Five graduate students currently studying at Oxford have been awarded £1,000 grants from the Vice Chancellor’s COVID-19 African Innovation Seed Fund for entrepreneurial projects aimed at addressing global challenges stemming from the pandemic.
Professor Louise Richardson, Oxford's Vice Chancellor, said, ‘I am proud to see how the five students have reimagined their research to address urgent global challenges created by the pandemic. Whilst completing their graduate courses in the midst of a global pandemic, they have unleashed their creativity and insight to support the most vulnerable in our societies.’
The COVID-19 African Innovation Seed Fund grants were awarded in partnership with the Oxford University Africa Society, during the 2021 Oxford Africa Conference. The five winners are reimagining their research and using their expertise to accelerate access to education, health services, and safe drinking water.
Held virtually in May this year, and introduced by Dr Tedros Adhanom, Director General of the WHO, the Conference highlighted innovations and progress in health, economics, climate and politics in Africa.
With their specific knowledge and engagement with the African context, they are uniquely positioned to tap into the vibrant Oxford innovation ecosystem to create purpose-focused solutions...The winners truly represent the explosion of talent that is in the African continent
Dr Watu Wamae
Dr Elisha Ngetich, President of the Africa Society, and a current DPhil candidate at Oxford said, ‘Innovation is the cornerstone of Africa’s future. It makes me extremely proud to see the cutting edge research and innovation being done by these students at Oxford and the potential this could have for the continent.’
Dr Watu Wamae, AfOx Health Innovation Platform lead, said, ‘The creativity and phenomenal ability of the five students to pivot their research to address real challenges in Africa is commendable. With their specific knowledge and engagement with the African context, they are uniquely positioned to tap into the vibrant Oxford innovation ecosystem to create purpose-focused solutions that will positively impact livelihoods. The winners truly represent the explosion of talent that is in the African continent.’
Increasing access to Preterm care in a time of a pandemic
Josephine is a 3rd year DPhil candidate in the Nuffield Department of Women’s & Reproductive Health. Her research seeks to evaluate the effectiveness of a neurodevelopmental assessment tool for babies born pre-term. Such babies are at higher risk of neo-natal morbidity and developing mental health problems.
With the support received from the Vice Chancellor’s COVID-19 African Innovation Seed Fund, Josephine will be able to buy equipment and train more health assessors for the virtual platform.
She said, ‘My motivation for applying to the Oxford 2021 V-C COVID-19 African Innovation Seed Fund was to leverage the opportunity to promote a research idea by an African scholar at Oxford and to support an idea which will be a huge benefit to the African continent and globally. The availability of a platform for neurodevelopmental assessment in the time of a pandemic or where access to health centres is limited, will boost the possibility of scaling up neurodevelopmental screening.’
This innovation will have huge benefit even beyond the pandemic. Virtual screenings will allow health practitioners to reach more patients in a timely manner.
TGI career mobile app
Segun is taking an MSc in Integrated Immunology. He is the co-founder of The Ganglion Initiative, an organisation supporting career development and entrepreneurship among secondary school students in Nigeria.
The pandemic significantly affected Nigeria’s already weak schools career counselling services. Segun’s team is building an innovative mobile app. It will allow The Ganglion Initiative to reach more students and schools digitally, providing comprehensive and tailored information on career and scholarship opportunities.
He said, ‘This award is in honour for the dedicated volunteers at The Ganglion Initiative who work tirelessly to achieve our vision, and the funding will support our efforts to reach more students by deploying the online tool.’
The app will simplify information on seemingly complex topics, such as choosing a career and applying to university, through explainer videos and puzzles. Users will also be able to chat with directly with volunteers enrolled in higher education.
Their aim is to reach at least 20,000 Nigerian students. The support from the Vice Chancellor’s COVID-19 African Innovation Seed Fund will help complete the product design of the app as well as online and offline publicity of the app.
Improving Water Pricing Strategies Amidst Ghana's COVID-19 Free Water Policy
Emmanuel is taking an MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management. His innovation aims to ensure that the most vulnerable households in Ghana have access to safe drinking water amidst the pandemic.
Emmanuel aims to devise a strategy to subsidise water prices for the most vulnerable water users, by assessing their water affordability. Household water affordability is determined by finding the ratio of household’s expenses on water to their total expenditure/income. Based on the 2018 UN’s economic growth report, households whose water affordability is below 10% are considered vulnerable.
He said, ‘The Increasing Block Tariff water pricing strategy has been widely adopted by utilities in Sub-Saharan Africa, but it imposes differential affordability burden on low-income households and hinders utilities from fully recovering costs. This is a good opportunity for not only determining befitting subsidy beneficiaries but for developing cost reflective tariffs designs that could be adopted globally.’
Emmanuel has developed an innovative approach, calculating water affordability in 100 households over a 10-day period. From his analysis, households whose water affordability is below the 10% threshold will be marked as vulnerable. This will allow the Government to target vulnerable areas and provide proportionate subsidies on tariffs. .
His innovation has the potential to create long-lasting improvements in water-pricing techniques in Ghana. The support from the Vice Chancellor’s COVID-19 African Innovation Seed Fund will cover the travel and research costs.
Energy for Health Initiative
Godwin is taking an MSc in Energy Systems in Oxford’s Department of Engineering Science and his innovation aims to develop smart technology that connects solar power to hospitals.
One of the challenges facing the healthcare sector in Nigeria, and other African countries, is limited access to reliable electricity supplies. This challenge has been compounded by the pandemic, because the infrastructure needed to transport safely and store the vaccines requires steady supplies of power.
He said, ‘Winning the Vice Chancellor’s innovation award is a proud achievement for me. It is heartwarming to know that my idea is selected to build a resilient healthcare system in Africa. I am now motivated to work harder to complete this research, prototype it, and move to the implementation phase.’
This initiative seeks to conduct research using a Smart Sequential Loader (SSL) to provide solar power to hospitals, while cutting costs and achieving capacity optimisation. Not only will this be beneficial for vaccine equipment, but for the healthcare system and for those who depend on it.
Godwin will be using the Vice Chancellor’s COVID-19 African Innovation Seed Fund award to fund this research and obtain the device that will address this challenge. He also plans to partner with others on the African continent to roll out this solution beyond Nigeria.
The Right of Access to Educational Materials: International and Domestic Law
Sanya is a final year DPhil student in Law. Her research offers constitutional tools to ensure access to educational material for people living in poverty and with disabilities in South Africa.
Despite the Bill of Rights in South Africa guaranteeing all people the right to education, the Copyright Act of 1978 prohibits people living in poverty and people living with sensory disabilities from access to educational materials such as textbooks.
She said, ‘Facilitating access to educational materials for all is key to knowledge generation and innovation, which in turn leads to a flourishing democratic society. South Africa's Copyright Amendment Bill is a positive step in the direction of inclusive access, grounded in constitutional values and the Bill of Rights.’
Sanya’s research highlights how these laws prevent millions of South Africans, who cannot afford a book, from accessing the material through photocopying. And that the law, which does not allow format shifting, precludes widespread use of assistive technologies, thus also denying access to people living with disabilities. As South Africa has entered into several lockdowns and tuition has been online, the copyright law, and the challenges it presents, have been exacerbated.
Sanya plans to use the grant to publish her research as an openly accessible monograph. This will be hugely valuable to those who are championing copyright reform and the access to education and learning materials in South Africa.