(TIC Mag) – Visiting Cameroon for the official launch of the first Orange Solidarity FabLab in sub-Saharan Africa, the general secretary of the Orange Foundation, Brigitte Audy, explains the reasons for choosing Cameroon and presents some of the objectives of this project.

TIC Mag: Why was Cameroon chosen to set up the very first Orange FabLab in sub-Saharan Africa?

Brigitte Audy: It is true that the Orange Foundation has a strong presence in West Africa. It turns out that since 2009, the Orange Cameroon Foundation has been active. We have always supported the Orange Cameroon Foundation when the Foundation asked us for any project. When we started the FabLab Solidaires project, we launched a call for projects and Cameroon, through Ms. Elisabeth (Ehabe, SG of the Orange Cameroon Foundation, editor’s note) with whom we worked submitted a project.

The project was well organized and well supported, because we ensure the quality and seriousness of the chosen partner. And the Agence universitaire de la francophonie is a serious partner. These are the guarantees that we take. A selection committee which brings together the staff of Orange and the Orange Foundation decides on the files to be retained. This is how Cameroon’s case was accepted.

And we are very happy, because Cameroon is becoming a showcase and a digital laboratory for the projects of the Orange Foundation. Here we have the FabLab Solidaire, the digital schools project, digital houses and digital villages. We are also funding other projects such as the care of women suffering from obstetric fistulas at the Bertoua hospital.

TIC Mag: What is your assessment of the impact of this solidarity FabLab initiative in the countries where you are already implementing them? For example, have companies already benefited from the innovations or products resulting from these solidarity FabLabs?

B.A: We launched the Fablab Solidaires program in 2014 and 2015. We went very quickly. We are already around sixty FabLab Solidaires. I am impatient like you to see the fallout. This is the reason why we are developing this training course in Cameroon. Follow young people, train them and finally measure their capacity to access a job. It’s a bit like that. Today we have some success.

In France for example, a young woman and a young boy managed to find a job in companies after their passage at the FabLab. The youngster from Toulouse who landed a job as a developer in a company had also failed at school 42 and drafted by the FabLab.

Other young people are developing applications and robots which are in the prototyping phase and being tested. They could be of interest to businesses. In fact, it is still a bit early to take stock. We know that today, around 8,000 young people have already passed through the FabLabs. Going to a FabLab to learn how to use a 3D printer, for example, is good. Now, what do we do with this learning? This is another question. We hope that in some time we could tell you that the results are positive. This is what we work for.

TIC Mag: Does the Foundation pay certain teams of the Orange group which sometimes in Africa are found in the two entities and sometimes have to carry out actions for both the Orange Group and the Foundation?

B.A: We are the Orange Foundation and we are working on digital. I cannot make the Orange Group work and finance them with funds from the Foundation. There is an extremely rigorous seal and separation between these two universes. We act free of charge for people in difficulty or people excluded from society. This is our mission.

Interview by TIC Mag

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