Secretly, I always nursed the desire to make an impact on the world.

Blessing (16), Nigeria

I have always considered myself a bright student. Secretly, I nursed the desire to make an impact on the world. When my aunt sent me a whatsApp broadcast from Teens in AI calling for teenagers between 11–19 with a desire to change the world in two weeks, I got really curious and I applied.


Few days after, I got a reply that I was accepted. I was anxious to see what teenagers could possibly do in two weeks to change the world and I had never been to any hackathon so I had no idea what to expect. It was going to be a three-week program, the first week for machine learning, problem-solving and software engineering tracks and the other two weeks for the project work in teams.

I took part in only machine learning and software engineering courses. I had heard of artificial intelligence and all the hype on how robots would take over the job market in the future, but I never really understood the reasoning. This machine learning course gave me my first insight into Artificial intelligence from the basics of linear regression. I was amazed how the programs were actually taught (or trained if I am using the proper terminologies), we considered cost functions that I thought were only applicable in math classes ( at that moment I became thankful I was serious in a couple of them).

From linear regression we progressed to classifiers and simple clustering algorithms. It was a lot to learn in one week but I got the overall picture and with some time I know I can definitely learn in detail.

The software engineering track was really fun! I learnt practical tips from Alfonso, the course creator who is a CTO with loads of experience in the field. Again, I had heard of the waterfall and agile methodologies in software development but Alfonso made me see it in a more practical light. He talked all about scrum and Kanban and helped us to explore scrumban. The youtube videos he suggested on the scrum master and their daily stand up meetings made it really difficult for me to forget the concepts I had learnt. Alfonso also introduced the class to coding in python, he said the professionals use the TDD approach of testing and he helped us create a practical project. I created a Git account and made my first repository all thanks to Alfonso.

Like a blink of an eye, the first week was over and everyone was split into teams to start working on a chosen project. The first workshop we had was the design thinking workshop. This was my favorite workshop, it was led by Tanya and Hamza from Quantum black.

The workshop focused on taking the human centered approach to designing a product.

No one wants to invest time into making something that nobody ends up using so my team and I spent about 4 days reviewing problems ranging from textile waste, poverty, lack of education to even discrimination trying to figure out what would be best for us to tackle. It was a really long week! It looked like we were not making any progress compared to the other teams, but since my teammates were calm I stopped overthinking it.

After deciding on the large subject matter of poverty, the DT mentors helped us narrow it down and the group decided to tackle lack of clean water. We researched this subject for a while and refugee camps kept catching our eyes. We arranged meetings with a contact who works in a charity ( CARE ) that works closely with refugees in Africa to better understand the problem.

We scheduled an interview with someone working in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya and he gave more context to life in the camp. We learnt that one of the most pressing issues for charities working with refugees is the inability to receive real time feedback from about all the guidelines they had been sending and about the services they provided in general.

The interview with the person on the camp taught us that the refugees have a high phone penetration but majority of the phones were old phones fondly referred to as dumb phones. All the while we were advised not to think of solutions but to just understand the problem well enough so we do not end up having the right answer to the wrong question.

At the end of the first week we understood the problem well enough to start brainstorming our HMWs… After a lot of trials we came up with: How Might We make the communication between refugees and charity organizations more effective.

Several pages of jamboard later we came up with a solution that everyone agreed solved the problem. It was going to be a very basic multilingual chatbot that could work on flip phones and supported text to speech conversion to accommodate people who could not read and write properly in the camp. Our solution uses artificial intelligence to spot the people who are having difficulty filling out a survey and automatically explains the survey to them by voice and they can then reply their responses using the voice to text feature.

In the middle of all this brainstorming we kept having our daily inspiring talks from the best professionals in the industry. One that particularly stuck with we was a talk on games and how they can be used to simplify complicated concepts by Phaedra Boinodiris who works at IBM. All the talks were absolutely amazing, they were the right places to get your daily motivation when the problem seems too large. The next workshop was on creating a value proposition and it was anchored by Lucy, who also served as a business and DT mentor. We learnt that the value proposition should show what your product does, who it targets and how it does it as briefly as possible and we saw really good samples.

We had other business workshops, personal branding workshops, marketing workshops, ethics workshops (which were really enlightening) and pitching workshops. We also had a daily dose of Ted talks to keep us thinking. And like a dream again it was the final day, the demo day! where we had to pitch to a group of expert judges. We spent the beginning of the day going over the script and the pitch deck we had already prepared, the developer in the team had the solution coded already, we pitched live to a large audience, including our various mirrors. As I was in team 1, we were to go first, I said my part of the pitch one final time as I warmed up to present in my most eloquent voice.

It was time! I started presenting the script I had already committed to memory, I observed all my dramatic pauses to pass the message across as my sisters who were in the room with me tried their best to encourage me without talking, once I was done with my part the zoom call disconnected. I thought to myself, that was close, at least it went well, only for me to find out that the network was unclear and everyone had struggled to hear me! Initially, I was sad that all my practicing had been in vain but later I was thankful that another teammate was able to fill in for me.

The teensinai accelerator 2020 was a wonderful experience for me and I am grateful for everything I learnt and for the opportunity to work with such amazing people.


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