The News is Good

Mohamed T. Kante, Visionary & Chief Nerd

September 11, 2014

The first iNERDE STEM Summer Camp has passed into the history books. We did it! And we did it very, very well. Of course, it was difficult, to be perfectly honest, every single day presented some kind of challenge. We weren’t sufficiently prepared, we had and still have so much to learn, but no matter what difficulties we faced our “customers”, our Nerdy kids, their parents, and the community loved what we did. We accomplished what we set out to do, we turned a bunch of kids on to STEM and developed their critical problem-solving skills, and we shared our message of social responsibility that I believe will stay with our Nerds for the rest of their lives. The support we got from the community in Bamako was absolutely beyond what we hoped for, enterprises welcomed opened their facilities to us for field trips, NGOs as well as governmental organizations offered a helping hand and people just showed up, telling us that they believed in what we were doing and were ready to pitch in. One of those people, Bada Keita, became our first Mali-based Empowerment Agent. Many schools and teachers came to us and pleaded with us to work with them next year and to run more summer camps.

We will. We are going to grow our organization and put on 4 camps next year, returning to Mali with an improved curriculum and some exciting new elements in our program. We just held our first annual Summit in Boston and laid out an ambitious roadmap for the coming year and put in place the organization we need to execute to it. Rebecca Brousseau, who was a trooper serving as an Empowerment Agent for all 7 weeks this summer and fit into the Malian environment as though she had spent her whole life there, is going to head up the Education Program, coordinating with the schools, local teachers, parents, and community and recruiting and managing Empowerment Agents. A new member of the iNERDE team who has been working behind the scenes with us for the last several months, biochemistry researcher Aïseta Baradji, is going to take on leadership of our curriculum development efforts. Of course, we’re going to need to step up our fundraising to support our ambitions. Michael Leventhal is going to change hats and push a number of new initiatives in that area. One of the first you’ll see is our Adopt-A-Nerdy-School program, which will connect excellent iNERDE partner schools looking to hold STEM Summer Camps with corporate sponsors willing to underwrite a portion of camp costs.

It seems that while I was in Mali enjoying the beautiful unfolding of our first Colonie de Vacances STEM the world was going to hell in a handbasket. I won’t repeat all the terrible things that have happened in the last few months – whether you wish to or not it is nearly impossible to avoid the media and its daily offering of disturbing news so you know all of it as well or better than I do. The part of the world where iNERDE is operating hasn’t been spared: Africa, West Africa, Mali. Unfortunately, for most people, what little they know about Mali comes from those sources of dismal news. You, however, are reading this blog and perhaps know about iNERDE, perhaps you have even looked at our newsletters from this summer’s camp, you may be an exception, one of the few that knows Mali is a place where wonderful things are happening. Yes, there are problems, even terrible problems in iNERDE’s part of world, and there are some bad people and destructive forces – just as there are in the United States, a beautiful country I love and admire with all my heart. It was truly a joy to share my native country, Mali, with the North Americans that ignored the dreadful news stories and embraced the challenge of creating the first iNERDE Colonie de Vacances STEM. My Mali is also a beautiful country, multi-ethnic, -lingual, and -religious, where, to an impressive extent, its people live in harmony and mutual respect. The people of Mali are strong, confident, opinionated, stylish, spiritual (and Malian women even more so) and we love to eat (as Joey Orlando revealed in his blogs, describing how he ate delicious Malian food continuously his entire stay), dance, make music, argue, party, and joke. And although there are many disadvantages to life in Mali compared, say, to the United States, the one thing that Malians have in abundance is resilience and optimism. And we have a long history of love of learning, a quality that was reaffirmed to me by the enthusiastic support that the people of Bamako showed us this summer.

So the news is good, maybe much better than you could have imagined. It is good for Mali, good for Africa, and very good for iNERDE. And we intend to keep the good news coming.

iNERDE Takes Off

Mohamed T. Kante, Visionary & Chief Nerd

June 4, 2014

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.

Mohamed Kante in 2003
Mohamed in 2003
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