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Rwandan startup wins over Rwf3 billion Covid-19 hackathon

Digital Umuganda, a local artificial intelligence startup has been selected among nine winners of Smart Development Hack, a European Commission-led hackathon designed to produce digital solutions to tackle the effects of coronavirus pandemic in developing countries around the world.

Dubbed 'Mbaza – AI-based COVID19 chatbot', the project will receive technical and methodological support and, if successful, financial support of more than Rwf3 billion (€ 3million) for in-country implementation.


Out of 1000 submissions worldwide, the Rwandan project emerged among less than 10 solutions that scooped the funding. Around 300 implementation partners signed up to implement these solutions in their respective local contexts. 


In two days of hacking in a purely digital workshop, Mbaza project and other winning solutions from Africa, Latin America, Asia and Europe were developed in a bid to cushion unprecedented consequences of the Covid-19 outbreak in low-income and middle-income countries.


Among other criteria, the solutions were assessed and selected based on their relevance to and impact on the pandemic, their scalability and integration of marginalized groups.

Mbaza – AI is - a chatbot or computer program that holds a conversation with a client about Covid-19 based on artificial intelligence.

The solution provides access to valuable COVID-19 information in plain language on any phone at any time and enables feedback connecting people to the authorities.

It allows citizens to raise concerns and to provide governments with information on local situations.

With the funding, Digital Umuganda will be able to develop speech recognition for under-represented languages, Kinyarwanda and Swahili. The startup has been working with Rwanda Utilities and Regulations Authority on the project to collect voices data from across the country. 

“We are looking at how voice technology can be used to bridge the gap between digital solutions that reside on the internet and people who access that information," Audace Niyonkuru, Chief Executive Officer of Digital Umuganda said at the project opening in February.

Upon completion, the voice infrastructure is expected to be an open source where any individual or institution will be able to explore and build more solutions such as a speech-to-text system or vice versa, or a voice assistant.

"This is reaffirming our core mission to recenter information access in a way that no one is left behind," commented Digital Umuganda.

Smart Development Hack was organized by the European Commission, together with the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, and Smart Africa.

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