Africa is the continent that will be most adversely affected by climate change. IIASA researchers are collaborating on Yoma OR – an ambitious project aimed at helping young people grow their digital skills as a first step on a journey from learning to earning using AI, blockchain, and crowdsourcing.

Eight young innovators from Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Uganda are gathering at CERN in Geneva this week to present prototypes of projects that tackle the impacts of climate change on their communities. They have been selected from several hundred that pitched projects on the Goodwall social media platform. They have been coached online over six months to take their projects from idea to prototype. They will be meeting potential partners and sponsors from local international organizations and sustainable finance institutions. This is thanks to Yoma OR, an initiative that enables young Africans to build and transform their future by unlocking their hidden potential. The young innovators will also use their week in Geneva to plan the deployment of their projects in their communities over the coming months, with the help of experts in crowdsourcing, artificial intelligence, and blockchain technologies from IIASA, partners of Crowd4SDG project and several other leading research institutions in Europe and Africa.

Launched in June 2022 for a two-year pilot period, the Yoma (youth agency marketplace) Operational Research (Yoma OR) project, aims to support African countries in developing learning to earning opportunities by involving local youth – growing their digital skills while finding concrete answers to the climate resilience challenges their communities face. The project was launched under the impetus of UNICEF and is led by the University of Geneva (UNIGE) with several partners, including IIASA. A core objective of the project is to integrate citizen science methodologies into the Yoma platform. This week in Geneva, first results from the project are being presented by the youth innovators at CERN in Geneva, in two events, one organized by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) and the other by CERN.

“Projects of this nature are often designed in the Global North, and then transposed to African communities. This can however take a long time to implement and the approaches used are sometimes not suited to local needs. What makes the Yoma OR project different, is the fact that the projects supported by the project partners are developed by young Africans who use digital citizen science tools to provide data that can be useful for tackling climate resilience,” explains Dilek Fraisl, a researcher in the Novel Data Ecosystems for Sustainability Research Group of the IIASA Advancing Systems Analysis Program.

youth innovators meet at CERN’s iconic IdeaSquare innovation space © CERN

This week in Geneva, youth innovators meet at CERN’s iconic IdeaSquare innovation space to prototype their crowdsourced climate resilience projects with experts from the Yoma OR project.

To encourage young people to participate, the project issues tokens called Zltos, a dematerialized currency created by a youth team at RLabs, a South-African partner of the project. On the Yoma platform, young people can exchange Zltos for opportunities to train in digital technologies, for example by paying for certificates for courses on Coursera, an online platform that offers free courses for which the certificates of achievement are sold commercially. In this way, young people can officially include the skills gained in their digital portfolios of achievements.

“We are very excited to be able to contribute to the YOMA ecosystem with our citizen science mobile app technologies to on the one hand improve the information needed locally for improved decision making while at the same time rewarding young people in Africa for their community activities by linking the apps to a token system,” says IIASA Strategic Initiatives Program Director, Steffen Fritz.

To achieve its goals, the project builds on an online training program tested over the last three years, enabling youth around the globe to develop citizen science projects for climate resilience. This online training program was developed through the European Crowd4SDG project. In this regard, the Yoma OR partners are also collaborating with Goodwall, a social media platform on which young people from all walks of life can present their ideas for tackling climate change and other challenges by posting short videos. Teams assembled from the most promising video pitches are then coached through a multi-stage innovation process. 

One example is a project from Nigeria called Donate Water, which specifically aims to address the often dilapidated state of mechanical water pumps in rural regions. The goal, over the next nine months with the help of Yoma OR partners, is to test a prototype phone app that can be used by young people in the affected communities to map the region in terms of water resources. The partners will help measure the quality of this data, while encouraging local and national authorities, NGOs, and companies to invest in appropriate water pumps where the need is greatest.

The research partners are addressing multiple research questions in a hands-on manner. The Artificial Intelligence Research Institute of the Spanish National Research Council (IIIA-CSIC) in Barcelona, for instance, is testing an artificial intelligence technique to put young people into well balanced teams, both in terms of skills and personalities. The Learning Planet Institute of the Université Paris Cité uses collective intelligence methodologies to assess the effectiveness of the innovation process the project is testing, but also the bonds that are forged when young people work online in teams sometimes dispersed around the world, and the impact on the wellbeing of these young people. In Austria, IIASA, Caliber Consult, a company specializing in Blockchain based technical solutions, and the Austrian Blockchain Center (ABC) are developing the methods needed to validate tokens with block chain technology and the quality of data obtained through public participation.

To ensure that the projects have impact, the partners are developing an innovation cycle that can be easily implemented by universities in the Global South. In this regard, they are collaborating with the Citizen Science Africa Association (CitSci Africa) to identify local actors who can incubate the projects developed through the online training cycle. CitSci Africa is part of a 'network of networks' for citizen science, the Citizen Science Global Partnership, for which IIASA is the host and leads the secretariat.

Teams of young innovators whose projects have been selected for Yoma, will attend the Geneva Trialogue at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland on 16 March and the Final Conference of the Crowd4SDG project on 17 March. The Trialogue is an event organized by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) and UNIGE, focused on Open Innovation for Education in the context of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Roundtable discussions, a workshop, and dedicated hackathons at the event aim to put youth teams coming to the event from Africa in contact with the right partners from the United Nations, from academia, and from private industry, to help teams amplify their impact regionally and nationally. The Final Conference of the Crowd4SDG project will discuss the impact of citizen science on the UN SDG. The event will take place at CERN and is open to the public.

The Yoma OR project is sponsored by Swiss philanthropic foundation Fondation Botnar through Generation Unlimited. Anchored in UNICEF, the public-private-youth partnership F aims to skill and connect young people to opportunities in employment, entrepreneurship and social impact.


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