A few months ago, we engaged in an experiment to see the impact of knowledge sharing when used as a tool to build stronger and more organized African Student Diaspora outside Africa. While interacting with a few African students in India, we came to know about the African Students Association in Telangana State (ASA-TS). There are many such student bodies in other cities in India and across the world. Such social settings are important platforms to unite African students (outside of Africa) into one strong community. It becomes further interesting if these young Africans can agree on a common mission to acquire knowledge, return home and develop the African continent. This can help reverse brain drain in Africa.
In this article, I will share our story and learnings from this journey that we have embarked on. Our hope is to make this initiative a successful experiment in Hyderabad. Once successful, this in turn can be replicated across other parts of India and around the world, especially in cities and countries where we have Thoughtworks offices. We aim to create a global movement and a strong network of African Student Diaspora around the world. The core objective of this network is to encourage African students to acquire as much knowledge as possible and return to contribute to the socio-economic development of the African continent.
There are many questions one can ask to get a sense of the size of the communities we are aiming to engage with. Here are a few them:
It was while answering these questions that we came across the African Students Association in Telangana State (ASA-TS). To our knowledge, this is the most structured and recognized student body in Hyderabad. They provide a great platform to all African students in this state. In our first meeting with the ASA-TS leadership, we were told that there were between 7000 and 10000 African students in the state, from more than 31 African countries and who study for an average of 3 years in Hyderabad. With these numbers in mind, you can imagine the impact that we can create by connecting ASA-like organizations in different cities and countries (outside Africa) where we have Thoughtworks offices.
“In Africa, when an old man dies, it’s a library burning" – Spoken by Amadou Hampâté Bâ 1960 at UNESCO.
“Lack of focus on education for the youth is a direct contribution to the destruction of our socio-economic future" - YAT
“Education is one of your best friends which will never disappoint you" - YAT
“The best way to value your knowledge is to share it and evaluate feedback" - YAT
A quick interaction with any of the African Students Associations around the world will bring to our attention the number of challenges that they face to better organize and support their respective communities. As passionate technologists and advocates of social and economic justice, we have a role to play in helping address such challenges. One simple way is just to share our knowledge.
Armed with our passion to use technology to promote free and open education in the Global South (GS) countries in general and in Africa in particular, we decided to kick-off an experiment. We had the advantage of partnering with a progressive organization like Swecha in Hyderabad for this experiment. We wanted to build a strong relationship between ASA-TS, Swecha and Thoughtworks to support the African Students community in Hyderabad.
Our initial idea was to journey with these African students and see the impact that could be created by promoting education as a means of activism and by providing exposure to free and open source technology. As a joint collaboration of ASA-TS, Swecha and Thoughtworks, we organized a Web Development Workshop in our Thoughtworks Hyderabad office between the 15th and 18th of January 2015.
There are many tools that can help these organizations get more organized. We thought creating a central portal for information sharing for ASA-TS was a good starting point. Since ASA-TS did not have a website at the time, it was a challenge for them to organize their activities well and manage their members. We used this opportunity to help ASA-TS build their website. This website will serve as a central portal for all African students in Hyderabad to organize themselves under one platform and to subscribe to their central slogan: “One Africa, One Voice”.
Instead of building the website for them ourselves, we organized a workshop to train and equip them with skills that allowed them to do it themselves. This workshop was also an opportunity for us to promote the culture of continuous learning and knowledge-sharing within African students, through exposure to free and open source technologies. It also strengthened the relationship between ASA-TS, Swecha and Thoughtworks. We had four parallel tracks for the workshop. Based on their background, participants were divided into four different teams: Web Development, Content, Multimedia and Outreach.
The ASA-TS leadership helped us select 35 African students from 20 African countries to participate in the workshop. From the 35 students who registered, 24 students attended including two females. We had 10 trainers comprising of Swecha and Thoughtworks volunteers.
We created a form for this purpose and requested each participant to submit their feedback. We also conducted a retrospective at the end of the workshop. Here is a short video of a part of the retrospective session. Here is what we heard:
“Free software refers to freedom - this defines the way education should be in the world."
“That was really great. I just want to express all my gratitude to all the Thoughtworks team members. Thanks to our brother Charles. God bless Thoughtworks and wish it the best."
“This was a life changing and uniting experience”
"I feel I have walked away with new skills. I can't thank you enough for the fantastic training experience that you have given our team"
We concluded our workshop with a short video where every country representative shared their impression and experience of the workshop. Swecha volunteers also shared their experiences. Here is a short version of the video.
After releasing the first version of their website, the ASA-TS leadership team decided to celebrate with a larger African community. They organised a website launch event, for which 700 people were expected representing 10% of their estimated community size in Hyderabad.
The event took place on the 6th of March 2015 at the Tagore Auditorium (which could seat 1500 people) in the famous Osmania University. The date of the event coincided with the Independence day of Ghana and was celebrated with the theme - “The Bells of Freedom”.
From the 700 people who were expected, around 500 of them attended. Of this, 13% were from the Indian community including Swecha volunteers, the University leadership and the press. The event was presided by Mr. Kishan Reddy, a MLA in the Telangana State.
ASA-TS used this opportunity to showcase the diversity of the African culture and decided to organise a Pecha Kucha competition.
Through a series of Pecha Kucha presentations, each African country (ASA-TS registered member) made a short presentation about their culture. There were prizes for the top five presentations. This was an eye opening session and made for great learning for all the attendees, especially those from the Indian community. Here is a short video declaring the names of countries which made the top five best presentations.
Before the official website launch, I took the audience through the different functionalities of ASA-TS website. Here is a short video.
“I am impressed by this event and see for the first time how African students community in Hyderabad can get organized at this level...” - Mr. Kishan Reddy
“The experience was life changing, uniting Africans from different countries under the umbrella of one Africa, one voice..” - ASA-TS Leadership
“Yeah, the event was one of the most successful ASA-TS events, it was extremely great and I was glad to be part of it...” - ASA-TS Leadership.
I feel it was a great event. It was the first of its kind. Seeing all the African students together on one platform was really nice. We got to learn a lot about the culture and many other things about countries in Africa. When I spoke to a few students, I realized how deprived they were of education opportunities and how hard they are working to learn, study and implement the same back in their countries for their future generations. This is absolutely an awesome platform for them” - Swecha Executive Committee Member.
“Wonderful experience to be a part of this event. The enthusiasm was infectious. This is just a starting step to much bigger deeds! One Africa, One Voice ; India Africa, One Voice!” - Swecha Executive Committee Member.
“Great to see representatives from the entire African continent in one place. With the movie screening and student presentations, I felt like I visited Africa in a few hours” - Thoughtworker
This is the immediate next step. With the ASA-TS website fully up and running, the objective is to have all African students in Telangana registered on the ASA-TS website.
Mama Africa Gathering
Once the registration campaign is done, ASA-TS will have an accurate headcount and plan future activities and events more efficiently. With the support of partnering organization like Swecha and Thoughtworks, ASA-TS is planning to organize a Mama Africa* gathering, which all ASA-TS registered students will attend. This event will, for the first time, provide all students living in Telangana state with the opportunity to meet and socialize.
We plan to organize similar workshops regularly to accommodate more African students. To make this more sustainable, we are going to adopt a “train-the -trainers” approach.
Replicate the model across India and around the world
We have initiated conversations within Thoughtworks offices in India to see how this Hyderabad experiment can be replicated in other cities in India. We look forward to leveraging our contacts with African Student Associations in Chennai, Pune, New Delhi and in Bangalore for this purpose.
We know that this initiative is an Ambitious Mission. To achieve this, we would like to collaborate with organizations (NGOs and activist organisations) in the education space and leverage on similar activities that they might already be working on. Organizations who are interested in this cause can also partner with us to benefit from each other's experience.
*‘Mama’ means mother and Mama Africa is used to refer to Africa as the common mother for all African students.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.