This blog post is part of a collaboration between the African Union and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) to enhance the visibility of innovators recognized at this year’s African Union Expo.
My name is Dodzi Aglago. I'm from Togo, and at 27 years old, I am the Director General of MOBILELABO, a company I founded.
MOBILELABO is a mobile laboratory that specializes in the design and sale of science education materials. We also offer services such as laboratory construction and teacher training on the development of science education materials.
As my company’s name indicates, we are a mobile company, and we travel to disadvantaged schools to conduct practical experiments with students in exchange for a small contribution.
Lack of tools for teaching sciences in a practical way
It all began in 2013 after I received my bachelor’s degree and encountered challenges while pursuing my master’s. I began my teaching career as a physical science and mathematics teacher. But the school at which I taught had neither a laboratory nor the materials necessary for teaching science, like 90% of the other schools in Togo, which meant that we could not do the experiments described in the textbooks, as is recommended.
Of the 200 papers I corrected for the baccalaureate in 2013, only 25 passed. That really struck me because my country needs engineers, technical specialists, doctors - essentially scientists. I also thought that parents’ investment in their children’s education was being squandered.
Moreover, there was no company on the African education market that could provide affordable science equipment in all domains, and disadvantaged schools do not have the means to acquire a laboratory or materials.
These factors, combined with my frustration, gave birth to the idea of creating a mobile laboratory, which has now evolved into the company MOBILELABO. Since 2014, the company has allowed me to create 10 jobs, with annual revenue that currently stands at CFAF 12 million.
Visiting communities to promote our services
In order to promote our products and services, we organize science fairs in schools and public squares, and we celebrate days dedicated to the sciences. We are also involved in teacher training. We host science clubs in schools and produce television and radio programs to demystify a number of scientific phenomena, for example, what causes eclipses and tidal waves or how to create electrochemical cells. This is how we gradually won the heart of our community.
This work has allowed us to establish three units in the country, build 10 laboratories (a room with a work bench, cabinet and materials) in schools, and sell more than 500 science kits in different domains to allow teachers to conduct experiments with students in physics, chemistry, or life and earth sciences.
One example would be in the domain of biochemistry: kits for ion identification, combustion of solids, study of acid-base reactions, models of molecules and atoms. In physics, we offer kits dealing with Archimedes' principle of buoyancy, as well as electricity production, optical bench and transistor kits, and many others.
I am proud to say that since MOBILELABO came into existence, over half a million students have been inspired to study sciences in Togo and Benin.
We intend to continue these actions, helping communities understand the importance of the sciences with the goal of having laboratories in all schools.
Working with public authorities
At the beginning, it was not easy to receive authorization from the ministry or from school principals. But we secured our first victory when an activity was completed in a school and it was the school leaders themselves who sought us out after our departure.
Today, we are working with over 500 schools. The ministry came to understand the need for our activities in the field of education. For example, we have already completed projects with the National Commission for UNESCO (science camps for the top female students in Togo) and the Embassy of the United States (provision of science kits to equip schools in which the embassy is involved in construction).
We have also received technical support from the Ministry of Development in the form of training in business start-up and management. Our challenge now is to establish a nation-wide science and technology day in schools to increase the number of science students and get decision makers more fired up about supporting scientific training.
A boost from the award received
Winning second place in the Innovating Education in Africa (IEA) Expo enhanced our credibility with our clients, partners, and the government.
Furthermore, the resources we received are helping us shift from manual to mechanical production as well as allow us to further diversify our products and services.
Over the coming months, we plan to open our chemistry center (store and laboratory for the synthesis of chemical products) and partner with stores that sell school furnishings to sell a number of our kits and begin to expand into neighboring countries.
My message to other innovators
Perseverance and ongoing innovation, through training sessions, are very important. Our greatest success will be the impact of our projects in our community, our country, and in Africa, which will be evidenced by training more youth in scientific professions, placing us firmly on the path to achieving the objectives of Agenda 2030, “AFRICA WE WANT.”
I would like to thank the African Union for this initiative and encourage it to continue its efforts. I would also like to ask my compatriots to support local businesses, because there is no reason to continue to buy foreign products when we can develop them ourselves.
Finally, it would be a good idea to create a network of innovators to facilitate brainstorming on the challenges faced by the continent and possible solutions to address them.