Zindi is all about using AI to solve real world problems for businesses and individuals. And the South Africa-based crowd-solving startup has done so for the past three years of existence.
Just last year, a team of data scientists from Zindi used machine learning to improve air quality monitoring in Kampala as another group helped Zimnat, an insurance company in Zimbabwe to predict customer behavior – particularly who is likely to leave and possible interventions that would keep them. Zimnat has been able to retain its customers by offering tailor-made services to those who would otherwise have quit.
These are some of the solutions that have been implemented to counter the data-centric challenges that businesses, NGOs and government institutions are submitting to Zindi.
Zindi announces these challenges and invites its community of data scientists to participate in competitions to find solutions. Participating data scientists submit their solutions and the winner receives a cash prize. Competition organizers can use the best results to overcome the challenge they had, as in an air quality monitoring project by AirQo, which sought solutions to predict air pollution through Uganda and to help Zimnat reduce his losses.
âSo AirQo now has a dashboard that allows the public to check air quality and air quality forecasts. One of the exciting things about this project is that AirQo hired two of the challenge winners to help with the implementation of the project, âsaid Zindi co-founder and CEO, Celina Lee. South African Megan Yates and Ghanaian Ekow Duker are the platform’s other co-founders.
âAirQo also raised funds from Google, based on the solution they designed, and they will now replicate it in other African countries,â Lee said of the competition organized in partnership with Digital Air Quality. East Africa (DAQ EA) at the University of Birmingham and the AirQo project at Makerere University, Kampala.
Other notable private and public organizations that have called on Zindi include Microsoft, IBM and Liquid Telecom, UNICEF and the government of South Africa.
So far, Lee is excited about what Zindi has achieved and is excited about the future of the community given the growth of the crowd-solving startup since its launch. The platform now offers alternatives and intensifies competition with traditional consulting firms operating across Africa, which are often expensive.
Zindi users have tripled since the start of last year to reach 33,000 data scientists from 45 countries on the continent. He also paid the data scientists $ 300,000 in prizes.
This number is set to increase as it hosts the third Umoja Hack Africa Interuniversity Challenge in March next year, where students will compete for different solutions.
Zindi uses the inter-varsity competition to expose students to hands-on experiences in data science and to solve real-life challenges using AI. At last year’s event, the platform attracted around 2,000 students to the event that took place virtually due to the pandemic.
âStudents can create their first machine learning models, and from there it opens all kinds of doors for them in their careers and education,â said Lee, originally from San Francisco.
Zindi currently has a job portal to “shorten the path from apprenticeship to pay”. The Talent Placement Portal allows organizations to tap into its talent pool by posting job vacancies.
The crowd-solving platform also plans to introduce a learning component that provides training material for budding data scientists, after realizing a lack of knowledge and a need for training. In addition, Lee said that most of Zindi users are college students who need a learning experience and need improved skills to solve global issues.
The new plans will be made possible by the $ 1 million seed funding the platform recently secured.
Lee said, âFor us it’s really about moving the community forward and creating more value for all of our data scientists. “
âSo we’re going to use the funding to introduce a lot more learning content, because one of the things we understand is that, especially in Africa, data science is such a new field. And many of our data scientists are still university or early career students. And they’re just looking for a chance to learn and develop their skills.
The tour de table was led by venture capital firm Shakti based in San Francisco, with participation from Launch Africa, Founders Factory Africa and five35.
All of these plans are aimed at creating a strong data science community in Africa and for the continent, according to Lee, who has said he wants to increase the number of users to one million in the near future. This, she said, will be achieved by opening up training opportunities for early career data scientists and forming a strong community that encourages collaboration and mentorship.
Lee said, âand so where we ultimately want to reach a million data scientists in Africa – we want to make data science something that any young person who wants to pursue this career has access to the tools, connections and knowledge. ‘experience they need to make a successful career in this field.
“Our vision is to make AI accessible to everyone.”