SwitchPoint Event in Ghana Showcases West Africa’s Humanitarian Tech


Humanitarian thinkers and doers from throughout West Africa and the US participated in IntraHealth International’s first Africa-based SwitchPoint event last month as part of the annual Extreme Affordability Conference.

Over 200 students, health workers, academics, scientists, technologists, venture capitalists, artists, and others gathered for the conference, which was hosted by the University of Utah at Ensign College of Public Health in Kpong, Ghana, to explore the latest in humanitarian technologies and new approaches to improving health and well-being in the region.

“Our friends from Utah invited IntraHealth and our SwitchPoint production team to help create an unusual gathering within the conference,” says Rebecca Kohler, senior vice president for strategy and development at IntraHealth. “Together we infused the academic conference with the creativity, artivism, humanitarian tech, and entrepreneurial energy our annual SwitchPoint conference in Saxapahaw, North Carolina, is known for.”

Microlabs gave participants a chance to design hands-on, practical solutions to real-world problems.

This SwitchPoint event was the first of its kind in Africa and featured topics such as:

  • The role of photography in global health and development. Ghanaian artist and photographer Nana Kofi Acquah discussed the power of visualization, respect, privacy, identity, and advocacy through the visual arts.
  • How bicycles are helping more people get health services. Ensign College’s Stephen Adler and Sharon Talboys lead sessions on Health 2 Go, an initiative that equips community health volunteers with high-quality training, a year’s worth of medical supplies, and durable bicycles that are helping them cross Ghana’s rocky terrain and reach the communities most in need.
  • Effective governance and civil engagement. Jerry Sam of Penplusbytes is developing communication technology platforms for citizen engagement, including reporting and mapping, to fight corruption and promote free and fair elections across West Africa.
  • Affordable, high-tech platforms for training and education. Kafui Prebbie of TECHAiDE uses information and communication technologies in Africa to improve education, support youth development, and provide the most appropriate technologies for delivering health services. Kafui spoke at SwitchPoint 2018 in April about TECHAiDE’s new low-cost tool, Asanka.

Four microlabs—or interactive breakout sessions—gave participants a chance to work side-by-side with presenters to design hands-on, practical solutions to real-world problems. 

And as part of SwitchPoint’s artivism theme, the program featured a live performance by Ghanaian sound artist Steloo, whose performance art piece on drones and surveillance, Drone Scrap Program 2054, intersects with the work of humanitarian organizations like Zipline, which uses drones to deliver medicines and blood to hard-to-reach areas. Yanev Zelnik of Zipline joined via Skype and spoke about new initiatives launching in Ghana in the coming year.

“Unusual gatherings in unusual places—like this SwitchPoint event in Ghana—give us insights into how we can do development differently,” Kohler says, “and how we can perhaps have greater, more lasting impact.”

Read more: SwitchPoint Goes to Ghana