Abdinoor Alimahdi heads Northfront Technologies, a software development company that deals with education technology. He is also a telecommunications engineer who specialises in optical networks, and an education technologist. He hails from Kenya’s North Eastern region, and has witnessed first-hand the challenges that learners from marginalised communities face, especially in terms of language comprehension. He came up with M-Lugha, a mobile app that translates the current syllabus from English to mother tongue.
What is your educational background?
I went to Sankuri High School in Garissa County, then I joined Kenya College of Communications Technology (currently Multimedia University) where I took a diploma course in Telecommunications Systems. I then enrolled for a Bachelors in Business Information Technology (BBIT) at Kenya Methodist University. After that, I undertook a Masters course in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT).
Why did you choose to focus on developing educational innovations?
I had a stable job in Mombasa, working as the head of department in one of the largest telecommunication companies in the country, but I was never settled. The job was not fulfilling.
Whenever I went home and interacted with primary school children, I was left feeling deeply heartbroken. It saddened me that some Class Six pupils could not speak basic English or Kiswahili. This had terribly affected their performance in national examinations, thereby reducing their ability to take advantage of the many opportunities that have come about as a result of fast technological advancements.
How is self-employment different from being employed?
I never enjoyed the 8am to 5pm schedule. I constantly felt physically tired and emotionally drained. With self-employment, you work for 24 hours a day, 365 days in a year, and you never lack in motivation. Being self-employed allows you to think outside the box, and to explore your strengths. Even though I get broke sometimes, I would never trade my current freedom just for the financial security that full-time employment brings.
You successfully transitioned from employment to self-employment, what was your secret?
The transition is never easy because most people are more comfortable earning a fixed salary every month. Leaving that comfort zone is a tough move, and one is bound to suffer, especially at the beginning. But once the business picks up, the fruits are sweet. To avoid disappointment, you must have an exit strategy.
Ensure you have the finances necessary to sustain you for at least a few months, or even a year. After that, do a thorough market study for your intended hustle and create a niche for yourself. You will always face discouragement from naysayers, but patience and resilience will often see you through those turbulent times.
What have you achieved with M-Lugha so far?
M-Lugha has been a blessing to me and my community. It is an effective tool for change and empowerment. It not only pays my bills, but has also allowed me to meet amazing people. Additionally, it has given birth to three new innovations that we will soon avail to the public.
What challenges have you faced with M–Lugha? How did you overcome them?
The process of translation has been a big challenge. Languages have different accents and pronunciations, and bringing these aspects together has not been easy. To counter that, we have grouped the languages according to regions, such that we have one language but with different accents. Another hindrance has been lack of adequate finances.
This has limited our reach, and we only cover 16 of the 47 local languages. Acquiring quality gadgets to be used by learners has also been a challenge, but I am trying to find a practical solution so that more students can benefit from the app.
What is the best way to market a mobile app and make it known to as many people as possible?
You could start a blog where you talk about the app in detail. It also helps to participate in tech competitions where you can pitch your idea to potential investors, while at the same time selling the app to the audience. Accepting media interviews also creates some good awareness about it. Entering your app in relevant competitions, local or international, is another good way of pushing it to the masses.
Your advice to young people interested in technology?
Mobile phone and computer programming is an area with great potential. I’d also advise them to take short courses on things like Block Chain and Artificial Intelligence.
This is the next frontier for technology. A course in digital and social media marketing is also valuable, and the pay is good. If you are involved in IT, learn about e-commerce, web design and development. The opportunities are endless.
Any regrets so far?
If I had started off as a teacher, I would have made a much bigger impact on the lives of young children.
Your plan for the future?
I’d like to see M-Lugha grow to be a big brand in the world. I look forward to hearing stories of academic success from students in North Eastern, or to see the region produce techies who will conquer the tech market in Kenya. I also intend to further my studies, and later expand my business.