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Kenya’s Beacon Inc using IoT to foster social inclusion

Beacon Inclusive is a social enterprise that seeks to reboot equality by catalyzing internet of things technology to foster inclusion of vulnerable groups (Women and Children in low resourced areas, Refugees, and Persons with Disabilities) in society; founded upon the values embracing Inclusion and Diversity. Those who are on the have not sided with the digital divide who are often poor, marginalized by society as well as those I rural, remote or geographically challenged areas. All belief in creating smart societies, making significant strides in connecting the unconnected and promoting digital inclusion.

TechMoran caught up with the team and this is the conversation we had.

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Tell us about yourselves; your team, your educational and professional backgrounds
Pauline Gitau: serves as Chief Technology Officer. She brings the women’s perspective to the team, looking on issues around sexual and reproductive health information accessibility and Women Empowerment.
Katra Sambili, serves on the advisory board, serving as a Communication Consultant at the UN headquarters, she brings onboard her wealth of experience in partnerships, having worked with the Kenyan Government and Africa Union
Lincoln Njogu, serves is a technology role at IHub, the pioneering startup incubator and co-working space in Africa. Having worked in the Kenyan technology Space for more than 5 years, Lincoln serves in a Strategy and technology advisory role.
Ruben Vallega, serves on the advisory board, helping with Linkages across the health sector.

How would you best describe Beacon, what does it do?

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We seek to reboot equality by catalyzing internet of things technology to foster inclusion of vulnerable groups in society. We aim to make social protection systems gender sensitive and inclusive for persons with disabilities and minorities in order to ensure that these groups are also able to benefit equitably and equally from services provided by these systems. However, it is so disappointing that aspects of inclusion and equality haven’t been incorporated into the situation for the past 20 years.

This follows the lower understanding of sign language has left the Deaf community marginalized and unable to access basic health care services. This has been attributed to the fact that Global Hearing aid production only reaches 10% of the deaf population (446 Million) and the number of trained sign language translators is inadequate to serve the current deaf population. This has hugely contributed to the increasing losses of deaf lives in hospitals, an example being part of the Global Community immersed in solving challenges are SignAll.

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What market gap did you spot that motivated you to start this company?
We trace our routes back in 2017, when I had a deep passion in House Music. Fascinated by how music was so emotive and would bridge so many gaps, connecting people in what they felt. This came from appreciation of the way artists like Kanye West, Avicii, Armin van Buuren and our very own DJ Protégé used their skills to impact change in the society. I turned my passion into a skill and played in local student parties. When you play music and people resonate with it, there is a kind of fulfilment that springs within you. I had this feeling when I was mixing on the decks. Naturally, I had found my purpose in life -telling stories through taking individuals into musical journeys that elicit joy, washing away bad moments of the week.

In the course of deejaying, I distorted my hearing, the same thing that had elicited so much joy and fulfilment was impairing my hearing. With this, I had to let go of my passion in deejaying. It was a very tough time in my life. I had to avoid places that played music. That meant staying indoors while all my peers were in parties and even not receiving phone calls. It also meant always having to queue for vehicles that didn’t play music (as part of Nairobi’s matatu culture, almost all PSV vehicles play loud music to better passenger’s travel experience. Unfortunately for me, the loud music would only worsen my already deteriorating hearing.)

Not to be defined by disability, I learnt Mobile Application Development on YouTube and developed the first version of Beacon Chat to help me with the basic communication with friends around me. After completing studies, I entered the job market like what every other graduate does, looked for jobs. I got an Internship at an IHub based startup that lasted for 6 months. I accumulated the monthly stipends from my internship to bootstrap Beacon Inclusive.

Before even Drake cited “I can’t do this my own” in his GODS PLAN song lyrics, I shared the same sentiments. The founding team is composed of dedicated and relentless individuals guided by passion and enthusiasm, a team that embodies and breathe the same values of diversity and inclusion upon which Beacon Inclusive was founded upon. Individuals that make up the synergy include:

Natural Language Processing to translate between Sign and Text and use Computer Vision to capture Sign Movements, New York University Research Team doing almost the same thing as SignAll, Interpretype form UK, Sign Language Interpreters community etc. This makes me happy to have a range of great players around the world dedicating their resources to help solve the epidemic issue. Sign Language Interpreters have been solving this issue on alone for a long time and with their inadequacy, causes a surge in their hiring fees where they charge $150/hour for their services. Moreover, it is very tricky in life and death situations, since the Hospital has to book for an Interpreter in advance. As a result, Some Health Institutions do not serve Deaf patients due to the high Interpreting fees.

Alfred Weinrib

Who is your target market?
Alfred Weinrib, an 83-year Cancer-Stricken Deaf person who died without even knowing his diagnosis after 3 hospitals failed to provide a sign language interpreter for 7 months. There are a lot of people like Alfred, his story is a testament to the problems more than 446 Million Deaf individuals around the world go through in their daily lives. As a result, reports from World Health Organization indicate that $750 Billion is lost annually due to unaddressed Hearing loss.

The deaf do not deserve such treatment, they are humans like everyone else and should be treated with respect, be able to access resources and information just like everyone else, and hope we are the generations that will make this a reality.

Realizing that Interpreters cannot do this on their own, we unveil Beacon Chat, a mobile application that provides an inclusive communication platform for both deaf and hearing individuals applying Natural Language Processing to translate between sign language and text. This way, individuals like Alfred can access basic health care without the need for a sign language interpreter cutting down the cost of accessing health care from $150/hour to $9/lifetime. $9 is the cost of purchasing the device for Beacon Chat installation. This way, we make the services available to common “mwananchi” who live on a $2/day, enabling them to channel the funds used to enable them access healthcare to a different economic activity that will eventually lift them out of poverty. Our obsession with our customers, enable us to achieve this for it is impossible to create and sustain true innovation without a commitment to equality. “THE ANTIDOTE OF POVERTY IS OPPORTUNITY.”

What advice would you give upcoming entrepreneurs?
“Entrepreneurship is like sex. If you want to know what sex is like, you are not going to learn by reading about it or by talking with others. The best way to learn is just to go out there and do it. And the best part about it is that you are going to enjoy a lot of fun trying”
I look back how had it was transitioning from being a House Music Deejay, It was worth it as Beacon Inc has given me a sense of fulfillment and reassurance that there is more in serving others.

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