Author: Victoria

Q&A: Project Lead Irena Bakić

Project Lead Irena Bakić spent a hundred days on the road to coordinate CodeBus Africa in ten countries. Now she answers questions about the initiative’s outcomes and next steps.

The CodeBus Africa 100-day tour had three key goals: to support equal opportunities in technology, to build local capacity for youth tech education, and to boost cooperation between Finnish and African innovators. Have these goals been reached?

The goals for this project have been met and exceeded. I especially hoped to see a lot of girls involved and to truly change their preconceptions about what they can be and do. The instructors interacting and connecting with the youth all day puts them in the best possible position to positively influence them, so I’m really happy we had a lot of female instructors that translated to powerful role models to the youth.

I was positively surprised to see that the local tech hubs also had a strong drive to work for the betterment of the gender gap issue. It wasn’t just a goal pushed from our end, but the partners personally saw the low amount of girls in technology as problematic. I guess I had some prejudice stemming from how prevalent hard values are in the Finnish tech and start-up world, but our local partners proved me wrong with their compassionate approach.

Could you tell more about what kind of value CodeBus Africa delivered?

The value we created together is, first and foremost, human. Facilitating rewarding learning experiences through team teaching, forming global partnerships and collaborating to introduce more youth to technology, and co-creatively building tools with the hubs for their continued use are some of the main things. A few of our partners had long wanted to cooperate with local schools. Now they have a new tool and the in-house know-how to utilize it.

But what stands out most for me is the value we’ve offered the youth. We’ve provided hundreds of youth with the opportunity to explore technology in a safe and encouraging environment. Hopefully having a first or at least an entirely new kind of touch to technology has opened their minds to see that they can learn anything.

How would you estimate the success of this project and what would you contribute it to?

Speaking subjectively from the project coordinator’s point of view, I think all 45 workshops were successful. Despite a lot of challenges behind the scenes, any issues we had never disturbed the flow of the workshops. The feedback from CodeBus’ instructors and partners has also been very positive.

The primary indicator of CodeBus’ success is the children’s reactions. As the students’ first beats and melodies started forming, you could see them laughing and smiling together and slowly starting to move to the music. To see that joy of discovery taking place right in front of you is pretty amazing. The youth would also return from recess much earlier than they had to. At times, it was even hard to get them out of the class. And when they worked, they were highly focused. A lot of teachers commented that it was something quite special.

In a lot of ways, this project has been a leap of faith to all its beneficiaries. While basic preparations had been taken care of, the intense 1-2 week periods of daily challenges really required trusting each other and trusting that things will work out. What enabled the success of this project was that we had a cohesive team. A uniform sense of the project’s goals allowed teaming up to happen really quickly in each country, and the strong team spirit carried everyone through.

Now that the first chapter is over, what are the next steps for CodeBus Africa?

On the Finnish front, we’ll spend the next few months writing project-related reports to help us plan the future of CodeBus Africa. We’ve surveyed our partners to get an idea of what their hopes are. In the fall, we’ll have more discussions about the next steps with them. We’ll also be having discussions with our sponsors on whether they wish to continue to support this project.

Right now, Tunapanda is creating an open source digital version of the creative coding workshop curriculum, which all our partners can give feedback on. It’s a new aspect to co-creation and the next concrete step for our partner tech hubs in what comes to CodeBus. Many other African countries have also shown interest in the initiative, so coming up with a way to share our knowledge and teaching materials even to places we cannot go to is another thing that’s ahead. I think technology can play a central role in the solution.

How will partnerships with African education and innovation actors be maintained?

During this intense tour, we managed to form very strong ties to our local partners, and we’ve stayed in touch through social media. I feel like it’s every day that I’m chatting with someone on WhatsApp or Facebook. A strong team spirit is still present.

In the fall, many of our partners will be attending the Slush conference in Finland. It’s a chance for the partners to meet each other and exchange experiences and ideas. I hope meeting face-to-face can lead to a more interlinked connection between the different partner hubs.

On this note, CodeBus Africa’s social media quiets down for the summer. Thank you for following this year’s most exciting adventure in technology, and stay tuned for more in the fall!

Q&A: Local Instructors

The CodeBus Africa workshop concept was adapted and implemented to fit various local needs by a global team of 62 instructors. No matter the students’ starting level, instructors made sure that each and every attendee finished with a creative outcome – their very own song. Altogether 50 African instructors received training in running Sonic Pi coding workshops. We had the pleasure of interviewing three of them about their CodeBus Africa experience: Georgia Rwechungura from Tanzania, Jacky Kimani from Kenya and Leonel Tuto from Mozambique.

Could you please briefly introduce yourselves – who are you and what do you do?

Georgia: My name is Georgia, and I work as a developer and tech trainer. I am a co-founder at Kuza Codes Africa.

Jacky: I’m Jacky and I’m 22. I’m a self-taught web developer, a technology enthusiast and an aspiring hacker. I began my journey into tech a year ago and now teach at Tunapanda Institute in Kibera, Nairobi.

Leonel: I’m Leonel, a 31-year-old communications and multimedia graduate, YouTuber, filmmaker, DJ and digital content creator. I’m self-employed and focus on producing videos and other online marketing content.

Georgia teaching the use of a keyboard in Dar es Salaam © Roope Kiviranta

Quite versatile backgrounds then. Well, the CodeBus has crossed the finish line after an intense 100 days. Do you remember what your feelings were prior to your first workshop? How about afterwards?

Leonel: Things started out a bit funny, as I was only supposed to document the workshops but ended up finding myself taking part in the instructors’ training session. I had plenty of previous programming experience, so I caught right up however. The workshops were amazing – the kids really exceeded my expectations and I’m really proud of them.

Georgia: Programming music was something entirely new to me, so I was excited to learn more about creative coding. The first workshop had me feeling a little nervous, because even though I had experience in teaching coding to beginners, I had never done so within the constraints of a language barrier. Managing to teach the students regardless has been the greatest ‘woohoo’ of my career.

Jacky: Teaching coding through music sounded crazy, yet interesting at the same time. The success of the workshops really showed that technology fits with everything.

So what would you describe as the most memorable moment of your CodeBus Africa experience?

Leonel: Definitely teaching my first coding class to public school students who had zero programming experience. Their commitment to learning was impressive.

Georgia: I second Leonel. Helping kids overcome both computer literacy and language barriers is one of my best memories.

Jacky: The youth producing their own songs and then dancing to them was a moment that stood out for me. It’s also been wonderful to see that some of the children recognize me on the street. Their remembering me means we’ve learned together.

Jacky instructing with Sonic Pi in Kibera © Anssi Grekula

Interesting! You’ve all really helped CodeBus’ mission to get youth and especially girls excited about technology transform from words on paper to something concrete. But why do you think this is an important objective?

Georgia: Youth have a fresh and creative mind and a world of opportunities ahead of them. It’s important that the technology sector is not ruled out. Girls are such a minority in tech, and we need to encourage them to take more science subjects.

Leonel: It’s important that youth get involved in technology and have a chance to master computer skills, because technology is the key to the development and transformation of our country. As for girls in particular, it’s important they have a chance to compete on an equal footing in life.

Jacky: Before I got a computer of my own, I would frequent cyber cafes. More often than not, I would be the only girl there. It is rare to find girls associating themselves with computer science. Providing a safe space and mentorship for girls to learn about technology can break down prejudice they have towards tech and boost their motivation to learn more.

Leonel lecturing at the start of a workshop in Maputo © DeJerson Maçanzo

At the core of CodeBus Africa are the youth, but the initiative has a lot of great lessons in store for everyone. How have you grown during this experience and how will you apply your new learning going forward?

Jacky: I’ve gained new perspective to life. In my community, most people lack access to information found outside social media pages. I’m privileged to have had a chance to learn and advance in technology, so I want to give back by helping especially youth to gain more knowledge and information. There are so many youth who could do more with their lives, but a lack of knowledge of what exists limits their opportunities. I think that Sonic Pi can help more people become problem solvers through a fun and musical approach, regardless of age or level of experience.

Georgia: I’ve grown very concretely. Through dealing with challenging classes, my teaching skills and self-confidence have improved. I now also have experience in a new coding language, Ruby. My friends and I have started our own STEM education initiative, Kuza Codes Africa, which targets orphans and abandoned children. We use Sonic Pi as one of the tools in our curriculum.

Leonel: I’ve discovered the pleasure of making a positive societal impact and I’ve become more informed about and involved within my community. I used my platform on YouTube to showcase this project and spread tech awareness. I hope for more partnership initiatives like CodeBus, so we can have even more positive results.

CodeBus Africa’s commitment to a 50% participation by girls also applied to the team of instructors. Out of the 50 local instructors, 26 persons or 52% were female. We want to thank our local partners for rounding up such an incredible bunch, and our instructors for giving this project their all!

No Party Without Music

CodeBus Africa is a celebration of technology and youth empowerment – and everybody knows there’s no party without music! From making songs on the live programming environment Sonic Pi to energetic dance-offs to the beat of freshly coded tunes and local bangers, music played a central role in CodeBus Africa. In Mozambique, local artists Regina, Klorokilla, Carmen Chaquice, Teknik and Stewart Sukuma visited workshops, performing their hit songs and inspiring the youth. In addition, concerts was organized by the Finnish embassies and local partners in four countries. In each one, a diverse line-up of musicians came together and provided a memorable evening to an audience of young listeners.

The first CodeBus concert took place in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, where a bunch of local rappers and dancers got up on the busy stage one after another. Among the various performers were Kibera-born rappers Slavey da illest and Mikke Mzeyya, as well as Kenyan female rapper Pizo Dizo. A crowd of some 300 kids gathered ’round to enjoy the show. Slavey also acted as a MC in the workshops, getting the youth hyped up about creating their own songs by coding. Mzeyya, who is also a radio host, interviewed workshop attendees for his show.

The second concert was organized in Lusaka, Zambia. Local musicians Wezi Heartsound, Cactus Agony, John Chiti and Nasty-D joined hands with Finnish Paleface, Papa Zai and Biniyam on the stage of Manhattan Lounge & Restaurant in Mass Media. Two sets from the artists kept everybody dancing throughout the evening. Cactus’ upbeat reggae sounds literally got the youth jumping and Papa Zai’s more mellow tunes inspired swaying waves of arms. Later, the Finnish artists visited workshops in Livingstone, and Paleface MC’d a post-workshop jam session, leading the youth into a dope call-and-response.

In Windhoek, Namibia, an open air concert woke up the Namibia University of Science and Technology campus with flashy lights and cool sounds, as TheFutureIsGiggz, Bertholdt Mbinda, Samuel Myamba, Fesse Hamunyela, Rushour, Sakari Löytty and Ulla-Sisko Jauhiainen performed their music. Before her solo performance, a surprise guest appearance was made during Hamunyela’s show by local CodeBus instructor Stefanie Garsises, who moonlights as rapper RÖMI. Rumor has it even the concert organizers climbed on stage to sing a song or two.

The last concert was held in Cape Town, South Africa. After DJ sets by electropop artist Emma Kemppainen of LCMDF and Mehackit’s Tommi Toivonen, the evening culminated in listening to South African jams. The girls put on local tunes and got down on the dance floor to show off their best moves. “Hearing their favorite songs was what really got the party started”, Kemppainen says.

Before the celebration, Kemppainen held a 2-hour DJ workshop for a dozen girls. The workshop gave an introduction to a DJ’s work – what a disc jockey does and what the technical side of DJing involves. In addition to the girls getting to try out things like beat mixing on Pioneer decks themselves, Kemppainen talked about claiming space: being confident on stage and believing in yourself. “Kind of like coding, DJing is one of those things that’s seen as a ‘boy’s thing’, so empowering young women is especially close to my heart. I always try to encourage women to be bold – the space is there and all it takes to claim it is courage. It’s a message that can’t be underlined enough.”

Kemppainen believes that music is a great tool for youth empowerment because it brings people together and allows them to create something of their own. Her motivation to take part in the CodeBus Africa initiative was personal, as seeing an older female DJ was what once inspired her to give DJing a try herself. “The girls were really into it and they had their own taste in music and a clear musical vision”, Kemppainen says. “Based on the determination and self-confidence of the girls, I don’t see much getting in their way if they choose to pursue DJing.”

Check out LCMDF’s music video ‘Rookie’:

Confronting Today’s Challenges with Aalto Global Impact

CodeBus Africa is led by Aalto Global Impact (AGI), which promotes and facilitates Aalto University’s research and educational programs for societal impact globally. AGI brings together various Aalto University programs, courses and research groups to advance global sustainability. In essence, working together are students from Aalto University schools of Business, Arts, Engineering, and Science, post-doctoral researchers, professors and various innovation stakeholders, like end-user communities, public sectors, companies, organizations and hubs. Cross-disciplinary teams of experts and extensive stakeholder networks play an important role, because convergent research and dynamic skills and viewpoints are vital in solving the complex challenges the world is facing.

AGI facilitates projects that take place in emerging markets in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Aalto entities, together with local stakeholders, tackle societal challenges co-creatively and seek to provide long-term solutions to them. AGI is currently involved in projects in the fields of frugal and sustainable innovations, inclusive businesses, renewable energy, water and sanitation, ICT and digitalization as well as architecture and design.

AGI’s initiatives tackling global challenges also foster opportunities for in-depth learning in real-life environments. An example of a fresh education initiative is Strengthening Problem-Based Education in East African Universities (PBL East Africa), which pilots challenge-driven education in Eastern Africa and strives to solve real-world issues.  It is a collaboration between four universities: Dar es Salaam University in Tanzania, Makerere University in Uganda, Nairobi University in Kenya and Aalto University in Finland. The partner universities identify local challenges and hold ownership of the project at the local level, while Aalto Global Impact is responsible for overall project management.

Aalto Global Impact is pleased to be the coordinator of CodeBus Africa for several reasons. Firstly, it has potential to deliver great societal impact. Technology is key in building the groundbreaking innovations a more sustainable future calls for. Further, in an increasingly technology-centered world, encouraging youth to discover and make use of technology in their own lives will not only benefit themselves by broadening their opportunities, but will also benefit their communities and the world. In addition, CodeBus builds partnerships with hubs, entrepreneurs and universities in countries that AGI has worked in. AGI has had activities in all the countries part of CodeBus Africa’s tour, aside from Ghana and Nigeria. Long-standing global partnership networks allow for new project opportunities, peer-learning and sharing best practices, which in turn make room for improvement and progress. Close cooperation with local actors also supports AGI’s key objective of supporting global entrepreneurship and responsible leadership.

Read about Aalto Global Impact’s latest happenings here!

CodeBus Africa: A Look Back

Starting in February and spanning ten Sub-Saharan countries, CodeBus Africa’s journey moved through Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Namibia and Mozambique, and came to its conclusion last weekend in South Africa. The youth empowerment initiative ran 1-day creative coding workshops for youngsters, providing them with a fun and memorable first touch to programming. Through celebrating technology and learning, the project encourages especially girls to explore technology’s possibilities for their future.

This photo journal offers a glimpse into the heart of CodeBus.

Behind the scenes in Nairobi, Kenya with Mwalugha “Douda” Bura from Tunapanda Institute. Nearly 100 kilos of equipment, among them laptops and headphones, traveled in suitcases with the project team throughout the ten countries. Setting up the classrooms was part of the early morning routine, so that eager attendees could dive right in. All hands on deck! © Anssi Grekula

 

Tadah! From stacks of hardware to a busy workshop. Instructors Sini Leskinen from Aalto University and Debra Choobwe from Hackers Guild making sure no one is left behind in Ndola, Zambia. Each workshop accommodates 40 students, who code their own songs in pairs to make the most out of peer-to-peer support. In addition, a majority of the workshop participants and instructors are girls; gender equality in technology can only be achieved through concrete measures. © Valter Sandström

 

“play 60” – first lines of code translating to audio on Sonic Pi in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia. The open-source live music coding environment utilizes a programming language called Ruby. With Sonic Pi, kids can learn the basics of coding and produce a creative end result in just one day. © Eyerusalem Adugna

 

Each workshop comes with its obstacles. Here both language and computer literacy barriers are being broken, as 40 girls in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania learn to navigate a computer keyboard with the help of song and dance. © Roope Kiviranta

 

What’s so funny? No matter – after all, the Rule #1 of each CodeBus Africa workshop is to have fun. These young coders’ laughter in Pretoria, South Africa is contagious! Volunteer instructor Zandile Masindi from Nokia joins in. © Sonia El Kamel

 

Minister of Science and Technology Jorge Nhambiu tones down the bustle of the workshop and tunes in to some freshly coded beats in Maputo, Mozambique. Part of the official program for Finland’s centenary anniversary, CodeBus Africa celebrates global cooperation and foreign relations. The workshops were often visited by distinguished guests. © Sonia El Kamel

 

We did it! Hard work comes with a reward. Ambassador of Finland to Nigeria and Ghana Pirjo Suomela-Chowdhury and Lady-Omega Hammond from STEMbees handing out certificates of participation in Accra, Ghana. The ceremony was followed by a dance-off to tunes created by the kids themselves. © Vilma Hämäläinen

 

Young ladies interviewed about their workshop experience by WazobiaMAX television station in Abuja, Nigeria. Throughout the spring, CodeBus Africa garnered press attention in the tour countries as well as in Finland. © Vilma Hämäläinen

 

Jamming to Rushour at the CodeBus Concert organized by the Embassy of Finland and Namibia University of Science and Technology in Windhoek, Namibia. In many of the tour’s countries, celebration exceeded the workshops. Additional events, like music concerts with both African and Finnish acts, were hosted by the local partners. © Valter Sandström

 

Team spirit going through the roof in Gulu, Uganda! A joint effort, CodeBus Africa is all about working together. Some 1,800 youth experienced the joy of discovery thanks to 15 local tech and innovation hubs, universities and community-based organizations, as well as Aalto Global Impact, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Mehackit and Nokia. © Anssi Grekula

 

Alison Tshala from Aalto University and Tiyani “Uncle T” Nghonyama from Geekulcha goofing around. Up to six workshop instructors have been trained in each tour country by students from Aalto, so that even though the bus has parked, the music doesn’t stop. Local African partners will continue developing the CodeBus workshop concept and introducing more youth to the world of code. © Sonia El Kamel

 

For updates, keep an eye on our website and Facebook page! You can also find us on Twitter and Instagram @codebus_africa.

On a Mission with Mehackit

Mehackit is a social enterprise founded in 2014. The organization’s mission is to offer equal chances for youth to get ahold of technology, so that they can learn the kind of skills required in today’s world. “Many people graduate from secondary and high schools without having any sort of programming experience. Mehackit counters this by offering creative technology courses to the schools so that youth can have an inspirational first touch to technology at a critical age”, explains Tommi Toivonen, course designer for Mehackit.

Blended and phenomenon-based learning form the foundation of Mehackit’s pedagogical approach. The education initiative primarily offers two high school level courses, an Arduino robotics course and a Processing visual programming courses, but also caters to secondary schools, where they teach basics of programming. Mehackit has developed CodeBus Africa’s original workshop curriculum and trained our Aalto University team of instructors.

Toivonen describes the CodeBus Africa workshop as fun, exciting and playful. In it, a special coding environment called Sonic Pi is used to live code music. Each line of code produces audible sounds, and with just a few lines of simple code kids can already create real music. “In each workshop, there’s a creative end goal the kids are working toward. It’s not just coding for coding’s sake, but a project with a result that they can look back at and be proud of”, he says. The musical aspect brings in an enthusiastic energy into learning that is often missing in traditional teaching. At the same time, children learn technological thinking and become familiar with key concepts of programming.

A musical approach to teaching coding works particularly well, because music is a universal language. “We all listen to and live our lives through music in one way or another”, Toivonen says. By forming a clear link between code and our physical world, Sonic Pi makes programming more accessible. Sonic Pi also enables quick progress, vital for an intensive 1-day workshop. “In just one hour, children can already create the sounds they want and have an ’aha’ moment, where they realize that ‘Hey, this computer is made to follow my commands’”, Toivonen describes.

CodeBus Africa fuses Finnish and African know-how to impact people’s lives positively by providing especially girls and marginalized youth with the kind of tools they can use to advance in life. Moreover, the Sonic Pi curriculum is adapted in a co-creative manner in each target country to serve varying needs and ensure local ownership for future. Toivonen believes that the CodeBus initiative will have a great impact. “Mehackit is working together with CodeBus, because we feel that the mission of bringing equality into programming teaching is a global thing”, he says. “Now that we have the spark, it is interesting to see what kind of teaching ecosystems and workshops will follow in the 10 countries part of the project.”

Want to give coding your own song a try? Find Mehackit’s Sonic Pi workshop materials here!
Click here to read about the Sonic Pi boot camp Mehackit held for our Aalto University coding instructors.

Wanted: More Girls in Tech

What?

Women make up half of the world’s population, but are a clear minority when it comes to the world of science, technology, mathematics and engineering. For example, in Aalto University, women made up only 12% of the students admitted to the undergraduate program of Computer Science in 2016. There have not been many signs of improvement over the years, which speaks to the fact that the causes of this phenomenon are deeply rooted in societal structures and that there is much more work to be done.

Innately, girls and boys are equally equipped to learn and apply STEM. The wide gender gap that troubles these disciplines is alarming because tech knowledge and skills are increasingly important in today’s world. It is only just that girls have equal access to the know-how that provides them with the power to understand, navigate and influence our technology-centered society. Bridging the gap and empowering girls both figuratively and literally is why CodeBus Africa is committed to have at least half of the participants in any workshop be girls.

Why?

The society is riddled with gender roles and stereotypes that deem STEM as masculine and consequently unfit for girls. Additionally, STEM fields are seen as uncool and antisocial – and the popular opinion is that girls must be social. According to research, girls, more often than boys, base their self-esteem on their social life as opposed to academic achievements.

These ideas underlie our culture and all of its aspects, starting with something as fundamental as language. They are actively maintained and pushed for by the media, where there is insufficient representation of women in tech. Furthermore, the little representation that exists is often unfavorable, depicting female techies as awkward or unattractive. For girls to see technology as a viable path to pursue, they need to believe that it is not only possible for them, but a desirable option as well.

Solutions?

Encouraging girls to seek education and even a career in technology starts with providing a fun and experiential touch point to it. For example, creative technology is an approachable, engaging and rewarding way of learning technological concepts and gaining technological self-confidence. The CodeBus workshop curriculum is based on these ideas, making music a low-threshold entryway to the world of code.

To further break misconceptions about technology being dull or non-collaborative, efforts should be made to highlight the vast and multidisciplinary life opportunities that technological education unlocks. It is important to provide concrete and comprehensible examples of ways in which one can help benefit the society through technology.

It is also highly important to lift up charismatic women in tech as role models: the inspiration and guidance they provide is instrumental in motivating more girls to delve into technology. By setting the example that girls, too, can be successful in technology fields, we can broaden what they see as possible alternatives for themselves.

Reminding girls of their potential on a personal level is not to be forgotten. Receiving words of encouragement from others can have a positive impact on how girls feel about going into technology – even to the extent of making or breaking whether a girl ends up seeking an education in tech.

Interested to learn more about the topic? Check out these articles:
How Harvey Mudd College went from 10% to 40% women in Computer Science in 5 years
Why STEM’s future rests in the hands of 12-year-old girls

Reaching Goals Together with Nokia

CodeBus Africa is a joint initiative genuinely relying on the support and contribution of its partners, both in Finland and in Africa. One of our key partners is Nokia, the CodeBus project’s biggest benefactor. This year, Nokia sponsors programs that aim to encourage girls into careers based in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In addition to supporting CodeBus financially, Nokia’s staff from the company’s African offices have actively been involved in the hustle and bustle of the workshops.

Nokia is an established Finnish company with roots dating as far back as 1865. The company’s history of over one and a half century is one of change and reinvention: Nokia has worked in various sectors, including paper products, rubber boots and tires, mobile devices, and telecommunications infrastructure equipment. Now a multinational communications and information technology company, Nokia focuses on large-scale telecom infrastructures, and technology development and licensing.

A part of Nokia’s approach to corporate community investment is putting technology to good use for communities around the world. Earlier this year, President and CEO of Nokia, Rajeev Suri, summarized Nokia’s corporate social responsibility as follows: “If we create the technology that delivers better lives, more efficient industries, a more sustainable planet, then we can both do good business and do good. That is the promise. That is the possibility. That is what we can do together.”

The theme together repeats all around and within the CodeBus Africa project: in Nokia’s social investment principles, as the core theme of Finland’s centenary celebration, and in the co-operative approach of the CodeBus initiative itself. Together with CodeBus Africa and other programs, Nokia seeks to increase diversity and bridge the gender gap in STEM disciplines, as well as to empower youth through facilitating personal development. By offering accessible technological education, advocating for gender equality and striving to reduce inequality, Nokia and CodeBus are also contributing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals set in 2015.

Q&A: Biniyam

21-year-old Helsinki-based Biniyam is an alternative hip-hop artist, writer and producer. The young rapper made his debut in 2014 by dropping a self-titled EP, and has since released several well-received singles and an album in 2016, The Abyssinian. On April 20, Biniyam takes the stage at the CodeBus concert organized by the Embassy of Finland in Lusaka. Biniyam shared with us some of his thoughts on youth, music, creativity and girls in technology.

In the CodeBus workshops, youth get to create their own songs by coding.
What does making music mean to you?
It’s definitely a means of self-expression to me, but it’s also a way to influence and convey different types of feelings. If I’m really happy and want to pass on my mood to others, music lets me do that. Sometimes I also let out steam through creating. Instead of hopping on Facebook and writing a long rant about something that irritates me, I can write a song about it and maybe find a fresh, more optimistic way of looking at the situation.

We choose to teach technology through music, because music is universal and intuitive. But it is not exactly the most intuitive thought that the two can go together. How are technology and music related for you?
You know, technology is actually how I got excited about making music in the first place. When I was in grade school, I would watch my dad make songs on the computer. I was curious and wanted to give it a go, so he set me up with something really simple, where I would just stack loops color-coded by key together. It was so much fun to just connect these colorful building blocks and have them come together to form a whole. Nowadays I use music making software all the time.

Wow, how cool is that! Who would have guessed the kid playing around was, in fact, a producer in the making? That joy of discovery and finding that technology can be fun is an experience we try to provide through our workshops. Why do you think it is important for youth to learn tech skills?
Technology is today, there’s no escaping that. We are constantly moving forward, and we are moving fast. The younger one learns basic tech skills, the greater and quicker their potential to develop those skills further and advance in that field is. If taught technological thinking at a young age, youth will be better able to harness their innovation.

We are committed to having at least half the participants in our workshops be girls. There is a notable gender gap in STEM-fields, just as there is in rap. How can we help bridge it?
The public opinion is that STEM isn’t for girls, which makes zero sense. So ultimately, what we need is a shifting of attitudes, and one of the ways to get there is through increasing the representation of women in STEM. Women have always been doing all kinds of amazing and innovative things, but their achievements haven’t been acknowledged by the media. Think Hidden Figures, the new film about NASA’s women in the 60s. These are role models we need to present to girls, so they can look at them and think “That could be me.”

I cannot stress the impact of that four-worded thought enough. I have first-hand experience of its power. I’ve always been fascinated by black American culture and icons, even though I have no ties to the States. I’ve only recently realized that it’s because hip hop artists were the only people on TV who looked like me. From a young age, rap was made accessible for me – and here I am.

Your music is multidimensional, fusing together hip hop and pop, and you say you are influenced by a range of artists from Michael Jackson to Missy Elliott. What does creativity mean to you?
Wow, that’s a big one. For me, creativity is turning the abstract inside you into something concrete. Everyone is their own individual with their own set of skills and experiences, so no one else can create what you can. In essence, creativity is telling a story nobody else can – creating your own world and bringing it forth. It’s liberating the you in you.

Lastly: what is your motivation for taking part in CodeBus Africa?
I think this is an awesome project. And I can’t lie, it’s pretty cool to get a chance to visit Zambia. My mom is Ethiopian, so I have a personal bond to Africa. But really, I can really appreciate the idea of co-operating cross-continentally to share knowledge and tools. It’s great that CodeBus seeks to empower youth to pursue technology and show a different side to coding. I wish I’d gotten a chance to try something like this when I was in grade school. I never knew that coding could be something fun.

Listen to Biniyam’s latest single “Watch Out” on SoundCloud.

Magic of the Workshops

Last week I had an incredible opportunity to visit Tanzania and see CodeBus Africa in action. I have heard so many inspiring stories of how much the students learn during the one-day workshops and how excited they are after producing their first songs, so naturally I was thrilled to see how the concept actually works.

The morning of the first workshop in Dar es Salaam was full of hassle. It was a new country and the first workshop for most of the instructors. On top of that, half of the students were missing. When they finally arrived to Buni Hub, we found out that most of them did not understand English very well and just a few had used a computer before. It was not a totally new situation during the CodeBus journey, but it definitely posed a stern challenge for the instructors.

You could see a mixture of excitement and puzzlement in the kids’ eyes, when they first sat in front of the laptop and looked at the screen and keyboard.

Then the magic started. Irena, with the help of Buni Hub’s Events and Corporate Partnerships Manager, Mariam, who acted as a translator, asked the kids if they had ever used a mobile phone before. Everybody raised their hands, so she continued by explaining that mobile phones are actually mini-computers – that they both work just the same. Irena told them that today they would be making new ringtones for their phones. The analogies make computers and the idea of creating a song of one’s own much more approachable.

Georgia, one of our local instructors, then took a keyboard in her hands and asked the kids if they knew what it was called and why. She continued by asking why they think a laptop is called a laptop. With the help of a white board, she then went through the basics of using a mouse and the important buttons in the keyboard including the arrows, space, backspace, shift and semicolon. This part included a spontaneous dance from Irena, titled “Shift-colon”. It is pretty easy to imagine the always lively Irena throwing her hands in the air and and singing shhhift, colon, shift

As I found out during the rest of the week, rhythm, dancing and games are an extremely important part of the Codebus concept. They are used for setting the mood right in the morning, before the actual workshop begins. They are used to help the children understand and remember important parts of workshops, and most importantly, they are a key component of the after party, where everybody jams to the freshly made tunes.

After a little over an hour, the children had learned the basics of using a computer and were ready to continue to learn coding with Sonic Pi. I was left with my jaw dropped and marvelled at how incredibly well the instructors handled the challenging situation.

As Irena later said to the kids: “You all are geniuses. If I learned as fast as you do, I would probably be an astronaut or a president.” I definitely agree with Irena, and to add to her words, I have to say that the instructors are also doing a genius job.

– Roope
Designer for Aalto Global Impact and CodeBus Africa