Many of the local businesses in Africa have no idea of what data can be used for or how it can be used to help their business. R Consortium talks to Edson Kambeu about the idea of partnering with local businesses to implement R and Data Science in their business. He also talks about the inroads that have to be made in teaching users and the outreach that will affect their organization in the coming year.
What is the R community like in Botswana?
EK: We are just starting to know each other. One of the main challenges we have is in getting people to become more active. We have a decent number of people signed up on our meetup group. Almost 200 people have signed up for our meetup group, but if we have an event between 20 to 30 people tend to join up in our online events. Getting more participation from members is currently our main goal. We have had a few meetups where we collaborated with Bulawayo R Users and EswatiniUseR to improve participation. Thanks to the R Consortium, who have also been supporting us from the beginning. We hope to continue to grow. We still need the support of the R Consortium, especially in our current situation, where we are trying to grow the community.
How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?
EK: Our meetup group just started in March 2020. Soon after COVID restrictions were introduced in Botswana. The restrictions prohibited in-person meetings. This affected our ability to hold face-to-face meetings. We then decided to conduct online meetups and in March 2021 we had our first online meetup. Since then we have been holding online meetups. Holding online meetups is always challenging as some members may not have access to the internet. However, they have allowed us to reach even people who are outside Botswana.
In the past year, did you have to change your techniques to connect and collaborate with members? For example, did you use GitHub, video conferencing, online discussion groups more? Can these techniques be used to make your group more inclusive to people that are unable to attend physical events in the future?
EK: COVID 19 restrictions forced us to meet online. We connect mainly during our online meetings which we conduct using Google meet and Zoom. The good thing about online meetings is that we are able to reach people from far places. We have sometimes had people from other countries attending our online meetups. Because of internet access challenges for some of our members, we cannot completely rely on these online platforms to connect. Once COVID 19 restrictions are eased we hope to go back to in-person meetings or probably a mixture of online and in-person meetings. We have a Github page where we share materials used by our presenters. Those who would have missed our online meetings have the opportunity to access the materials on Github. We also have a WhatsApp group where we inform each other about R events. Sometimes some members ask questions and people are able to help on the WhatsApp group.
Can you tell us about one recent presentation or speaker that was especially interesting and what was the topic and why was it so interesting?
EK: The most recent R presentation I liked was ‘Putting R in Production’ presented by Jacquiline Nollis of Saturn Cloud on the 23rd of February 2022. I liked the talk because it dispelled the notions that circulate amongst peers in data science that it is not possible to put R in production.
What trends do you see in R language affecting your organization over the next year?
EK: Right now, we do not have a high number of R users in my organization. Most are familiar with SPSS and have not used R before. I am trying to introduce R to my close colleagues and hopefully, many of them will soon start to appreciate how good R is.
Do you know of any data journalism efforts by your members? If not, are there particular data journalism projects that you’ve seen in the last year that you feel had a positive impact on society?
EK: I am not aware of any data journalism by any of our members. However, I am aware of Code for Africa which is an organization that promotes the use of data in journalism in Africa. I got to know of Code for Africa through data journalist Catherine Gicheru when she presented a talk during UseR 2021 conference.
Of the Funded Projects by the R Consortium, do you have a favorite project? Why is it your favorite?
EK: R ladies is my favorite. When I started the Botswana R User Group, I was inspired by R Ladies groups such as R Ladies Jozi and R Ladies Nairobi. These groups are active and I follow what they are doing. It’s also good that they are encouraging the inclusion of women in tech fields.
Of the Active Working Groups, which is your favorite? Why is it your favorite?
EK: R business is my favorite active working group. It’s something that could be useful in Africa. A lot of companies here don’t know about data science, and this type of group can be very helpful for Africa. Something that can be very helpful in Africa is the addition of data science and machine learning in business processes and systems. It is something that businesses in Africa are lacking.
There are four projects that are R Consortium Top-Level Projects. If you could add another project to this list for guaranteed funding for 3 years and a voting seat on the ISC, which project would you add?
The current four projects are:
EK: Something to do with collaboration with industry and implementing R into the business sector. A lot of businesses don’t know what data science is, let alone what R is. They don’t even have efficient systems set up to collect data and analyze it. It’s important that we start initiatives that help businesses in this regard.
When is your next event? Please give details!
EK: We will be having an online meetup on the 18th of June 2022. We will be hosting the meetup with EswatiniUseR and BulawayoR. We have been trying to collaborate with other regional meetup groups. Our topic will be ‘Writing custom functions in R’. I am going to be the presenter during the meetup.
How do I Join?
R Consortium’s R User Group and Small Conference Support Program (RUGS) provides grants to help R groups around the world organize, share information and support each other. We have given grants over the past four years, encompassing over 65,000 members in 35 countries. We would like to include you! Cash grants and meetup.com accounts are awarded based on the intended use of the funds and the amount of money available to distribute. We are now accepting applications!