“When you try to do something new that no one tried before, people look at you strangely and think what is wrong with you. You went to school and university, and still instead of getting a job, you are trying to do crazy things. It has been difficult for me to convince my parents and close ones on what I am doing. But when you believe in something, you just have to go forward”.
These have been the words of Gildas Guiella, the co-founder of Ouagalab, who I met yesterday afternoon during a short visit to the innovation hub and start-up in Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso. At first sight, Ouagalab does not look like the typical co-working space and innovation hubs that I have visited before in other regions like Europe and East Africa. That is, in terms of fancy building and decor, furniture, air-conditioning and all.
Ouagalab basically has an outdoor and an indoor space for the techies to work, innovate and collaborate. The outdoor space is just covered with a roof and there are tables and chairs, which is ideal when the heat hits real bad in Ouaga. What I really liked about the indoor space is the originality of the building – A large room with dome-shaped mud roof. It reminded me a bit of the small houses I saw on the set of Star Wars in Tunisia, but in a larger format 🙂
What innovations did we see at Ouagalab?
Like any other innovation hub, Ouagalab provides a co-working space for tech savvies, organise events and trainings on the different technologies they are working on. What I personally found interesting at Ouagalab is their ideas, projects and the diversity of things that they are doing for development, covering various sectors like energy, health, education and agriculture.
Gildas showed a many things that they are doing and also what’s in the pipeline at Ouagalab. The following are just few of the innovations that are a bit more concrete than others, for now.
Solar oven and dryer
At the entrance itself, we saw some solar ovens and also a solar dryer outside, whereby Gildas and his partners are exploring the use of solar energy for cooking and drying. The plan is to later have like a small restaurant within the compound of Ouagalab, whereby the food will cooked in the solar ovens. They will also be drying fruits and vegetables in the solar dryer that can go up to 120 degrees celsius.
At Ouagalab, the youth are also working a bit on robotics. They have a 3-D printer and recently have been able to make a “hand” for disabled children that can help them do basic things.
Recycling of computer parts
Doing something useful out of what is considered as “trash” by others, is what the innovators at Ouagalab believe in. They have a project in which they gather old and unused computers from the public sector, and they re-assemble the different parts in a water container. The objective behind this re-assembling of computer parts is to teach to children though their training activities with them on how to manipulate these electronic tools so that they learn from a very early age that it is not complicated to build and create things.
One of the technologies which is creating a lot of buzz globally these days is the use of drones for development. Ouagalab is working on its first drone that will be equipped with a GoPro camera. It is still at a very early stage of development and the team is hoping that they will see it fly soon! 🙂
Information platform on agriculture
Last, but not the least, Gildas is working on an agricultural information platform that will provide information (on meteorological conditions, price of inputs and agricultural products etc.) to farmers in rural and remote areas by SMS. It is to be noted that over 80% of Burkina Faso’s economy depends on agriculture and facilitating farmers’ access to information can contribute a lot to the development of the sector, as well as improving their livelihoods.
For me, Ouagalab is a dynamic place full of ideas and innovation, with lots of potential. What I could see clearly in the youth there was a passion and the will to make a change on their own. And according to Gildas, “It is us, the youth, who have to set the pace and let the authorities follow us. Following and waiting for them will bring us nowhere”!