Five winners of COVID-19 African Innovation Seed Fund

Image of the 5 winners

Five graduate students currently studying at Oxford have been awarded £1,000 grants from the Vice Chancellor’s COVID-19 African Innovation Seed Fund for entrepreneurial projects aimed at addressing global challenges stemming from the pandemic. The five winners have reimagined their research, in light of the pandemic, and are using their expertise to accelerate access to education, health services, and safe drinking water.

Professor Louise Richardson, Vice Chancellor of the University of Oxford said, ‘I am proud to see how the five students have reimagined their research to address urgent global challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Whilst completing their graduate courses in the midst of a global pandemic, they have unleashed their creativity and insight to support the most vulnerable in our societies.’

The COVID-19 African Innovation Seed Fund grants were awarded in partnership with the Oxford University Africa Society, during the 2021 Oxford Africa Conference. Held virtually this year, the Conference was introduced by Dr Tedros Adhanom, Director General of the WHO, and it highlighted innovations and progress in health, economics, climate and politics in Africa.

Dr Elisha Ngetich, President of the Africa Society, and a current DPhil candidate at Oxford said, ‘Innovation is the cornerstone of Africa’s future. I am delighted to see the cutting edge research and innovation being done by students at Oxford and the potential this could have for the continent.’

The Africa Oxford Initiative was proud to support the 10th edition of the Oxford Africa Conference. The AfOx Health Innovation Platform supports African innovators develop new solutions to Africa’s health challenges. 

Dr Watu Wamae, AfOx Health Innovation Platform Lead said, “The creativity and phenomenal ability of the 5 students to pivot their research to address real challenges in Africa is commendable. With their specific knowledge and engagement with the African context, they are uniquely positioned to tap into the vibrant Oxford innovation ecosystem to create purpose-focused solutions that will positively impact livelihoods. The winners truly represent the explosion of talent that is in the African continent.”

Find out more about the winners and their innovations below.

Josephine Agyeman-Duah

Increasing access to Preterm care in a time of a pandemic

Image of Josiphine

Josephine is a 3rd year DPhil candidate in the Nuffield Department of Women’s & Reproductive Health and Green Templeton College. Her research seeks to evaluate the effectiveness of a neurodevelopmental assessment tool for babies born pre-term. Such babies are at higher risk of neo-natal morbidity and developing mental health problems.

With the support received from the Vice Chancellor’s COVID-19 African Innovation Seed Fund, Josephine will be able to buy equipment and train more health assessors for the virtual platform.

Research from 18 countries has identified strong links in pre-term birth among COVID-19+ pregnant women. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Josephine has adapted the in-person neurodevelopmental assessment to a virtual platform. This innovation ensures that high-risk preterm children continue receiving the care they need despite restrictions imposed by the pandemic.

Her innovation is currently being piloted in the UK. It will eventually be scaled-up in Ghana, and then globally. It will accelerate world’s progress towards improved neuro-development for these children, which in turn will help vulnerable children reach their fullest potential.

This innovation will have huge benefit even beyond the pandemic. Virtual screenings will allow health practitioners to reach more patients in a timely manner. 

My motivation for applying to the Oxford 2021 V-C COVID-19 African Innovation Seed Fund was to leverage the opportunity to promote a research idea by an African scholar at Oxford and to support an idea which will be a huge benefit to the African continent and globally. The availability of a platform for neurodevelopmental assessment in the time of a pandemic or where access to health centres is limited, will boost the possibility of scaling up neurodevelopmental screening.’
Josephine Agyeman-Duah
Segun Afolaranmi

TGI career mobile app

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Segun is taking an MSc in Integrated Immunology at Green Templeton College. He is also the co-founder of The Ganglion Initiative, an organisation supporting career development and entrepreneurship among secondary school students in Nigeria.  

The pandemic significantly affected Nigeria’s already weak schools career counselling services. Segun’s team is building an innovative mobile app. It will allow The Ganglion Initiative to reach more students and schools digitally, providing comprehensive and tailored information on career and scholarship opportunities.

The app will simplify information on seemingly complex topics, such as choosing a career and applying to university, through explainer videos and puzzles. Users will also be able to chat with directly with volunteers enrolled in higher education.

Their aim is to reach at least 20,000 Nigerian students. The support from the Vice Chancellor’s COVID-19 African Innovation Seed Fund will help complete the product design of the app as well as online and offline publicity of the app.


This award is in honour for the dedicated volunteers at The Ganglion Initiative who work tirelessly to achieve our vision, and the funding will support our efforts to reach more students by deploying the online tool.’
Segun Afolaranmi
Emmanuel Opoku

Improving Water Pricing Strategies Admist Ghana's COVID-19 Free Water Policy

Image of Sian Emmanuel

Emmanuel is taking an MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management at Linacre College. His innovation aims to ensure that the most vulnerable households in Ghana have access to safe drinking water amidst the pandemic.

Emmanuel aims to devise a strategy to subsidise water prices for the most vulnerable water users, by assessing their water affordability. Household water affordability is determined by finding the ratio of household’s expenses on water to their total expenditure/income. Based on the 2018 UN’s economic growth report, households whose water affordability is below 10% are considered vulnerable. 

Emmanuel has developed an innovative approach, calculating water affordability in 100 households over a 10-day period. From his analysis, households whose water affordability is below the 10% threshold will be marked as vulnerable. This will allow the Government to target vulnerable areas and provide proportionate subsidies on tariffs. .

His innovation has the potential to create long-lasting improvements in water-pricing techniques in Ghana. The support from the Vice Chancellor’s COVID-19 African Innovation Seed Fund will cover the travel and research costs.

The Increasing Block Tariff water pricing strategy has been widely adopted by utilities in Sub-Saharan Africa, but it imposes differential affordability burden on low-income households and hinders utilities from fully recovering costs. This is a good opportunity for not only determining befitting subsidy beneficiaries but for developing cost reflective tariffs designs that could be adopted globally.’
Emmanuel Opoku
Godwin Nwangele

Energy for Health Initiative

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Godwin is taking an MSc in Energy Systems in Oxford’s Department of Engineering Science and Keble College and his innovation aims to develop smart technology that connects solar power to hospitals.

One of the challenges facing the healthcare sector in Nigeria, and other African countries, is limited access to reliable electricity supplies. This challenge has been compounded by the pandemic, because the infrastructure needed to transport safely and store the vaccines requires steady supplies of power.

Having experienced the consequences of this in hospital, Godwin was motivated to find a solution. This initiative seeks to conduct research using a Smart Sequential Loader (SSL) to provide solar power to hospitals, while cutting costs and achieving capacity optimisation. Not only will this be beneficial for vaccine equipment, but for the healthcare system and for those who depend on it.

Godwin will be using the Vice Chancellor’s COVID-19 African Innovation Seed Fund award to fund this research and obtain the device that will address this challenge. He also plans to partner with others on the African continent to roll out this solution beyond Nigeria.

Winning the Vice Chancellor’s innovation award is a proud achievement for me. It is heartwarming to know that my idea is selected to build a resilient healthcare system in Africa.  I am now motivated to work harder to complete this research, prototype it, and move to the implementation phase.’
Godwin Nwangele
Sanya Samtani

The Right of Access to Educational Materials: International and Domestic Law

Image of Sanya

Sanya is a final year DPhil student in Law at Magdalen College. Her research offers constitutional tools to ensure access to educational material for people living in poverty and with disabilities in South Africa. Despite the Bill of Rights in South Africa guaranteeing all people the right to education, the Copyright Act of 1978 prohibits people living in poverty and people living with sensory disabilities from access to educational materials such as textbooks.

Sanya’s research highlights how these laws prevent millions of South Africans, who cannot afford a book, from accessing the material through photocopying. And that the law, which does not allow format shifting, precludes widespread use of assistive technologies, thus also denying access to people living with disabilities. As South Africa has entered into several lockdowns and tuition has been online, the copyright law, and the challenges it presents, have been exacerbated.

Sanya’s tool provides helpful guidance to courts deciding on the issue of this Copyright Act and civil society organisations involved in litigation on the restrictive copyright laws.

Sanya plans to use the grant to publish her research as an openly accessible monograph. This will be hugely valuable to those who are championing copyright reform and the access to education and learning materials in South Africa.

Facilitating access to educational materials for all is key to knowledge generation and innovation, which in turn leads to a flourishing democratic society. South Africa's Copyright Amendment Bill is a positive step in the direction of inclusive access, grounded in constitutional values and the Bill of Rights.’
Sanya Samtani