google will work with the National Museums of Rwanda to digitize museums and cultural heritage places and support the exploration of points of interest in Rwanda through 360-degree street-level imagery,” she added. The development comes at a time Google recently joined the Smart Africa Board, an alliance currently chaired by President Paul Kagame. Untapped opportunity “It boils down to the way we leverage on such opportunities,” said James Ndekezi, cofounder of KwaandaLabs, a local start-up that is venturing into unmanned technology. The startup is testing its working prototype of a smart tray that will be used to transport items using a specialized mobile application. Ndekezi argues that it is not the first time young tech enthusiasts are challenged to grasp opportunities put in place by the government. Rather, he asserted, “It should also inspire more young people to come up with tech solutions that will impact society.” Similar sentiments are shared by Reuben Mugisha, a software engineer who told The New Times that it is imperative for young Rwandans to feel part of this initiative. Mugisha added that in most cases young people are not told, and that some shy away from the opportunities. “The best way to benefit is to take part,” he added, “Since it is not costly. It would look good if all of those students taking tech courses are brought on board.”

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