Imagine a world where every child in Africa – from the bustling cities to remote rural villages – not only connects to the digital age but thrives within it. Meet Richard, the visionary Founder of Coral Reef Innovation Hub, who is on an extraordinary mission to turn this vision into reality.
He's not just opening doors to cutting-edge technology and transformative training programs, which encompass AI, coding, and robotics; he's also contributing to reshaping the very foundation of education across the continent.
Richard's story is a testament to purpose and resilience, a narrative deeply rooted in his family's commitment to education. From his grandfather's pioneering efforts to establish the first primary school in Kukurantumi to his mother's educational endeavours setting up her school in 2000, it's evident that education runs in his blood.
Richard is the seventh founder to be featured in our series on #AfricasHiddenGems which amplifies the voices of African entrepreneurs who are leading the charge in tackling some of the continent’s most pressing sustainability challenges.
From Boarding School Survival to Entrepreneurial Resilience
As a young boy, Richard describes how he “was thrown out in the middle of nowhere in St. Peters, Nkwatia”. An all-boys school in the Eastern Region of Ghana that was surrounded by forests on three sides. “If you are thrust in the middle of that space, it's about survival. You are there to learn Period!”, says Richard.
The unique setting of St. Peters instilled in Richard a mindset that would forever shape him. He fondly recalls the bonds and lifelong relationships formed during his time there, emphasising that he learnt to be both “fiercely independent” with a profound sense of self-reliance and resilience, whilst also experiencing the power of teamwork and collaboration. These early experiences at St. Peters planted the seeds of Richard's character, shaping him into a tenacious individual who thrives on both personal independence and collective collaboration.
After finishing his A-Levels in 1993, the promise of a better more prosperous life took Richard to London. For the next five years, Richard balanced working as a postman whilst also studying fulltime at Guildhall University. He lightheartedly recalls how every evening after he finished lectures, he would “jump on bus 43 to the Royal Mail office in Islington” and spend the evening letters sorting letters until 10 pm. Richard was determined to pay his own way through university.
Richard went on to become a qualified Chartered Insurer and spent the next three years working in the industry. Then one morning, whilst sitting in rush hour traffic between Thamesmead and Redhill, Richard had his “M25 epiphany”. Feeling unfulfilled, he thought to himself “I can’t be doing this for the rest of my life” and soon set about finding a different path.
A sleepless night led to Richard finding an MBA course at Durham University and he quickly enrolled. On his way back from the interview, he remembers stopping off at York and purchasing three books: Anyone Can Do It; Rich Dad, Poor Dad; and The E-Myth. “By the time I got back to Kings Cross, I had finished reading Anyone Can Do It. I was determined that I was going to resign from my job and start my own business”. So once again, Richard balanced work and studying – this time in the form of starting his own businesses and an MBA.
Then came the unexpected. As soon as Richard started his MBA course at Durham, his wife fell pregnant. These three “life-changing events” unfolded synonymously and the combined pressure of supporting a young family, starting a business, and studying for an MBA took its toll.
Despite the challenges – after five years of struggle, grit, and determination – Richard finished his MBA in 2008. That same year, fifteen years after first coming to the U.K., Richard went back home to Ghana for what was supposed to be a three-day consultancy project. Those three days have turned into 15 years.
In 2018 Richard started his next venture with GHS 20,000 (USD 4,348) over a period of six weeks, training 60 students on coding, robotics and entrepreneurship”. And that was the beginning of Coral Reef.
The Challenge: Not at the starters’ block. Not in the race.
Although Africa is poised to become the home of 40% of the world's population under the age of 18 by 2050, Richard reminds us, population alone doesn't equate to talent. We must curate, support, and empower this young generation with the skills that will truly matter.
In an era defined by rapid technological change, Richard highlights a critical concern; the fact that “automation is getting rid of jobs at a much faster pace than we ever imagined. Innovation is replacing jobs, but different types of jobs requiring different types of skills. But we are not preparing our kids for the opportunities that innovation presents us”.
Or as he puts it more colloquially, “The people who are kneeling, waiting for the starters gun to go off are part of the race. Most of Africa has not even come to kneel at the starters block. We are therefore not part of the race.”
That’s where Coral Reef comes in - to ensure that Africa, and particularly its youth, is part of the race.
Rising to the Challenge: Equipping Africa's Youth with Vital Digital Skills
To achieve this, Coral Reef is building a “pipeline of transformation right from kindergarten all the way to university”. They have designed new educational content and curated curriculums for children of all ages – empowering them with advanced digital skills including AI, coding, and robotics.
Coral Reef has established SmartLabs—educational centres equipped with cutting-edge digital devices. These labs are complemented by in-school training programs which provide crucial support to both teachers and students.
In April 2023, Richard achieved a full circle moment. Coral Reef was inaugurating an AI lab at St. Peter's Senior High in the Eastern region of Ghana – Richard’s alma mater. This made St. Peter's the first public school in the country to house an AI lab on its premises, setting a precedent for advanced technological education. You can read more about that story here.
Coral Reef’s programmes are specifically designed to develop students into lifelong learners and creative problem solvers. It's about more than mere information consumption; it's about instilling the ability to “translate data into knowledge, wisdom, and insight”.
In collaboration with Intel, Coral Reef will be organising a competition involving 300 junior & high schools in 2024 challenging students to use AI to solve real-world community problems related to health, agribusiness, finance, and climate.
Coral Reef's commitment to transforming education in Africa extends beyond students; it encompasses the entire education ecosystem. Richard places significant emphasis on engaging leadership teams within schools, recognising that teachers, Heads of Schools, and Governors must be fully involved in this process.
Before deploying any devices in a school, Coral Reef ensures that “the Board, the Head teacher, and the teachers go through a three to six-month engagement process”. This includes specialised courses for Head Teachers and Governors to help them understand the challenges and opportunities inherent in the evolving digital landscape.
Coral Reef's innovative and encompassing approach is paving the way for Africa's youth to thrive in an ever-changing world; ensuring the continent is part of the race towards a technologically advanced future.
What Next: Achieving Access, Equity, and Inclusion
Coral Reef's ambitions reach far and wide, with plans to expand to 20 countries by the close of 2024. Their commitment to accessible and equitable education has already been set in motion, with operations underway in Ghana, South Africa, Eswatini, and Botswana, where they are conducting pilot programs. In Ghana, Coral Reef in partnership with Hatchery Positivo BGH, Ministry of Education & Ghana Education Service are delivering the flagship National Digital Literacy Project. This is a proof of concept setting up Smart Labs, targeting 700 primary & junior high schools in every district, training 1,400 teachers across the country and is likely to impact about 1 million students in Ghana.
Their goal is to provide innovative educational opportunities to all children. They have even established a strategic marketing component to their business which is dedicated to helping state schools across Africa raise the necessary funds to participate in Coral Reef’s programmes.
Richard succinctly encapsulates their vision: “If you can give a kid access, equity, inclusion, the right exposure and support, they can compete with anybody, anywhere in the world.” This philosophy lies at the core of their work, emphasising that given the right tools and opportunities, young children from any corner of the world can shine on a global stage.
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