BRIGHT SIMONS: Listed among 35 innovators under 35 in the world.

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This is the 13th annual celebration of people who are driving the next generation of technological breakthroughs, we’re presenting the stories in a new way. We’ve grouped them by categories that reflect the variety of approaches that people can take to solving big problems. The Inventors, for instance, are creating new technologies. The Entrepreneurs are turning technologies into viable businesses. The Visionaries are anticipating how technologies can make life better, while Humanitarians are concentrating on expanding opportunities. And the Pioneersare exploring new frontiers, setting the stage for future innovations.

This project takes months of effort. It begins with nominations from the public and MIT Technology Review editors. People who have been selected by our publishing partners as local Innovators Under 35 in several regions worldwide are also considered. The editors go through the hundreds of candidates and select fewer than 100 finalists, all of whom will be younger than 35 on October 1. A panel of judges rates the finalists on the originality and impact of their work. Finally, the editors take the judges’ scores into account to select the group.

Bright Simons,31, founder of mPedigree network, based in Ghana. It allows people to determine with a text message whether their medicine is legitimate. Read Bright’s story below:

“I grew up in Ghana, where we’d inherited the British boarding school system. At Presbyterian Boys High School, many upperclassmen were abusive toward the younger students. Once, I was made to stay awake all night in a kneeling position outside. But in my final year at school I became student council president and led efforts to reduce abuses. That experience opened my eyes to a whole new world of fighting the system—of being an activist. And this led directly to my becoming a technology innovator.

A few years later, after studying astrophysics at Durham University in the U.K., I transferred that instinct to try to help African farmers. They grow food organically by default, because they don’t have money for chemicals. But they also don’t have money for the organic certification process that would let them get better prices. So in 2005, I led a team of PhD students to try to implement a solution using mobile technology.

30%
of medicine sold in some countries is bogus

The idea was that at the point of sale there’d be a code on the product. You’d enter that in a mobile device, and up will pop the history and even pictures of the farm. But we realized a big flaw: farmers have to be trained to do the coding. This was not practical.

But picking up a fruit and wanting to know if it is organically grown is similar to picking up a pack of medicine and seeing if it was properly tested and certified. About 2,000 people die every day from counterfeit medicine. So we shifted the idea to pharmaceuticals.

In 2007 we set up a nonprofit organization in Ghana and rolled out a pilot, and the next year Nigerian health officials invited us to replicate the concept there. But we wanted to get to a point where a big company like Sanofi-Aventis would use us. We learned that most companies won’t do business with an NGO, so in 2009 we launched mPedigree as a business.

You can send a free text message and get a reply in a few seconds verifying [that a medicine] is authentic. In addition, distributors and other middlemen can check the codes to verify that the supply has not been compromised. This helped reveal to a major Indian company that there was pilfering at a depot. Genuine antimalarial medicines would be replaced by counterfeits. The shady characters cannot get away with this anymore. If we had not stopped these leakages in the supply chain, they could have put thousands of patients at risk.

The system is used in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, and India, with pilots in Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, and Bangladesh. We’ve got a relationship with many of the major regional—and a growing number of multinational—pharmas, including Sanofi-Aventis. In Nigeria our codes are on 50 million packs of antimalarial drugs alone, and we have just signed up two Chinese drug makers.

We are now expanding to seeds, cosmetics, and other businesses. And new applications are emerging that we hadn’t expected, in the areas of logistics, supply chain management, and marketing. If you send an SMS to check authenticity, you’ve also given good information about exactly where and when a drug was sold—as well as provided a potential marketing opportunity to dispense coupons. We have built a major platform for supply chains in the developing world. But back at my school, of course, they still remember me as the activist.”

as told to David Talbot

There is another African, Evans Wadongo, 27, from Kenya.

SOURCE: http://www.technologyreview.com

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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH BRIGHT SIMONS.

Bright B. Simons is the Director of Development Research at IMANI, and the Coordinator of the mPedigree Network. He performs a range of  functions for IMANI related to social marketing, research and coordinating alliances. These duties have involved speaking engagements around the world and led to numerous quotations in the international press, ranging from opinions in the Asian Times to appearances on the BBC.  In 2009, he joined the World Economic Forum’s Technology Pioneer Community at Davos. Bright, a TED and Ashoka Fellow, is a member of the Evian Group, and an active member of other development-focused societies in Africa and elsewhere, including the Global Agenda Council on the Future of Mobile Communications of the World Economic Forum. He is a recipient of numerous awards, ranging from Marie Curie and Commonwealth Vision Grants to a PPARC Scholarship in Gamma Ray Astronomy.

@Kofiemeritus: What really sparked the idea behind MPedigree project?

@BBSimons: Between 2004 and 2005, I was committed to returning to Ghana after a number of years in Europe, where I was involved in social activism. Having previously been a student activist, I was somewhat frustrated by the results the activist community was getting in connection with a number of critical social issues. I wanted to do something that was likely to have more measurable and transformative impact. Something which could paint a clear “before and after” picture for a particular social issue of high significance. I was convinced that social entrepreneurship was the right path to follow and I had already begun reaching out to organisations like Ashoka. Seeing however that I was committed to solving a high-impact problem and yet had very little resources, I saw mobile phone technology as the best ally in addressing the goals I had in mind. The infrastructure was already widespread and entrenched; all I had to do was negotiate access. Convincing major organisations to come on board was a challenge that appealed to my activist mindset. Because I also maintained connections to the policy community, partly because I was then an adjunct fellow at IMANI, I had access to some persuasive voices. I teamed up with some doctoral students after I came up with the first concept – using mobile technology to enhance agricultural supply chains. That project however required more resources than we originally anticipated. But the experience was priceless. Before I finally relocated to Ghana, I came face to face with the problem of counterfeit medicines while exploring the original supply chain issue. I knew immediately that this was the supply chain issue that most fitted the concept I had developed and mPedigree was born.

 

@Kofiemeritus: Tell me briefly about the mPedigree project and the social problem it solves.

@BBSimons: mPedigree enables manufacturers and marketers of medicines to uniquely track each pack of medicine through a labeling technique known as ‘serialisation’. When consumers buy a pack of medicine that has been serialized, they are able to send a unique serial ID on the pack to a secure hotline for an instant response whether the pharmaceutical is of sound quality or not. The service is completely free of charge to the consumer/patient. The goal of the service is to protect consumers and patients from the super harmful effects of counterfeit medicines which are estimated to kill more than 2,000 people daily. mPedigree works with several telecom companies and global technology companies like Hewlett Packard to provide the service.

@Kofiemeritus: How easy was it to come up with the name of the company & product?

@BBSimons: I always believed the success of the project will hinge on how holistic it was. Since we were committed to gradually deepening the service to cover the entire supply chain, we were very attracted to the word ‘pedigree’ which connotes full assurance about the origin of a species. The ‘m’ stands for ‘mobile’ or for some people ‘master’, ‘modular’ or ‘monitor’.

@Kofiemeritus: What should Africans and the world expect in the next five or ten years from the mPedigree project. (What other new things will you be adding to the existing one)

@BBSimons: The original goal was massive: to create a system to completely illuminate the supply chain of medicines across Africa and South Asia. We have never wavered. We have never deviated. So far we have only achieved bits and pieces of it in about half a dozen countries in Africa. Our passion is fuelled by the urgency to see that original mission to its conclusion, bringing on board as many partners as possible, and inspiring as sustainable a whole new movement.

@Kofiemeritus: What has been the greatest hurdle to have overcome in the course of implementing the mPedigree project?

@BBSimons: There has been several. For a start, we started with very little resources and still run on a super-lean budget. You learn to do only the things that matter most, and to focus on core values when there isn’t a sea of resources to splash around. But it can also mean that things take longer. As an African organization, our influence with global organisations has been predictably limited. Given the global character and scale of the problem we definitely need more influence to make more progress. We have also not been very impressed by the orientation of several of the governments in Africa to this problem. Sometimes, regulation has tended to get in the way rather than smooth things along.

@Kofiemeritus: How does your work with IMANI Ghana shape the future of Ghana and Technology?

@BBSimons: I strongly believe that social and technology innovators in Africa ignore policy and politics at their peril. The challenges of the continent are such that innovators require a strong exposure to both in order to advance the new models that are required to scale fresh solutions in Africa. I believe working with IMANI has broadened my understanding of critical social and political issues and given my work a more sophisticated edge. As you probably know, IMANI has been very active in pushing policies that advance telecom development in Ghana.

@Kofiemeritus: Have you passed up any opportunity which you now regret? Are you happy with your current career and job?

@BBSimons: Well I could have charted an academic path and perhaps made some original contributions at the cutting edge of scientific scholarship. God knows more African voices are needed in global academia. But I believe becoming an entrepreneur while maintaining strong links to the policy and research communities should ultimately make my contributions to knowledge even sharper and original.

@Kofiemeritus: You have met a lot of great people, How was meeting former President Clinton and President George Bush like? Any memories to share?

@BBSimons: I am always touched by the complexity of these encounters. I was surprised to learn that President Bush was quite intimately familiar with Ghana. He rattled off several facts and names that left me truly astounded. President Clinton, while not referring to Ghana specifically, came across as very policy-conscious in how he views Africa. He is a fan of the mobile technology revolution going on here but he appeared concerned about the pace of policy innovation to go alongside it.

@Kofiemeritus: What is your greatest dream for Ghana?

@BBSimons: A new EGYPT and ABYSSINIA rolled into one. A modern African country that does not rely solely on past glories, but strives to make original contributions to knowledge, innovation and intellectual excellence in world civilization.

@Kofiemeritus: What are some of the books you read that you will encourage young ones to read and what is your favourite quote in life?

@BBSimons: I am fond of books that address the foundational and fundamental essence of social and political organization, especially in the context of Africa. Generally, anything by Steve Biko, Hayek, Achebe, Freire and the early Diop.

@Kofiemeritus: What practical advice will you have young Ghanaians with dreams of starting their own business; courses to take in schools, groups/associations to join, mentors, etc.

@BBSimons: The greatest skill in my view is to use failure, rejection and disappointment as motivational forces to achieve more. Be angry, not depressed. Embrace anger, not self-pity. If someone won’t play fair or right by you, it’s their loss not yours. Don’t waste your time fighting irrationality – the social system is dysfunctional, so it can by definition not be rational. It is to be uprooted not reasoned with. Fight, rage, start something else. Never let rejection take you down. Learn from your mistakes. Be furious about injustice. Be committed to seeing the dignity in all fellow human beings realized. Find trustworthy friends, and stick to them with the fierce loyalty of a warrior to her companion in battle. If you think solely of your success, it will be hard to rebounce after each failure. Go to bed believing that your success will bring meaning to a million lives. That is the only way to effectively harness anger without being self-destructive in a world where everything is much harder than one could ever have anticipated at the start.