Technology

Zindi: A Community of Africa's Data Scientists Solving Local Problems

Africa's largest data science challenge platform hosts paid competitions to find solutions to some of the continent's most complex concerns.

09.08.2019 | by Reve Fisher
Photo by Zindi
Photo by Zindi

Based in Cape Town, Zindi is gathering data scientists together to use artificial intelligence and emerging technologies to address some of the most complex problems facing the African people.

Founded in 2018, the social enterprise collaborates with companies, non-profit organisations and government entities to come up with data-driven solutions through paid competitions.

“Data science skills are relatively scarce still… and companies are looking for ways to access data science and AI solutions and talent,” Zindi CEO Celina Lee told TechCrunch. “Then there’s this pool of young Africans coming out of universities working in data…looking for opportunities to build their professional profiles, hone their skills and connect to opportunities.”

As the largest data science competition platform in Africa, Zindi has now accumulated a database of over 4,000 data scientists, most of whom are based in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Accra.

To participate in a competition, interested parties need to submit their solution sets in accordance with the contest’s guidelines and evaluation metrics, such as the format that their data submission files need to follow.

Once submitted, their entries may move up the competition’s leader board, ultimately winning the challenge. The hosts of the competition can then integrate the results into their current systems or use the results to create a completely new product.

While many of the competitions are centred around finding solutions in sectors such as agriculture, mental health and financial services, others have focused on creative endeavours, such as a recent competition to create an original piece of artwork and music using artificial intelligence.

According to Zindi’s CEO, about 80 percent of the social entreprise’s competitions involve a social impact component.

“African companies, startups, organizations and governments are in this phase right now of digitisation and tech where they are generating huge amounts of data,” Celina told TechCrunch. “There’s interest in leveraging things like machine learning and AI to capitalise on the asset of that data.”

The startup has recently announced a partnership with Microsoft to use Azure, the tech conglomerate’s cloud-based computing service system, to power Zindi’s platform. Microsoft will also host and sponsor two competitions addressing AgriTech issues.

“With over 60 percent of Africa’s population tied to the agri value chain, coupled with the challenges climate change is bringing to farmers, we thought this project’s outcome (powered by Microsoft Azure) can have a significant impact on farmers across Africa and beyond,” said Chris Lwanga, Microsoft senior director of software partnerships, as reported by IT Web.

Ugandan IoT accelerator Wazihub has also launched an AgriTech challenge to create a machine learning model to predict soil moisture levels of agricultural plots.

“In the face of climate change and food insecurity across the globe, we are thrilled to launch this partnership with Wazihub and Microsoft and make strides to more efficient use of our natural resources and local talent,” Celina proclaimed.

The startup hopes to end the year with at least 10,000 data scientists in its database, with a goal of 20,000 across Africa by the end of 2020.

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