This is a proud day for me, the iNERDE staff, and our donors and supporters. The vision that we share of empowering African youth to create their own future through knowledge took a giant step forward with the launch of our first STEM summer camp in Bamako, Mali, scheduled to begin operation on June 9.This incredible journey began, for me, in 2003 when I came to the United States from Mali to pursue a university education. I had never heard the acronym STEM, the only career options I knew about were law, economics, politics and jouralism. But given my competence in math courses the Dean told me I had the aptitude to be an electrical engineer. Electrical engineering gave me the chance to work on life-changing projects such as iCRAFT, an eye-controlled robotic arm designed for people who need help feeding themselves. This project was featured on Engadget.com, PC magazine and CNN among many other media outlets. I also learned about educating for social change, volunteering for Upward Bound mentoring and STEM education programs such as Solar Cars apprenticeship and the DIGITS program.
The success of iCRAFT and my volunteer activities helped me to realize that one doesn’t have to be a genius to change lives with technology, one needs knowledge, skills, and belief in oneself and in the future. So I thought about a way to share this success with my brothers and sisters in Africa who do not have the same chance I had to study in America.
I knew that an effective solution could only come from Africans themselves, originating from their deep aspiration to make a better life for themselves and their communities. Americans can share knowledge and learning tools but Africans are the ones that will educate themselves and create opportunity. I realized that only a grassroots approach would be sufficiently deep and broad, sustaining, and transformative. This is why I founded iNERDE.
iNERDE stands for New Education for Radical Development. The goal of iNERDE in simple terms is to ignite creative thinking, to nurture invention, to encourage entrepreneurship, and to build integrity among young people. Why? So that they learn to identify the challenges in their communities, gather the resources available to solve those problems, and implement their own solutions. We decided that the most efficient way to do this and to effect long-term transformation was through a 7-week STEM summer camp. The summer camp aims to increase primary school students’ aptitude in, specifically STEM and, generally, in problem-solving, by engaging them in interactive, team-based science and engineering projects.
For iNERDE, success is when these children mature into technologically-aware adults with greater aptitude in Math and Science, gainfully employed, possibly directly in a STEM field, and, above all, willing to give back to their communities. iNERDE is creating a movement in education to channel the aspirations of Africans and set them up to have the same full range of professional options enjoyed today by the citizens of the technologically advanced nations.
Another critical aspect of my vision for iNERDE was to create a “social enterprise”, an organization dedicated to social transformation open to all the ingredients that make American tech companies so dynamic. iNERDE aims to play a role in the longer term in helping to forge partnerships, based on mutual interest, between entrepreneurial Africans, “graduates of iNERDE”, and tech enterprises in the United States and the rest of the world. One in three children will be born in Africa by 2050 according to the UN Children’s Fund. Africa is the largest growth opportunity on the planet, an opportunity ready to be unlocked with knowledge that leads to societal transformation. iNERDE’s model is not “charity”, it is investment.
One of most wonderful things for me personally that has happened since I started iNERDE is to have been joined by so many people that feel inspired by the vision of iNERDE and have jumped in to help: volunteer staff, donors, and supporters. Without them none of this would be happening. We have a team of 5 leaving today for Mali to run the first iNERDE STEM summer camp, a staff member in Mali, and many more back in the US and Canada supporting our team in the field and building a stronger iNERDE to expand our mission. This “start-up” effort would not have been possible without our far-seeing donors who made an angel investment with little more to go on than Mohamed’s elevator pitch.
All of us were honored today when Fortune named me one of 50 “Heroes of the Fortune 500”. I feel very humbled to represent such an incredible group of people, the iNERDE team.
Today, iNERDE is taking off, literally as we send our field team to Mali and in turning our dream into reality. The first iNERDE STEM summer camp will offer a life-changing experience to 30 young Malians. Change one person, change the world. What might 30 inspired young people do? And this is just the beginning.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which we can use to change the world.” -Nelson Mandela