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Saudi Arabian ‘honesty’ app takes internet by storm

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Fizzing with boyish exuberance, Saudi programmer Zainalabdin Tawfiq could be mistaken for a college freshman, but the popularity of his “honesty” app has shone a spotlight on the conservative kingdom’s nascent tech scene.

Tawfiq catapulted to fame when he took time out of his day job as a business analyst last year to develop an anonymous messaging tool called Sarahah — honesty in Arabic — that subsequently topped the charts for app downloads.

Initially conceived as a tool for soliciting bluntly frank workplace feedback, Sarahah has found its way into the smartphones of millennials worldwide, even as critics have raised alarm about trolling and privacy issues.

“Sarahah is the digital equivalent of an old-school suggestion box,” 29-year-old Tawfiq told AFP, adding that it is built on the premise that stripping users of their identity promotes ruthless honesty.

“Feedback is the goal — anonymous feedback.”

The app has a frugal design and a simple prompt that encourages users to “leave a constructive message :)”, with the recipient not allowed to reply but only share it on social media or block the sender.

Its mass appeal stems from the appetite in the Arab world — notorious for online censorship — for unfiltered platforms for expression, though Tawfiq said it has also gained a strong popularity in Western countries.

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Such has been its power to knock down social barriers that obstruct free speech that one user described it as an app where you can “hit enter on comments you would have otherwise backspaced”.

Sarahah has so far drawn 85 million registered users, and rocketed to the top of the Apple app store in some countries, ahead of heavyweights such as Snapchat and Instagram.

– ‘Oil’s decline, entrepreneurship’s rise’ –

That a Saudi app could gain such success spotlights hidden potential for tech innovation and entrepreneurship at a time of economic transformation in an ultra-conservative country.

“The success story of Sarahah really proves that Saudi startups can achieve spectacular gains when properly supported,” said Nawaf Alsahhaf, CEO of Badir, a government-backed technology incubator that helped Tawfiq.

“There truly is undeniable potential behind Saudi startups we currently incubate,” he told AFP.

Saudi Arabia is promoting private enterprise as part of its ambitious reform program to move the kingdom away from its dependence on oil revenues.

“It is clear oil’s decline and entrepreneurship’s rise are necessarily intertwined,” the Beirut-based venture capital firm Leap Ventures wrote on its website last year, noting a new growth in disruptive tech innovations in the region.

A new breed of Saudi startups — from an on-demand roadside assistance app called Morni to Hunger Station, a food ordering portal — have recently drawn the attention of venture capitalists.

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– Minimising abuse –

Tawfiq said he is in negotiations with venture capitalists from the United States, China and the Arab world, without disclosing details, in response to critics who question whether his app can be effectively monetised.

In some gender-segregated Arab societies, men have used Sarahah for secret love confessions, but it has also been used by service delivery companies to harvest constructive feedback and psychiatrists in far-away Mumbai to engage openly on subjects such as sexual health.

Sarahah has come under fire for being a troll magnet — but Tawfiq said that problem was common to all major social media platforms.

It has also recently been accused of secretly harvesting the address books of users. Tawfiq rejected that claim and said he plans to remove Sarahah’s address upload feature with the next update.

He currently runs a tight ship with another business partner and three customer support executives, but is considering leaving his day job to focus on Sarahah full time.

“I believe that even one case (of abuse) is actually too many,” Tawfiq said. “I won’t tell you how, but my aim is to make the job of misusers as difficult as possible.”

AFP

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Facebook celebrates key milestones for sub Saharan Africa in 2019

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Facebook on Thursday released its ‘2019 Year in Review’ infographic, showcasing just some of its investments across Sub-Saharan in 2019.  Committed to giving people the power to build community and bring the world closer together, throughout the year this translated into significant support and investments into growing the ecosystem of developers, entrepreneurs, creatives, and many other communities.

During 2019, Facebook Africa:

  • Trained over 7,000 woman-owned businesses in digital skills across sub Saharan Africa;
  • Celebrated 79 Community Leadership Circle meetups with over 2 ,650 people attending;
  • Reached its 45th Developer Circle, with circles now in 17 African countries and representing more than 70,000 members;
  • Hosted the first-ever iD8 Nairobi Conference with over 400 African developers and startups in attendance;
  • Expanded Third-Party Fact-Checking across 10 African countries;
  • Announced the creation of the world’s most detailed population density maps of Africa, created by Facebook AI researchers to help humanitarian aid and relief agencies; and much more.

Nunu Ntshingila, Regional Director Facebook Africa, commented: “Africa is important to Facebook, and we’re committed to investing in its youth, entrepreneurs, the creative industries, tech ecosystem as well as its many other communities. Our 2019 Year in Review highlights just some of these investments, and the impact we’ve been able to have here in the region. I’m excited about the future of Facebook and our family of apps here in Africa, as well as the potential of this young, mobile and dynamic continent, and look forward to creating partnerships in 2020 and beyond.”

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Check out the Facebook in Africa infographic to learn more about Facebook milestones and achievements in sub Saharan Africa in 2019.

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Renewable Energy Is Now The Cheapest Option – Even Without Subsidies | By James Ellsmoor

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IN recent years, the world has marched towards renewable energy. According to a new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), unsubsidized renewable energy is now most frequently the cheapest source of energy generation . The report finds that the cost of installation and maintenance of renewables, which was an important stumbling block to mass adoption, continues on a downward trajectory.

Adding to existing efforts made by governments and businesses, these lower costs are expected to propel the mass adoption of renewables even further. The report further touches on the importance of renewables in sustainable development and the need for governments to help achieve the climate goals of the Paris Agreement, coming just months before the United Nations’ Climate Action Summit being held in Abu Dhabi in September this year.

Among other findings the IRENA report highlights that:

  • Onshore wind and solar PV power are now, frequently, less expensive than any fossil-fuel option, without financial assistance.
  • New solar and wind installations will increasingly undercut even the operating-only costs of existing coal-fired plants.
  • Low and falling technology costs make renewables the competitive backbone of energy decarbonization – a crucial climate goal.
  • Cost forecasts for solar PV and onshore wind continue to be revised as new data emerges, with renewables consistently beating earlier expectations.
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Further data from REN21′s Renewable Global Status Report show that over one fifth of global electrical power production is  now generated from renewables.

Growing Environmental Concerns

The detrimental impact of climate change, including more intense heat waves, rising sea levels, and loss of sea ice, is rapidly becoming more apparent across the world. These alarming trends are projected to worsen at a temperature rise of 2°C above pre-industrial levels according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

As the data depicts, ridding the world of fossil fuels and eliminating the impact of climate change relies on championing the adoption of renewables, a roadmap that requires a concerted effort from businesses, governments, and individuals. Sustainable energy continues to be a key priority for the United Nations, which includes energy in its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDG 7 champions renewable energy adoption for the entire world, requiring governments to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all”.

The Reducing Cost Of Renewables

For many years, financing entities perceived renewables as risky because of high cost, leading to high lending rates for individuals and businesses that need funding for renewable power generation. As the IRENA report depicts, this trend has been on the decline since the early 2000s. The worldwide weighted average cost of electricity from solar power concentration fell by 26%, that of bioenergy reduced by 14%, solar photovoltaics, geothermal, onshore, as well as offshore wind, fell by 14%, and hydropower by 12%.

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Connecting The Dots

These new statistics demonstrate that using renewable energy is increasingly cost-effective compared to other sources, even when renewables must compete with the heavily-subsidized fossil fuel industry . Promising signs in the IRENA report show that more an increasing number of corporates are entering the renewable energy industry as the number of Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) rise, meanwhile more than 10 million people are now employed in the global renewable energy industry.

 

Culled from Forbes

 

 

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Facebook Celebrates One Year of NG_Hub

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Celebrating exactly a year to the day since the doors of NG_Hub opened in Lagos, and Facebook further cemented its ambitions to train users across Nigeria in digital skills, Facebook released an infographic highlighting key milestones over the past year

 

Created as part of Facebook’s ongoing commitment and investment in growing the start-up ecosystem, and in partnership with CcHub, NG_Hub is a multi-faceted space which connects and bring together developers, start-up’s and the wider community to collaborate, learn and exchange ideas. With a number of expert training and events with partners across Nigeria, undertaking in the hub and externally, the aim is to equip individuals and businesses to grow.

Some highlights over the past year includes:

  • Trained over 50,800 SMBs in digital skills across 20 states in Nigeria
  • Delivered 526 events with over 11,490 attendees at NG_Hub, including programmes such as AR/VR meetups, FbStart Accelerator Programme, Facebook Community Leaders Community meetings (CLCs), Developer Circle gatherings etc.
  • Directly supported businesses in 11 different industries from agriculture, through to catering, education and fashion

Speaking of its one year anniversary, Adaora Ikenze, Head of Public Policy, West and Central Africa, said: “I’m proud of the incredible impact that NG_Hub has had in its first year, and continues to have on the lives of young Nigerians. We remain committed in deepening our engagement, increasing skills development and supporting the next set of innovators, tech entrepreneurs, start-ups, in our collective bid to change the face of technology and grow the economy.”

Commenting on the partnership Bosun Tijani, Founder/CEO of CcHub, added: “We’re glad about the tremendous impact Facebook’s investment in NG_HUB has had in such a short period and the ecosystem is already seeing the fruits of this commitment. We’re committed to working with Facebook to position NG_HUB as a major platform that drives smart application of technology innovation for economic prosperity across the region and beyond.”   

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