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Centre for Social Innovation Ghana

Social Innovation in Ghana with Google’s Computer Science for High School programme

Africa's youth is seen by many to be our continent's biggest opportunity to transform our destiny.

Perhaps this is not surprising as 65% of Africa's 1.1 bn population are under 35. In order to leverage the huge potential of our youth, we need to educate and train them to design solutions to challenges that are crippling our continent.

At the same time, technology is changing Africa at breathtaking speed. So what better way to combine our youth and technology to train our youth on how to use technology to solve the challenges facing our communities?

This is what inspired Adjei Benson and his co-founders Yaw Adu-Gyamfi and Collins Amponsah Mensah to found the Center for Social Innovation in 2014 in Kumasi, Ghana.  The Center for Social Innovation is a mission-driven not-for-profit organization. The organization aim's to provide people with the skills and the tools they need to make meaningful contributions to national development through social innovation.

The Center recently was awarded some funding from Google through the Computer Science for High School Programme. This is an annual funding program that aims to improve the computer science (CS) educational eco-system by providing funding for the continuation of CS teacher professional development globally.

We are excited that we got the opportunity to chat to Adjei Benson about his work and social innovation in Ghana.

What inspired you to start the Centre for Social Innovations in Ghana?

Centre for Social Innovations was started in December 2014 by a motivated team of accomplished development professionals who believed in the fact that for the young generation to take Ghana and Africa to a new level in development, a lot has to change in an educational system that mainly allows students to accumulate knowledge and reproduce same in examinations to progress through the system. The system must change to one that allows students to experience and contribute to finding solutions to the real world issues that they are being trained to solve.

As the Founding CEO, the inspiration to start CSI came from my previous job with US-based social enterprise called Think Impact as the Country Director for Ghana from 2012 to 2014. Think Impact was sending college students from the US to Ghana and other African countries to experience social innovation in the real world by partnering with local communities to develop solutions to social, health and environmental issues using local assets and resources. What we were doing at Think Impact opened my eyes to the opportunities to improve the quality of education in Ghana at all levels by partnering with educational institutions to expose students to the design of solutions to social and environmental challenges using design thinking and asset-based community development approaches.

What were your first steps?

We started by first forming the entity Centre for Social Innovations with the clear mission of empowering people of all ages and communities to develop authentic solutions to social and environmental challenges using local assets and resources. We developed curricula for our program dubbed Young Social Innovators (YSI) for Basic, High School and University students with Community Innovation, Green Innovation and Digital Social Innovation as the key components of this program. We also started building partnerships with like-minded organizations to create synergy and leverage resources that were crucial to our survival and growth.

How did you build your team?

The team was built around the mission. All 3 Co-Founders had solid development experience from Ghana and other parts of the world. We believed that if we could expose the younger generation to some of the things we learned, later in life they could do better than us. We operated for almost a year before bringing on board two (2) additional staff to beef up the team and to be dedicated to our projects for students at different levels of the educational system.

Centre for Social Innovations Ghana volunteer training

Center for Social Innovation in Kumasi, Ghana

What are your biggest challenges at the moment?

Our biggest challenge at the moment is with funding for our Young Social Innovators’ Program. As the YSI Program is targeted at students who cherish the experience, they are unable to pay to enable us cover our costs and getting donor funding for programs of this nature with long-term results is tough.

What steps are you currently taking to solve the challenges you are facing?

We are building partnerships with other organizations and individuals to leverage resources that will enable us to offer the program at no cost to the students. These organizations are mainly other educational non-profits such as World Vision as well as businesses and individuals who chose to give back to the society by investing into an educational system that provides students with hands-on skills in innovation and creative problem-solving skills. We also strive to stay as lean as we can by ensuring that whatever limited resources we have get invested into the growth of our brand.

Tell us about your Google Computer Science for High School grant?

The CS4SI is part of Google's Computer Science for High Schools (CS4HS) Program which is supporting educational institutions and non-profits worldwide to improve high school students and teachers interest in computer science. The program goals also include the creation of communities of practice to boost networking and synergy creation.

CSI and our partner Hapaweb Solutions are using the grant from Google for a project we have termed Computer Science for Social Innovations (CS4SI) with the goal of training 400 high school students in basic programming and supporting them to leverage this knowledge to create programs and apps that contribute to solving social and environmental challenges. The project also involves 16 computer science students and young professionals working as volunteers to visit the 16 participating schools every week to help the students follow the training over a 2 months period.

In each of the 16 participating high schools, the students will form five teams of five to compete among themselves. The best teams from each of the 16 schools will be selected to compete in an inter-schools challenge to select 3 best teams for prizes.

It is our hope that by the end of the one year period, the project participants would not only develop interest in pursuing careers in computer science but would also be inspired to leverage its potentials to create solutions to issues that affect them and the wider society.

Center for Social Innovation volunteers Ghana

Volunteers receiving training at the Center for Social Innovation

How are the 16 participating high schools selected that you will be working with?

The 16 schools were selected based on a number of factors which include their proximity to Kumasi where the volunteers will be visiting them from, their willingness to participate in the program and available of at least 25 computers for the students to use for the training and their projects.

How are the social and environmental challenges, for which program and app solutions are designed, selected? Do the students propose their own?

The students will use the CSI Toolkit for Social Innovation developed with Design Thinking and Asset-based Community Development approaches to identify issues that affect them or others in their schools, communities and homes and creatively think about how ICT could be utilized to create solutions to these issues. There are therefore no limitations on issues they work on or the solutions they design.

In which areas do you see the biggest potential for these programs and apps to solve challenges?

Based on our experience working with students, we can predict that a lot of the innovations are going to focus on environmental issues (sanitation, waste management, climate change, land degradation etc), health (reproductive health, malaria, teenage pregnancy etc) as well as innovations that improve teaching and learning in the schools.

How do you measure the success of this initiative?

We measure success in terms of the quality of the innovations, the level of learning that will take place among the participants, participants opting for careers in ICT and the interest of students, teachers and the volunteers to continue to work together in the Community of Practice (CoP).

What is your personal leadership philosophy?

I believe in teamwork, I believe in partnerships, I believe in persistence and I also value people. The mission we want to accomplish and the issues we are tackling are so complicated and entrenched that without these attributes, any leadership efforts will not achieve much.

Adjei Benson Centre for Social Innovation Ghana

Adjei Benson (3rd from right) says that teamwork, partnerships and persistence are key to his leadership philosophy.

Which are your 3 most valuable habits in leading social innovation and why?

Empathy, valuing people and their capabilities and communication. I chose these 3 because the success of any social innovation depends on the social innovator innovating with the people and not for the people. This requires a deeper understanding and appreciation of what the people are going through. People will co-operate and put in their best effort only when they feel respected and their contributions valued. And lastly, good verbal and written communication skills are necessary for a social innovator to get the buy-in and support of his/her team and audience.

Empathy, valuing people & communication are key for #socinn in #Africa.

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Where do you see the biggest opportunities and challenges for Africa in the next 20 years?

The biggest opportunity for Africa lies in the youthful population. There is the abundance of young, energetic and talented youth whose potentials must be leveraged to create the needed solutions to the continent's challenges in dealing with poverty, hunger, environmental degradation, corruption and inequality. But having a youthful population alone is not enough and could in itself be a challenge to the stability of the continent. Governments, businesses and institutions need to create opportunities for the youth to nurture their potentials to meaningfully contribute to making the continent better.

Thank you for this wonderful interview and for sharing your insights on your journey as a social entrepreneur as well as the solutions you are implementing to make our beautiful continent more prosperous for all.

About the Author Rise Africa Rise

Rise Africa Rise is your online guide to tech entrepreneurship and (social) innovation for African entrepreneurs, startups and businesses. Our aim is to provide you with valuable digital strategies, tools and insights to support you in building a world-class and competitive business in the 21st century.

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