Drone Innovator Profiles
Graduates of the African Drone and Data Academy (ADDA) leverage technology to respond to some of the Global South's most pressing challenges
In 2016, UNICEF began testing the use of drones in Malawi to reduce waiting times for HIV testing of infants, by flying dried blood spot (DBS) samples from hard-to-reach communities directly to laboratories.
The first humanitarian drone corridor was launched in collaboration with the Government of Malawi, as a controlled environment to explore how drones can help deliver services that benefit the hardest-to-reach families in Malawi.
Since then, UNICEF has learnt that a main challenge with operating and scaling drone technology is limited infrastructure and a lack of local capacity to build, use, and maintain drone technology, as well as to analyze data and produce relevant insights for improving the lives of the most disadvantaged communities.
There was no academic program or training facility responding to the growing demand for this combined expertise in the African continent.
The African Drone and Data Academy
UNICEF launched the first African Drone and Data Academy (ADDA) in collaboration with Virginia Tech and the Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST) in January 2020.
The campus, initially located in Lilongwe, Malawi, provides technology education for postgraduate African students in the physics of drone flight, communications, mechatronics, autonomy, data analysis, GIS, and entrepreneurship. The campus relocated to MUST in the same year and culminated in local custodianship shifting the public university from 2023, whose mandate is to support the academic equipping of youth in Sciences, Technology and Innovation (STI).
The ADDA equips young people in Africa with necessary 21st-century skills, while strengthening the drone ecosystem to deliver effective humanitarian and development response. Successes in this regard include ADDA’s support for responses to Tropical Cyclones Anna and Freddy in Malawi in 2022 and 2023, respectively.
With Africa’s startup ecosystem growing rapidly, the addition of thousands of new technology jobs in the global economy presents a unique opportunity for African youth to be architects of a digital future, including the advancement of autonomous technology.
UNICEF and ADDA respond to pressing developments that affect communities in Africa which has led to – as an example – a strong focus on utilizing drones and data to strengthen preparedness and responses to climate change related eventualities such as flood impact-based forecasting and supporting climate smart agriculture, carbon management, and renewable energy systems, amongst others.
A dedicated Emergency (Drone) Response Unit and Incubation Centre at ADDA in Malawi are crucial pieces of the puzzle ensuring engagement and coordination of relevant stakeholders across affected sub-sectors such as access to health services, food insecurity, and WASH challenges.