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SP africaphoto_winner

‘Digital Migration” – Winner of IBM’s The World is Our Lab – Africa photo competition.
(Photo: Lawrence Mwangi, Nairobi)

What happens when you ask an entire continent to illustrate its challenges and opportunities in photos?

That’s exactly what IBM’s newest research lab wanted to find out. IBM Research – Africa, which opened its doors last November, was created with an ambitious mission: to conduct applied and far-reaching exploratory research into the grand challenges of the African continent by delivering commercially-viable innovations that impact people’s lives. Though it opened with clear objectives and an understanding of many of the infrastructural concerns across the continent, the Lab wanted a more personal understanding of the challenges.

“We quickly realized that if we were to make a difference in Africa, we needed to operate outside of the walls of the lab,” said Dr. Kamal Bhattacharya, Director, IBM Research – Africa. “While we benefit from 25 PHDs from some of the world’s best universities, it is crucial that we enter a dialogue with the people who best understand their own realities.”

Read the story behind Lawrence Mwangi's winning photograph.

Read the story behind Lawrence “Shabu” Mwangi’s winning photograph.

Thus was born The World is Our Lab - Africa picture project: a three-month competition that asked participants to use cameras and smartphones to capture images that illustrate the continent’s grand challenges, city systems and examples of innovation.

Over the course of contest, more than 1,200 contributions were uploaded by 900 participants from 25 African countries ranging from Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and South Africa to Algeria, Somalia, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Together the images create a rich collage of life across Africa  its people, systems, and infrastructure – from the continent’s toughest realities to the most modern and inspirational. The project provides unique perspectives on the areas of water, education, transportation, energy, public safety, healthcare, mobile and entrepreneurship, all focus areas of IBM’s new lab, which will soon benefit from Watson cognitive technologies through the $100M Project Lucy initiative.

View the full flickr page here.

“If we’re going to solve the grand challenges of Africa it has to start here in Africa with us identifying and underscoring what they are,” said Erik Hersman, founder of iHub and CEO of BRCK, and one of four contest judges. “What struck me most about the IBM photography project, besides the amazing quality of so many of the images, was the great diversity of the problems, balanced by the creativity and desire to solve them at every level.”

“Overall the narrative quality of the images was fantastic,” said Mutua Matheka, official photographer for The World is Our Lab project and another judge in the competition. “It’s great that the project didn’t cut off people using mobile phones and point & shoot cameras. Everyone was included. I liked the reality and diversity that was captured in the photos both the good and the bad. I loved the colors too. Africa is vibrant.”

Two weeks ago, Hersman and Matheka met with the other judges, Salim Amin from A24 Media and Uyi Stewart, Chief Scientist, IBM Research – Africa, to pick the three most definitive images of the competition:

1. ‘Digital Migration’ – Winner of Innovation Category (Overall Competition Winner)
Lawrence ‘Shabu’ Mwangi, Visual Artist, Nairobi, Kenya

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Shabu Mwangi grew up in the Mukuru slum in Nairobi. As a visual artist he uses his creative abilities as a way not only to earn a living but to communicate his experiences of life in the slum where he still lives to this day. As one of the founders of the Wajukuu art project, he teaches art to children in low-income areas in an attempt to broaden their horizons. The judges selected Shabu’s image ‘Digital Migration’ (above) as the overall winner of the competition because of its iconic representation of the human ability to innovate and overcome a lack of infrastructure.

“I am new to photography so I didn’t expect to win. I took the winning image outside our workshop in the Mukuru slum where we offer classes to kids during school holidays and weekends,” Mwangi said. “They had found the plastic frame of an old TV and were playing at being presenters. I took the picture because I wanted to show the world the innovative way that kids from the slums play – using the material around them to express themselves in a creative way.”

2. ‘Boda Boda’ – Winner of City Systems Category
Frank Odwesso, TV Producer, Nairobi, Kenya

SP Bike 

“The ‘Boda Bodas’ (bicycle taxis) have always defined the towns of Western Kenya and Nyanza,” Odwesso said. “Public transport systems are often not reliable so locals have devised new modes of transport using bicycles, which are faster and easy to maneuver. This particular rider looked quite maverick. The vibrant colors of his bike, the look on his face and the speed at which he was riding down the market street captured the vibrancy of this cheap mode of transport. ‘Africa is on the move’, it seemed to say.”

3. ‘Babysitting’ – Winner of Grand Challenges Category
Imole ‘Tobbie’ Balogun, Photographer, Lagos, Nigeria
 SP Babysitting

Many kids in Nigeria are forced into work or overwhelming family responsibilities as a result of poverty and lack of social support,” said Balogun. “As a result they often stay at home while their parents struggle to make ends meet. The picture is often worse for girls who are often required to look after siblings like this girl in the Mokoko slum in the lagoon area of Lagos. Through the images in this project I hope that people outside Africa will see not only the challenges we face but also how much is being done to address them and how far Africa has come.”

Later this month the three winners will travel to IBM’s new lab in Nairobi to attend the scientific colloquium ‘Africa in the New Era of Computing’ at which IBM’s research staff will demonstrate its strategy for executing on Project Lucy. At the event the winners will be presented with their laptop prizes and receive a workshop with celebrated photographer Mutua Matheka. The winners already in Kenya will also receive a trip to the Kenyan coast.


This story was written by Jonathan Batty, IBM Communications, Global Labs

By Jonathan Batty, IBM Global Labs

Jonathan Batty, IBM Global Labs


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June 11, 2016
4:12 am

Good news for my country

Posted by: Geoffrey
February 10, 2016
4:23 am

Great article.

Posted by:
October 22, 2015
6:32 pm

Nice Article

Posted by: Bill
December 11, 2014
4:11 am

I hope this will really solve the ever challenging situation in Africa. I hope this Lucy will continue to provide accurate data to immediately answer solutions to problems. I am glad people now are being sensitive this days aside from putting themselves first.

Posted by: new launch near kovan mrt
July 15, 2014
10:44 pm

I was recommended this website by my cousin.
I’m not sure whether this post is written by him as no one else know such detailed about my difficulty.

You’re amazing! Thanks!

Posted by: Ilana
April 17, 2014
10:22 am

this country needs IBM tax money

Posted by: katalizatoriu supirkimas kaune
April 15, 2014
5:21 pm

Stunning photos, kid always seem happy

Posted by: Bb driving school leeds
March 10, 2014
3:51 am

Manfred – great point, well made. Though we introduced a competition element to motivate participation, this project was never about one or even three images. It was about the insight from hundreds of images which together tell stories across commonly repeated themes such as education, water, energy, transportation and entrepreneurship. You are also right that the judges saw great hope and positive spirit in the images of children – ultimately leading to the image ‘Digital Migration’ winning through. Kids were by far the most photographed subject across the whole project – you can see a selection of 60 images of children generated by the project here:

Posted by: Jonathan Batty
March 9, 2014
6:34 am

The contest has not a single winner, but the whole of the photos tell the story. The pictures reveal the growing gap between speeding up economic growth and lacking investment into basic personal needs like food, housing, sanitary, pollution free environment, and so on. Unless the economical growth of companies is not accompanied by securing and delivering the basic needs to the people, it will lead to social instability.
But the children are always our hope. Even in the worst conditions they find a place to play, even if it is is just an broken TV. Great winner photo!

Posted by: Manfred
March 8, 2014
11:55 am

Will IBM pay taxes in this country?

Posted by: Sheila Patterson
March 5, 2014
10:52 am

These images speak many messages. Africa’s nations are formatted differently politically, culturally and of course, socioeconomically. We however, see commonalities in the challenges and opportunities. There is an obvious lack of reporting on these challenges so far. IBM’s step is giant and innovative.

Posted by: Gilbert Kedia
March 5, 2014
3:44 am

What a fantastic initiative, thanks for sharing. The images and stories are such a reminder of the need for local innovations and solutions to local African challenges. It helps show why countries like Kenya have developed a world-leading mobile banking system, as just one example, given the obvious infrastructure challenges faced – after all, why try build a physical banking network when a wholly new approach can do it better. It’s also pretty striking to see the scope of the opportunity, and kudos to IBM for making such a focussed effort to make use of local creativity and brainpower. It’s incredibly exciting to imagine what new world-leading innovations will emerge as this ecosystem starts to develop.

Posted by: James Watson
March 4, 2014
10:32 pm

Does it imply that we will get a lot job opportunities later?

Posted by: Shakar
March 4, 2014
3:34 pm

Wow! These three photos are fantastic, and the subjects of the photos are award winning! ‘Babysitting’ really touched my heart! I hope that IBM can make a difference in the lives of all the African children and their parents, starting with the ones in these photos. Much love to Africa, from the U.S.A.

Posted by: Kevin C. Reed
March 4, 2014
8:23 am

The images from Africa are alive and a powerful testimony of the the challenges, opportunities and responsibilities that IBM has in creating a smarter planet. It gives pride to be an IBMer and an IBM taking on this challenge in Africa.

Posted by: Jung Yoon
March 3, 2014
10:27 am

Quite a lot to build in that lab, we have a lot work to do.

Posted by: Taiwo Tammy oshodi
4 Trackbacks
April 3, 2014
6:13 am

[…] Shabu Mwangi grew up in the Mukuru slum in Nairobi. As a visual artist he uses his creative abilities as a way not only to earn a living but to communicate his experiences of life in the slum where he still lives to this day. As one of the founders of the Wajukuu art project, he teaches art to children in low-income areas in an attempt to broaden their horizons. […]

Posted by: IBM Africa Announces Winners of the The World is Our Lab – Africa photo competition.Opportunities For Africans | Opportunities For Africans
March 19, 2014
11:16 am

[…] And, for more on IBM’s approach understanding Africa’s challenges and opportunities, check out this story. […]

Posted by: Project Lucy: How IBM is Bringing Watson to Africa A Smarter Planet Blog
March 4, 2014
8:57 am

[…] That’s exactly what IBM’s newest research lab wanted to find out. Jonathan Batty, IBM Communications, Global Labs, shares how the World is Our Lab – Africa picture project was born: a three-month competition that asked participants to use cameras and smartphones to capture images that illustrate the continent’s grand challenges, city systems and examples of innovation. Learn more at: […]

Posted by: IBM Research Tunes-In to Africa’s Challenges & Opportunities | IBM Official Alumni Group: The Greater IBM Connection
March 3, 2014
6:44 am

[…] By Lawrence “Shabu” Mwangi Winner of IBM’s The World is Our Lab – Africa Photo Competition […]

Posted by: The Story Behind My Photograph A Smarter Planet Blog
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