Hacking against Ebola

Like other epidemics, Ebola creates panic, dangerous rumors and unverified facts. Journalists must be prepared, yet unfortunately they often lack the necessary resources and tools that match the responsibility to inform local communities.

To help fill the gap, we’re supporting the Global Editors Networks’s #HackAgainstEbola on January 14 and 15. Other supporters include Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), Union for Francophone Press (UPF), and Code for Africa. Follow the two-day event through GEN’s live blog and the hashtag #HackAgainstEbola.

Our goal is to help develop the best tools needed to explain the Ebola epidemic. A dozen teams, composed of one journalist, one designer, and one developer, who will work to build a prototype online product in 48 hours. Nigeria’s Pan-Atlantic University, Ghana’s PenPlusBytes and South Africa’s 24.com hosted previous Ebola hack days.

The Editors’ Lab has been running Google-supported hack events in newsrooms around the world for the past few years, bringing journalists and coders closer together to explore new ways of creating and presenting the news. World-renowned media organizations including The New York Times, The Guardian, El Pais and Le Parisien have hosted hack days on different themes.

The winning team in Dakar will compete against the other winning Editors Lab teams at the GEN Summit 2015 in Barcelona next June.

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Encouraging schools to teach computer science

We recently told you about CS4HS, our program for high school and middle school computer science teachers. Today, there’s some additional news to share: the winners of our 2014 Europe, the Middle East and Africa CS4HS awards.

Twenty-six computer science education projects, from across 20 countries in Europe, Middle East and Africa, were chosen. All address training of computer science teachers in secondary schools and aim to spread best practice amongst educators.

Among the winners, the University of Stuttgart will host a teacher training workshop introducing computer science topics. Technion – Israel’s leading Institute of Technology — will give teachers access to a collaborative educational site featuring successful lesson plans and classroom idea. Kenya’s Maseno University will offer sessions on mobile application development and IT leaders will be invited to discuss the value of a computer science degree and potential career paths.

Visit www.cs4hs.com to find out more and to access teacher resources such as online workshops, tutorials and information on computational thinking. Ongoing, year-round help is available by joining our Google+ Community which hosts Hangouts on Air with CS industry leaders, Googlers, and top educators. Our ultimate goal is ambitious — to “train the trainer,” develop a thriving community of high school Computer Science teachers, and above all, engage pre-university students about the awe and beauty of computing.

Posted by Michelle Finnegan, Program Manager
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First time for everything at Cultural Institute

Today we’re celebrating a series of ‘firsts” for our Cultural Institute’s collection of art and archives – our first Nigerian exhibition, our first Pakistani partner, and our first Native American collection.

Nigeria’s Pan-Atlantic University is presenting its collection of rare historical documents and photographs tells the story of Nigeria’s formation as a colony from 1851-1914. It’s second exhibitions documents through rare photographs Lagos‘s transformation from a cosmopolitan colonial trading center to West Africa’s largest metropolis with a population of more than nine million people.

Colonial Lagos
Modern Lagos

Our first partner from Pakistan is the Citizen’s Archive of Pakistan. Its exhibit documents the emergence of new media after the country’s independence in 1948. During this period, traditional art forms were revived while television launched TV serials addressing contemporary human dramas, women’s changing status, as well as other important social and political issues.

Pakistani TV medical drama from the 1980s

Mashantucket Pequot Museum is the world’s largest Native American museum, with a collection that encompasses 20,000 years of Native and natural history. Their eye-opening exhibition on Neetôpáwees (pronounced nee-top-a-wees) means “Little Friends” in the Mohegan-Pequot language.

In the exhibition, we discover dolls from the past 125 years, and their myriad uses: as medicine dolls, possessing healing and protective powers, important tokens of exchange and respect between Northeastern Native American tribes, and interactive, educational toys for young people community. The dolls’ stories and meanings are as varied as their origins, design, and materials.

Two Indian dolls on exhibit

Posted by Lauren Nemroff, Program Manager, Google Cultural Institute
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Launching Project Link: improving Internet access in Africa

Africa is home to more than a billion people and is also the fastest growing continent. But only 16% of people are connected to the Internet. That leaves a huge population without access to new opportunities, such as a reliable channel to the latest news, a tool to join in worldwide commerce, or a platform to create and contribute photos, video, and more. This is true even in Africa’s bustling cities, such as Kampala, Uganda. 

For the nearly 3 million people living in and around Kampala, the Internet hasn’t been as fast and available as it could be; online activity often sputters on pre-broadband speeds or unreliable connections. That’s why today, we’re announcing Project Link, an initiative to build a super-fast, high-capacity fiber network to enable any local mobile operator or Internet service provider (ISP) to connect more people in Kampala to a faster, more reliable Internet.

Project Link’s network is available today to connect providers to long-distance fiber lines, equipping them with near-unlimited capacity to build and expand services to Ugandans. By making this connection, we’re strengthening a crucial piece of the Internet supply chain. Some parts of the chain are already strong: undersea cables are bringing data to Africa’s shores and mobile providers are expanding services across the continent. We’ve now built quality infrastructure in between these points to deliver the speed and capacity that supports the latest and greatest of the Web. 

Project Link goes beyond basic access; it enables local providers to offer new mobile data plans or high-speed Internet for office buildings and universities, and support newer technologies as they come to market. For Kampala, we hope it’s a foundation to support the needs of a new crop of entrepreneurs and innovators: the media-rich projects of a successful musician, fast connections for local hospitals, or new digital learning tools for students.

As more of Africa comes online, the Web will grow stronger and richer from the contributions of a growing population. Project Link isn’t just about connecting fiber cables. It’s about connecting the people of Kampala and giving them an opportunity to contribute to a truly global Internet.

Posted by Kai Wulff, Access Field Director

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Improving Internet access in Africa with White Spaces

Almost three billion people are online – but four billion remain without access, a failure that drives much political and economic frustration. TV White Spaces—the unused spectrum between TV channels—have the potential to bring wireless broadband access to underserved and rural areas. These low frequency signals can travel long distances and fill a need in places where telecommunications infrastructure is lacking. 

Google, joined by a group of partners, (CSIR Meraka Institute, TENET, e-Schools NetworkWAPA, and Carlson Wireless), wanted to help make this potential a reality. In March 2013, the group launched a six-month trial using White Spaces to bring broadband Internet access to 10 schools in Cape Town, South Africa. The goal of the trial was to show that White Spaces could be used to deliver broadband Internet without interfering with TV broadcast.
After six months, we can report some good news: the trial has been a success. The participating schools, which previously had slow or unreliable Internet connections, experienced high-speed broadband access for the first time. Teachers were able to use videos in their lesson plans, make Skype calls to other schools, update school websites, and send regular email updates to parents. Students could use educational videos for research. Because the service was better and faster, teachers and learners used the web to enrich the classroom experience.
At the same time, multiple sources confirmed that there was no interference with TV broadcast. Trial partner Meraka Institute performed frequent scientific studies to measure any potential interference over the six-month period. We also provided tools for people to report any interference experience while watching TV. The final results of the test have been published for those who wish to take a deeper dive on the trial’s outcomes.
ICASA, South Africa’s communication regulator, plans to use the trial outcomes as inputs into the White Spaces regulatory process. This is a big step to bringing this technology to more of South Africa. We hope the results can be useful in encouraging others to consider White Spaces to help bring the power of the Internet to more people in more parts of the world.
Posted by Fortune Sibanda, Policy Manager, Google South Africa


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Moving journalism into the digital age

As the news business experiments with new ways of creating and delivering journalism in the digital age, we’re keen to offer support at the grassroots level. Over the past two years, the Google-funded IPI News Innovation Contest has awarded $2.7 million in grants to media projects throughout Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

On September 13, we celebrated the fund’s 17 winners at the Guardian in London. The event included a Google+ Hangout on Air to allow contest winners who couldn’t make it to the event in person to participate – and to allow the public to watch.

Grants were given to both non-profit and for-profit organisations working on digital journalism initiatives, including open-source and mobile technology projects created by or for journalists and distributed in the public interest. Winners ranged from the Guardian’s own experiment with collaborative journalism to the World Wide Web Foundation’s Citizen Journalism project in Africa to Mediacenter Sarajevo’s data journalism program in Bosnia. You can find links to all the projects here.

In London, much of the discussion focused on making the winners’ innovations sustainable. IPI plans to host an ongoing online dialogue to keep track on progress. We’re delighted to be part of that conversation.

Posted by Peter Barron, Director, Communications, Europe, Middle East and Africa

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Boosting Africa’s small businesses

When Naa Oyoo Quartey used to go to Accra Central Market to get her fill of handmade craft jewellery, she was upset to see the stalls stacked with cheap imported items. She started Roots by Naa, a Ghanaian company creating fashion products such as headbands, brooches, and necklaces from handworked African fashion textiles.

What began as a side business is now a successful company supporting local crafts and promoting Ghanaian culture to the world – thanks to the Internet. Naa uses online dashboards to track visitors to the website and gain insight into the number of people and countries visiting, including clients from the US, UK, and France. She now plans to expand and train immigrant porter girls in Ghana – kayayee – to make handmade accessories, giving them a better standard of living and equipping them with an income-generating skill.

As one of the world’s fastest growing economies, with an entrepreneurial culture, diverse resources and political stability, Ghana aims to continue on its upward path by leveraging the Internet to reach regional and international markets. Google Ghana has partnered with the Ministry of Trade and Industry to launch Innovation Ghana, an initiative celebrating Naa and other Innovation Heroes.

Innovation Ghana highlights the recommendations of the Dalberg study, which equips African policy makers with data about the socio-economic benefits of the Internet, and how to capitalize on this potential. At the recent launch, Ghana’s Minister of Trade and Industry, Honourable Haruna Iddrisu, stressed the importance of the Internet for Ghana’s economy and job creation.

As part of this effort, Google Ghana also supported the Ghana Google Developer Group and Accra Google Business Group to bring together over 300 developers and businesses to connect, inform and inspire them around the theme of the internet and its potential to unleash innovation. Leading Ghanaian developers shared their knowledge of Javascript, HTML5, Google Drive API and Android. The business sessions featured stories of how SMEs have successfully used the internet to market their products and services, manage customers, and build their brands – all of which are key common challenges in Ghana.

Another initiative is called Social Day for the creative industry. The country’s leading bloggers discussed how the blogging community can further promote the use of internet tools. The grand finale hosted over 60 Ghanaian personalities who were thrilled with a songwriting collaboration between award winning musicians M.anifest and E.L, MC’d by Sister Deborah. The evening showcased how Google+, Hangouts and YouTube are being used, both internationally and locally, to reach new audiences, create new content and strengthen an existing creative culture.

We look forward to supporting the country’s growing online entrepreneurial spirit.

Posted Estelle Akofio-Sowah, Country Manager, Ghana
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Investing in a South African solar energy project

As we search for investments that can help speed up the adoption of renewable energy, we’ve been looking beyond the U.S. and Europe to parts of the world where our investments can have an even greater impact. We’ve just closed our first investment in Africa: $12 million USD (103 million Rand) investment in the Jasper Power Project, a 96 megawatt solar photovoltaic plant in the Northern Cape province of South Africa.


View Jasper Power Project in a larger map
The Jasper Power Project is located in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa, near Postmasburg

On completion, Jasper will be one of the largest solar installations on the continent, capable of generating enough electricity to power 30,000 South African homes. The project, developed and funded by SolarReserve, Intikon Energy and the Kensani Group, is also backed by Rand Merchant Bank, the Public Investment Corporation, Development Bank of South Africa and the PEACE Humansrus Trust.

When we consider investing in a renewable energy project, we focus on two key factors. First, we only pursue investments that we believe make financial sense. South Africa’s strong resources and supportive policies for renewable energy make it an attractive place to invest – which is why it had the highest growth in clean energy investment in the world last year. Second, we look for projects that have transformative potential — that is, projects that will bolster the growth of the renewable energy industry and move the world closer to a clean energy future. The Jasper Power Project is one of those transformative opportunities. To explain why, perhaps some background would be helpful.

Back in 2008, South Africa experienced a severe energy shortage, which resulted in blackouts throughout the country and slowed down economic growth. Since then the South African government has been actively supporting the growth of new sources of electricity to power the nation. Today South Africa is primarily dependent on fossil fuels, but there’s lots of potential for renewable energy — it’s a country blessed with abundant wind and solar resources — and the government has set an ambitious goal of generating 18 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy by 2030 (as a comparison, the entire South African grid is currently 44 GW).

Once constructed, the project will use solar panels like these
To meet this goal, the South African government has established the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Program (REIPPPP). Through the program, renewable energy projects compete on the basis of cost and contribution to the local economy to be awarded a contract with Eskom, South Africa’s state-owned energy utility. Jasper and the other projects being developed through the REIPPPP have the potential to transform the South African energy grid. And given South Africa’s position as an economic powerhouse in Africa, a greener grid in South Africa can set an example for the whole continent.

Just as compelling are the economic and social benefits that the project will bring to the local community. Jasper will create approximately 300 construction and 50 permanent jobs in a region experiencing high rates of unemployment, as well as providing rural development and education programs and setting aside a portion of total project revenues—amounting to approximately $26 million over the life of the project—for enterprise and socio-economic development. We appreciate how forward-thinking the South African government has been in designing the REIPPPP to encourage these kinds of local economic benefits.

Google has committed more than $1 billion to renewable energy investments and we continue to search for new opportunities. Our search has brought us from the U.S. to Europe and now to Africa. We’re excited to see where else it might lead.

Posted by Rick Needham, Director, Energy & Sustainability


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Launching TabletCafés in Senegal

Easy to use tablets are a great way of introducing new users to the Internet. But for most Africans, the hardware remains too expensive.  We’ve come up with a potential solution, making them available in cybercafés.

The Equinox cybercafé, a typical cybercafé located in Dakar’s vibrant Medina neighborhood, is trying out the concept. It replaced their computers with 15 tablets, and made them available at the same price as a regular cybercafe computer session at about $0.60 an hour

Equinox cybercafé before and after replacing PCs with tablets

When customers start a session on the tablet, they find popular applications ready for immediate use and are able to download any application of their choice. The device can be used comfortably seated on a couch, from a private booth for a video chat or on a dock with a wireless keyboard. Once the session is finished, the cybercafé staff will help the perform a factory reset, to ensure that all of their private data on the device is fully erased.

Our hope is that cybercafés attract new customers interested in a more simple and interactive way of going online, and make significant savings on their number one operating expense: electricity. Tablets consume much less power than desktops or laptops, and don’t require ventilation. Among other things, these savings can be reinvested in faster connectivity.

We look forward to finding out as the project unfolds, and hope that people living in Dakar will stop by to try out something new.

Posted by Alex Grouet, Business Development Manager, Francophone Africa et Yomi Oyesiku, Program Manager, Emerging Markets Access.

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Kenyan health project captures One Media digital award

How can digital media communicate critical sexual health messages? That’s the challenge undertaken by this year’s winner of the Google-supported One World Media Awards Digital Media Award winner, Jongo Love.

Jongo Love tells the stories of residents of Jongo, a fictional Nairobi slum, the complex relationships that they form and the family planning choices they make. Created by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Communication Programs’ Tupange Project, and produced by Well Told Story, a Tupange partner and previous International Digital Emmy Award winner, Jongo Love has fast won fans among urban Kenyan radio listeners.

In addition to a radio show, the project includes a Facebook campaign, YouTube videos, comic books and a Twitter feed. The characters host online live chats to give listeners and viewers the chance to ask their own questions about sexual health and safety. As the show’s makers put it, “Ni hot, ni sexy, ni idialala…ni radio show ita-blow mind Yako!! Every week on Ghetto Radio, Pwani.FM, Radio Lake Victoria, Radio Umoja na many more!”

The award citation praises the show because it “entertains but also passes on crucial information to inspire people to think about the decisions they make around relationships, sex and their future.”

Google is an ongoing supporter of the One World Media Awards, which recognize and showcase the best media content from the developing world.

Posted by Jon Steinberg, External Relations Manager, EMEA
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