Q: Please tell us about yourself, educational background and the path that led you to Habaka (Tech and Innovation hub in Madagascar).
Ratozamanana: My name is Harinjaka Andriankoto Ratozamanana, social entrepreneur and pioneer in new media in Madagascar, co-founder and CEO of HABAKA Innovation Hub, a nonprofit volunteer organization which trains and brings SME's, techies, engineers, researchers, students and kids together around its activities.
I am one of the TED (www.ted.com) Fellows, which stands for Technology Entertainment and Design. TED is often referred to as “the Davos of ideas and Innovation.” As a TED Africa Fellow in Arusha, Tanzania in 2007, and also TED Fellow in Long Beach, California in 2009, I have been recognized as an outstanding young world leader who demonstrated achievement and potential, especially in improving the lives of young people in my local communities.
Since 2014, I was listed among the Choiseul 100 Africa Economic Leaders of Tomorrow ranking from the Choiseul Institute, a French think tank specialized in politics and geo-economics.
I hold an Associate Degree in Law and Political Science and a BSc degree in Communication, specialized in Information and New Media from Université de Provence in Aix-en-Provence, France.
During my years at university, I met Jean Veronis, a well-known French linguist; computer scientist and blogger who made me discover his passion about blogs and computer science. US Tech Guru Ethan Zuckerman inspired me about International Development in Africa through technology.
I decided to come back to Madagascar In 2007 and worked as a Senior Communication Officer for FANAMBY, a nonprofit volunteer organization made up of scientists and rural development specialists working to improve Madagascar. Two years later, with some of my colleagues and myself, we decided to create our NGO to bring our own solutions to conservation problems in Madagascar. Unfortunately, in 2009, due to the political turmoil in Madagascar, this first attempt to create an NGO did not take off and same as other projects that I had in mind that year.
In early 2009 until 2013, Madagascar entered a period of prolonged political crisis that had a profoundly negative impact on the lives of its population. During that long period, people needed to exchange information and to express themselves. This in turn greatly increased the significance of social networks and media in the country.
Malagasy people have gradually and quite easily adopted new forms of technology in their everyday life, as far as the urban populations are concerned. This first wave of technology users have gathered enough knowledge on the subject and are now working in the ICT sector as experts and specialists in information technology. This thus creates a new generation of jobs and companies that did not exist before. Some of these individuals involved expressed the need for a place where they can connect and meet people from the same sector or same mind, and where they can work.
HABAKA was born in 2012, in a collective gesture from people who shared the same vision and who wanted to make Science, Technology and Innovation contribute to the country and to the continent’s development.
Q: Tell us about Habaka: Why Habaka? And who created it? What programs and services do you offer and who do you serve?
Ratozamanana: First of all we strongly believe in the power of sharing knowledge and gathering together to attract opportunities, partners, investors, businesses and projects. That led us to look for a space where the Internet connection and functional working environment would be available, for collaborative use. It was created by like-minded, self-employed tech entrepreneurs who have expressed their need for such a structure in Madagascar.
We had the opportunity to be hosted by the CIDST (Centre d’information et de documentation scientifique et technique), a semi-governmental organization linked to the Ministry of Scientific Research, in a 300m² facility in Antananarivo.
We are currently working with the CIDST and various stakeholders (NGOs, government and universities, and ec …) on different projects including the setting up of the first modern” technopole” in Madagascar, a shared vision adapted to the needs of researchers, engineers, students, freelancers in terms of technologies and equipment (High Speed Internet, supercomputer, 3D printer, laser cutter, data center, an exchange point for Madagascar and so on).
HABAKA is also part of bigger Network in Africa including Afrilabs and Afric’Innov.
HABAKA is a powerful word in Malagasy language standing for space, universe and infinity. The name has been suggested by Mrs. Juliette Ratsimandrava, President of the Malagasy Academy after we requested her for a term that would embody the concepts of virtual, clouds computing, Internet, and connectivity and so on.
At HABAKA innovation Hub, we offer a functional coworking space, so that it creates a network of coworkers – each dedicated to his activities – working side by side or together, on projects that matter to them.
HABAKA is also concerned in the transfer of technology and in the sharing of knowledge. We offer training in the use of social medias in business settings to companies and individuals, and we also organize free teaching code for kids twice a week. The new generations have to be versed in the new technologies to secure them from being passive end users, and rather become doers and creators in that field.
Last year, we started a program with an university in Berlin, and we created a small SPOC (Small and Personal Online Course) in a subject IoT (Internet of Things) with is a first on its kind between an European university and a sub-Saharan African Hub which was very successful and waiting to be expand in more field and in different spaces all other the country.
We try as much as possible to gather different communities through our networking events such as the Hackathon, Business model competitions and through celebrating the most important international week events such as the Africa Code Week, Global Entrepreneurship week, etc. But we also organize our own events regularly.
We use our events as a tool for communication, to give our programs more visibility.
Our Research and Development program was set up after a need from the government and international organizations for consultancy in the field of ICT or in anything involving our community. For example, this year, we are leading the technical part of one of the World Bank’s open DRI project in Madagascar where we are collecting data for resiliency, and mapping climate-related information for the local government and for the decision makers in Madagascar. This is the most meaningful project in the field on Open Data in the country and we are very honored to pioneer the way with all the stakeholders.
Q: Can you please elaborate on: (1) Habaka’s CoderDojo, and (2) the second edition of Science Hack Day that took place in Habaka’s locale in October 2015?
Ratozamanana: As for today, HABAKA is piloting micro-programs across the country, to increase awareness of STEM educations and Entrepreneurship.
A strategy that we think that will lead us to innovations in different field. We think it’s important to give skills to children at their early ages.
(1) Our CoderDojo program was born after we realized that computer science is not yet in the official syllabus at schools in Madagascar. We know of countries that have integrated the learning of code as one of the languages that kids should know in the future. We are part of the CoderDojo network, born in Ireland and present in almost 80 countries worldwide. The principle of CoderDojo is volunteer based and free for kids between 7 to 17 years old.
This frugal innovation is easy to implement and so far, we are very successful, with four running CoderDojos all over the country and lately we started the first CoderBus in Africa for the dissemination of the program where a big SchoolBus moves from district to district.
Give free programming courses, where every kid including the most marginalized and impoverished who don’t have access to computer in their environment.
The children are using Scratch, an open source teaching program developed by the MIT University to learn coding in an entertaining way.
(2) The event that took place in October 2015 was in its second edition of a Science Hack Marathon in Madagascar.
Science Hack Day is a 48 hours hackathon when makers, thinkers, designers and researchers are brought together to hack science and build cool stuff. This event is taking place in several places in the world, and the organization appointed me as their Ambassador in Madagascar.
We noticed that Malagasy people are natural born life hackers. Unfortunately, there are not enough FabLabs in Madagascar yet to cover the need of the growing audience.
Q: What challenges does Habaka currently face? And what opportunities do you see in the future for your organization?
Ratozamanana: Our main challenge at the moment is the infrastructure, we dream of a modern infrastructure like the Factory in Berlin or the Digital October in Moscow, where our community will have access to a wide range of services and equipment, such as super computers, data centers, fully equipped Fab Labs - for rapid prototyping - and more. And we would like this infrastructure to be reproduced in every main city where its need has been expressed. Madagascar neither has a robust strategic plan on STEM policies, nor even a clear framework for their implementation yet. We thrive to transform our country through knowledge, learning, innovation, competence building systems, using STEM for innovation, without transgressing our social and ecological health.
Over the coming decade, we foresee the creation of thousands job openings requiring basic STEM literacy, and moreover, people will need advanced STEM knowledge to be entrepreneurs. We really hope to unlock new generations of developers, designers, engineers and math and science teachers; and all of these jobs require STEM skills.
Today, HABAKA is trying to raise awareness on these issues at its own level.
Q: In your opinion, what groups in Madagascar are the most underrepresented in STEM? Secondly, what key steps should we undertake to promote scientific literacy and STEM amongst these specific science and technology underrepresented groups?
Ratozamanana: This question has been asked to the government, to researchers, teachers and educators during the opening conference of the Antananarivo Science Hack Day 2015. They noticed that Madagasacar’s population is of about 22 million. In this demographic reality, half of the population is under 30, a third is under 13, and about 6 million of students are in school, which means that another 6 million are not educated - lost generation? These lost generations are the most underrepresented in STEM. Young people make up to 60% of the unemployment up to date, and this lack of education more than often leads to unemployment or underpaid jobs.
As stated earlier, STEM programs are not yet fully integrated in the school programs in Madagascar, and the curriculum still has to adapt to the ever evolving reality. This lack of a good structures, teachers, infrastructure and budget creates considerable challenges for the governments generally handling the education system, and the education in math and science in particular.
First of all, Malagasy people are generally quite good in Math, in school like in real life. If students want to further their curriculum towards mathematics, sciences or technology, they are soon faced with the little availability and the general obsolescence of the means available to them, even in the largest Malagasy universities in terms of equipment and technologies necessary to study up-to-date engineering and science. Moreover, and perhaps because of this fact, the teachers in Madagascar often lack efficiency.
But, as I have noticed when attending the first Indian Ocean forum for Science Technology and Innovation, Malagasy students are very good in theory but they lack real practice when compared to their peers from the neighbor islands.
And it has to be noted that the examination taken at the end of high-school is very important in the Malagasy curriculum, thus, students tend to choose the easiest path of literary studies over science and mathematics to be sure to secure it. After this examination, students face another problem : seats in public universities are limited, and private ones are expensive. The whole of education is concerned, and it is quite difficult for students to have a normal curriculum in such an environment.
Q: Finally, in your opinion, what is the importance of STEM education, innovation, technology, entrepreneurship and investment as well as infrastructures and the rule of law in the socio-economic development of Madagascar?
Ratozamanana: For Madagascar to fundamentally change its educational landscape, massive e-learning technology like “Yazmi” a satellite-enabled education tablet, especially built for the educational needs of students and teachers.We think that solution like Yazmi is not only the right solution to raise the educational standards but is also cost-effective and easy to deploy because in using renewable energy for remote area and it doesn't need Internet.
STEM education should be made compulsory, and it should be regarded as the language of future invention. Those Innovations will solve many of the problems faced by Madagascar, in more clever ways, often more ecofriendly, and with more and deeper social impact. It needs to be encouraged because anyone can find a new, more efficient way to get something done.
Entrepreneurship is the only viable way to increase wealth among our people, both self-creating job opportunities and bringing back people’s previously alienated dignity. Investment is needed to build basic infrastructure like roads, hospitals, schools, housings, etc.
And we also need to be self-sustainable energies, Madagascar has so many resources for renewable energy but our country in among the less powered around the world. Engineers and researchers have found innovative solutions but struggle to turn those innovations for the benefit of all the populations.
We also have to realize that we need to break free from the pattern of foreign help and expertise. Some changes need to be done; our people need to be formed to the right skills so that we become our own experts in our own environment. We have attracted international mining company like Ambatovy but sadly, our people didn't have the right skills so most of the technical workers are from Asia, Europe, and US
We believe that our country could benefit from a strong transfer of knowledge (like what we saw in India or China) through good education systems and high level universities and gearing the external policy towards this should be made a priority.
The local business environment should be attractive enough for foreign investors to consider Madagascar more seriously, and the law needs to be applied to defeat corruption and to bring back self-discipline and the lost sense of citizenship in Madagascar.
These are the challenges but also the opportunity that have been identified so far, and the most urgent to address for our country with as much potential as Madagascar.