Building the R Community in Southern Africa

By January 30, 2020 February 7th, 2020 Blog

By Heather Turner, Chair of Forwards, the R Foundation taskforce for underrepresented groups in the R Community

In this post I will give the background to the Forwards Southern Africa 2020 project, for which we are running a crowd-funding campaign until February 5, 2020.

On March 6-7, 2020, Johannesburg will host the fourth satRday to be held in South AfricasatRdays are community-led, regional conferences, that support collaboration, networking and innovation within the R community. They were initiated by an R Consortium funded project, that ran pilot events in Budapest and Cape Town in 2016/2017. The conference series has been expanding around the world since then, with ten events in 2019.

For Joburg satRday 2020, I was invited to be a keynote speaker. As chair of Forwards, the R Foundation taskforce for underrepresented groups, I saw this as an opportunity to create an initiative focused on building the R Community in Southern Africa.

A first step was to offer a workshop on R package development, using the materials developed under the R Consortium project, Forwards Workshops for Women and Girls. This project ran package development workshops for women in New Zealand, Budapest and Chicago. Since there are still some funds left in the grant, we are able to offer some scholarships to women in Africa to attend the Joburg workshop and satRday. Women with visa-free access to South Africa may apply; the deadline for applications is midnight SAST, January 31.

The next step was to look beyond South Africa, to neighbouring countries. The following map shows cities in Africa with R-Ladies groups (purple), R User Groups (blue) or both (blue-grey):

The AfricaR consortium that took off at the start of 2019 has really helped to support the R community across Africa and has lead to the founding of several R User Groups, as well as the first satRday in East Africa (Kampala 2019) and the first satRday in West Africa which will take place in Abidjan, February 1, 2020. In Southern Africa, there are strong R User Groups and R-Ladies groups in both Cape Town and Johannesburg, but the R Community is only just starting to go beyond South Africa, with the establishment of Eswatini useRs last year.

UPDATE: The Adidjan satRday event was a big success! Here’s a photo of the full group. Videos of the talks should be available online soon.

The Forwards Southern Africa Project aims to build on this foundation, by organizing free workshops and meetups in collaboration with local partners in Eswatini, Botswana and Namibia. This project is also supported by the WhyR Foundation and AfricaR. The details of the events are still being finalised, but the planned itinerary is as follows:

Windhoek, Namibia (March 4, 2020, TBC)

In partnership with the Department of Statistics and Population Studies, University of Namibia:

  • Introduction to R for data analysis workshop (1 day)
  • Launch event of the first R User Group in Namibia

Manzini, Eswatini (March 11-12, 2020)

In partnership with the recently established Eswatini useR group. Registration is open for this 2 day event, that includes:

  • Introduction to R for data analysis workshop (1 day)
  • Data visualization workshop (1/2 day)
  • Meetup including talk on the R community and resources available for newcomers

Gaborone, Botswana (March 14, 2020)

In partnership with WiMLDS Gaborone and PyData Botswana:

  • Introduction to R workshop (1/2 day)

All these events can be supported via the crowdfunder where further updates will be posted. Updates will also be shared on the Forwards Twitter.