Hope Or Hype: The Revolution In Africa Will Be Wireless : Goats and Soda Young entrepreneurs in Africa say they're leading a tech movement from the ground up. They think technology can solve social ills. But critics wonder if digital fixes can make a dent.
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Hope Or Hype: The Revolution In Africa Will Be Wireless

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Hope Or Hype: The Revolution In Africa Will Be Wireless

Hope Or Hype: The Revolution In Africa Will Be Wireless

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

I'm Melissa Block, and it's time for All Tech Considered.

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BLOCK: There's a new technology movement underway in Africa, where typically Western Aid money and World Bank loans have gone to save lives or dictate how countries should grow. Young entrepreneurs there are launching startups that they say will help Africans solve some of their own problems while boosting their own economies. NPR's Aarti Shahani reports.

AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: Gregory Rockson, age 24, started a tech company in his home country, Ghana, to improve healthcare.

GREGORY ROCKSON: About two years ago, doctors at the national teaching hospital in Ghana, which is called Korle-Bu, were about to treat a patient.

SHAHANI: The patient came in with heart disease.

ROCKSON: But they realized that the drugs they needed were not available in the hospital.

SHAHANI: The doctors had no idea where they could get the drugs, so they had to start making phone calls to other hospitals and pharmacies.

ROCKSON: And by the time they identified which of them had the drugs and it was brought to the hospital, it was two hours too late. The patient had passed away.

SHAHANI: In this day in age, Rockson says, that makes no sense. His startup, mPharma, aims to fix that problem with an online database. Pharmacies log what medicines they have. Doctors write digital prescriptions and give it to patients via text message with a nine-digit code.

ROCKSON: And they can take this code to the pharmacy that actually has the drug.

SHAHANI: This is not charity work. mPharma is creating a kind of Google Maps for prescription drugs and then selling the data on the location, the quantity and the price of drugs to multinationals, pharmaceutical companies that want to know for their marketing. The money pays for jobs and gets reinvested into hospital networks to improve their computer infrastructure. Rockson says his Internet business is a small part of a much bigger revolution.

ROCKSON: Being part of a new Africa story about Africans taking ownership of their problems with Africa. It's about Africans creating the solutions that will help solve and lift the multitude of Africans who are in poverty out of that. It's no longer about sitting down and having Westerners come on to the continent to do charity.

SHAHANI: Because it's so cheap to start a business based on software - it doesn't cost as much as mining diamonds or drilling oil - young entrepreneurs in Africa say their continent's relationship with Western money is changing. Though, there are plenty of dollars here. Last week, the CEO of Microsoft was in Kenya to launch Windows 10, and the founder of AOL was in Nigeria - Steve Case.

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STEVE CASE: So it is great to be here. This has been a great week - or a little more than a week - in Africa.

SHAHANI: He was visiting Andela, a startup that recruits local software developers and trains them so they can give creative input, not just cheap labor, to technology projects in Silicon Valley. Andela plans to have 100,000 high-end developers trained in a decade or so. Fellow Pule Taukobong stepped to the mic.

PULE TAUKOBONG: A lot of the developers here are working for some fantastic clients like Google, like Microsoft and are thinking about...

SHAHANI: Taukobong wanted an expert take. In the Internet of the future, where do newcomers like him fit in? Back when AOL started, Case recalled, just 3 percent of Americans were online and only for an hour a week on average. Then connectivity took off, followed by the mobile app generation. Now, Case said, we're in the third wave.

CASE: The third wave, we think, will be integrating the Internet seamlessly and pervasively in every aspect of our lives.

SHAHANI: And that's complicated work. It takes people who have deep, local knowledge. That means big opportunities for Taukobong and his peers. Case quoted an African proverb. If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, you must go together. Aarti Shahani, NPR News.

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