Since its inception, Cape Town-based crowdsolving startup Zindi has built a database of data scientists across Africa.
There are now 12,000 registered on its platform that use AI and machine learning to address complex problems and offer cash prizes to help them find solutions to contain COVID-19.
Zindi has an open challenge focused on curbing the spread and chaos of coronaviruses and will launch a hackathon in April. The current competition, sponsored by AI4D, is mandating scientists to create models that can use data to predict the global spread of COVID-19 over the next three months.
The challenge is open until April 19, solutions will be evaluated based on future numbers, and the winner will receive $ 5,000.
The competition is in line with Zindi's business model of building a platform that summarizes pressing private or public challenges and aligns those seeking solutions with problem solvers.
The early-stage company, founded in 2018, enables companies, NGOs or government institutions to host online competitions on data-oriented topics.
The Zindi model has attracted the attention of some well-known company names in and outside of Africa. Competitors include Microsoft, IBM and Liquid Telecom. Public sector actors – such as the South African government and UNICEF – have won Zindi for challenges as diverse as road safety and agricultural disruption.
The startup's CEO didn't exactly imagine a COVID-19 situation, but sees it as one of the reasons why she founded Zindi together with South African Megan Yates and Ghanaian Ekow Duker.
The ability to apply Africa's data science expertise and solve problems related to a complex health crisis like COVID-19 is what Zindi was designed for, Lee theinformationsuperhighway said to a call from Cape Town.
"As an online platform, Zindi is well positioned to mobilize large scale data scientists across Africa and around the world from the safety of their homes," she said.
Lee explained that the perception makes many believe that Africa is the victim or the source of epidemics and diseases. "We wanted to show that Africa can actually contribute to the solution to the globe."
With COVID-19, Zindi is used to solve a problem that also affects the founder, employees and the world.
Lee spoke to theinformationsuperhighway while seeking protection in Cape Town when South Africa was banned on Friday for coronavirus. Zindi's founder explained that she also has in-laws in New York and a family in San Francisco who live in similar circumstances due to the global spread of COVID-19.
Lee believes that the startup's competitions can produce solutions that African nations could use if the corona virus spreads. "The government of Kenya have just launched a task force involving companies from the ICT sector. I think there might be interest, ”she said.
From April, Zindi will start six weekend hackathons focusing on COVID-19.
Given the trend of COVID-19 in Africa, this could happen at the right time. The continent's country-by-country cases were in the single digits at the beginning of March, but these numbers increased last week – prompting the World Health Organization's regional director Dr. Matshidiso Moeti Raise the alarm about the rapid development of the virus on the continent.
According to the WHO, there were 1691 COVID-19 cases in sub-Saharan Africa on Wednesday and 29 confirmed deaths related to the virus, compared to 463 cases and 10 deaths last Wednesday.
The development of the corona virus in Africa has prompted countries and startups like Zindi to involve the continent's technology sector as part of a broader response. Central banks and fintech companies in Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya have taken measures to promote the use of mobile money versus cash – what the World Health Organization called the channel for the spread of the virus.
The continent's largest incubator, CcHub, launched a fund and open tender for technology projects to curb COVID-19 and its social and economic impact.
Pan-African e-commerce company Jumia has offered African governments the use of its last-mile delivery network to distribute deliveries to healthcare facilities and workers.
Celina Lee, CEO of Zindi believes the startup's COVID-19-related competitions may offer policy-makers additional resources to combat the spread of the virus.
"The currently open agency should hopefully inform governments to predict the spread of the disease and to more accurately predict high-risk areas in a country," she said.