TechPlomacy: A New Frontier For Nigeria

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Binta Mustapha

Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics Education (STEM) is full of untapped potentials that are underappreciated in Nigeria. STEM Education is an important prerequisite for the development of any nation. It is the pivot upon which technological advancement revolves. The United States Consul General F. John Bray recently in Lagos Nigeria during a STEM event reiterated that "in a world that's becoming technology-driven, it's more important than ever before for our youths to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to become innovators, educators, researchers and leaders who can solve the most pressing challenges encountered by the world both today and tomorrow". Indeed, a Washington DC-based Brooklyn Institute reported that by the year 2030, more than half of the jobs in the world be digital and largely STEM-based. Therefore, despite the various challenges such as deficient curriculum; poor teacher supply/quality; unavailability/technical know-how of teaching facilities; overloaded syllabus; inadequate incentives; poor work environment and capacity building, the promotion of educational and career opportunities for young Nigerians especially girls and women is a priority.

 

It is in line with the positions enumerated above that Denmark in late 2017 deemed it necessary to appoint a Tech Ambassador for a country in addition to official diplomats. TechPlomacy which is the term to describe that act, literally implies (Tech and digital diplomacy). This is in short, an acknowledgement of the key role technology plays and will increasingly play in the future for individuals and societies alike. I must mention though, that TechPlomacy differs from digital diplomacy which implies solving foreign policy problems using the internet (also termed 21st Century Statecraft in the United States of America and Open policy in Canada). The world's first TechPlomat: Tech Ambassador Casper Klyge of Denmark has physical offices in Silicon Valley; Copenhagen and Beijing-China. His job description includes: building strategic partnerships and engaging directly with tech-hubs; governments; international organisations; civil society; world-class universities and other stakeholders.

 

This exciting foreign policy strategy employs the thinking caps and resources of Silicon Valley's Tech giant's like Google; IBM; Apple and Microsoft to innovate solutions to everyday life's challenges in governance; education; health; youths; environment; science; technology and other social services. A March 2018's Chatham House publication titled: The era of TechPlomacy states that the influence; economic strength and impact of most of the companies listed above exceeds that of many nation states. Herein lies the message for Nigeria! Denmark considers it strategic planning to engage these companies innovatively; acquire industry-specific information and experience to train youths via the educational system for skills fit for the fourth industrial revolution and a prerequisite for digital success. This was why they appointed the world's first Tech-Ambassador to set the agenda within this field. It is hopeful that the Nigerian government would follow in this giant stride and most importantly ensure that the portfolio reflects a genuine desire to attain developmental goals identified by a majority of the citizens in nomenclature and deed.

 

Denmark's Ambassador to Nigeria at one of the recent Tech hubs in Abuja shed light on the reasons why they have a Tech Ambassador. He summarized by stating that the Tech Ambassador has a global mandate to explore on behalf of the Danish government how new technologies can help address global challenges in the 21st century; spearhead and promote digital and technological developments as a priority across Danish foreign policy. Lagos and Abuja recently also spearheaded efforts in Nigerian TechPlomacy early 2018 when a powerful delegation of Women from the Silicon Valley tech companies (Tech Women Mentors) visited and facilitated Tech talks and workshops for women and girls in March. This visit and several other noble initiatives such as Silicon Africa (A Facebook tech support and information sharing group with followers around the globe) have spiralled into fruitful bridge buildings in the tech ecosystem in Nigeria.

During this delegation visit, as Tech Woman Fellow (2014), I facilitated a hands-on STEM Day which included coding in a loom for sixty (60) girl's aged 13-18 around Abuja and environs at the Engineering Block of Baze University with support of other notable Tech Women fellows. The Hands on STEM Day involved a design thinking workshop; pitch presentation running concurrently: Basic web development; Coding in a loom and motherboards workshop. We should continually promote such exchanges especially the acquisition of digital skills and making science fun to learn.

The beauty of the workshop and others hosted during this visit was an amazing opportunity for some of these delegates – the Tech Ambassadors, to get the first-hand experience of Nigeria while providing meaningful transfer of knowledge skills and experience with both the participants and the Tech Women fellows (Alumnae). In the same realm, The Federal Government of Nigeria's delegation led by Vice President Yemi Osinbanjo's working visit to the Tech Valley in July 2018 further strengthened Nigerian ties and had yielded positive results like the launching of Google Stations to provide free wireless internet to the nigerians. Access to free and unlimited data is a tool to unlocking opportunities for youths in this digital age. The Google Stations can help to bridge the digital gaps through the promotion of innovations in service infrastructure; hardware and software infrastructure; distance learning; accessing information and acquiring knowledge for a digital economy.

 

Indeed, TechPlomacy in Nigeria recently received a huge boost when a group of five girls called "Team Save-A-Soul", won the 2018 Technovation World Pitch junior division in the United States. This was based on their work in which they developed a mobile application called ‘FD Detector’ to tackle the problem of fake pharmaceutical products in Nigeria. The mobile app is able to confirm the authenticity and expiration status of drugs and therefore would be capable of preventing the loss of countless lives in Nigeria from these fake pharmaceutical drugs. Although this is still the third quarter of 2018, it has been a digitally interesting year for Nigeria and TechPlomacy is indeed the new frontiers of foreign policy and science engagement.

 

Binta Moustapha is a STEM for girl's Advocate and Tech Woman Fellow and Programme Coordinator at the Best Education for Development Foundation Nigeria. She can be reached on Twitter via @BintaMoustapha

 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SciComNigeria

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