‘Black Leaders in Digital Transformation’: Harnessing Black Youth Innovations and Innovators (GBY Fest 2020)

The Global Black Youth Fest 2020 is a free, two-day, virtual event that creates intentional and alternative spaces for the advancement of Black perspectives, scholarship, positions and conditions on a global scale. This event serves as a platform to connect Black knowledge with international opportunities, amplify Black youth innovations and knowledge-sharing, and invest in Black talent regionally and globally. The virtual event runs from 11-12 December; registration is open to all.

To support the Fest, Portulans conducted interviews with three Black youth leaders in digital transformation, focusing on their experiences as innovators and trailblazers during the COVID-19 pandemic. We also asked them how to leverage this moment of digital change and flux to build forward better, stronger, more inclusive and diverse societies.

Wainright Acquoi is a young Liberian social entrepreneur and co-founder of TRIBE, a social enterprise and edutech incubator, inspiring and empowering a new generation of young Liberian entrepreneurs, innovators, leaders and storytellers. In conversation, Acquoi shared his thoughts and ideas about how to use digital tools to improve secondary education in Liberia. After enduring the civil conflict, Acquoi told us, young people need to “save their futures, not just their lives.” Based on his experience as a youth leader, Acquoi encouraged adopting a balanced approach to innovation. “Innovation should be more than rapid advancement,” he cautioned. In many cases, youth innovators should instead focus their efforts on “redesigning existing frameworks” to address the needs of the individuals and communities they’re designed to serve.

Phyllis Mburu is the Head of Partner Donor Relations at IMPACT Africa Network, a startup studio based in Nairobi, Kenya that’s on a mission to ensure young, talented Africans can participate in the digital transformation of Africa as both creators and owners. In conversation, Mburu emphasized that Africa is the world’s “youngest continent”, with an average age of just 19 years old. Harnessing the “mindset of youth” to drive people-first, ethical innovations in the post-COVID world is imperative. Drawing on her work at IMPACT, Mburu told us about centering youth innovators and innovations. “It starts with us. We just have to do it – we have to change our mindsets. This is about people’s welfare. This is about solving people’s problems, not adding onto them – especially in the digital age.”

Darlington Akogo is a global leader in artificial intelligence, and the Founder and Director of AI at GUDRA and its subsidiaries. Akogo is also the AI4Radiology Lead at the UN ITU and WHO focus group on ‘AI for Health’. In conversation, Akogo shared his experiences working in a “global ecosystem” of AI innovation and participation in building roadmaps for AI development for Africa as a continent. Drawing on his track record as a technologist and innovator, Akogo emphasized that on the one hand, governments should transform health ecosystems, making them more friendly to innovation; and on the other hand, innovators must deeply respect scientific standards and regulations: “don’t forget the lessons we have learned”. The innovations in healthcare catalyzed by healthcare have shown governments, entrepreneurs and investors that “anything is possible”.