The R Consortium recently caught up with Fousseynou Bah of the Bamako Data Science Group (also on Facebook) and talked about the budding R community in Mali. Online events allowed the group to broaden its horizons and invite international speakers to present at their events. They hope to host hybrid events in the future to make the most out of both online and physical event formats.
Fousseynou is an Economist currently working for the Electricity and Water Regulatory Commission. He received his Ph.D. and Master’s degree in Economics from the Université Grenoble Alpes, France.
How did you get introduced to R?
I have studied economics, and it is a discipline where you use a lot of data at the graduate level. This is how I started using R back in the early 2000s. Almost 20 years later, I realized what a powerful language it has become. This motivated me to talk to some friends and inquire about having a group of data science enthusiasts come together to share knowledge and have discussions. My academic training mostly influenced me and led me to start this group. R is fascinating as it is free, open-source, and the best way to get people interested in programming and data science. It doesn’t cost a lot and ensures reproducibility.
What is the R community like in Mali? Can you name a few industries using R in Mali?
The R community in Mali is in the budding stage. I have to go out and find people who use R and understand what it is. The main purpose of our group is to introduce people to R and promote its use in Mali. We are trying to convince people to use R for business handling instead of proprietary programs, as it is an amazing tool and free of cost. They can train their staff and introduce it in their data lives as a working tool. It is mostly people from academia who are familiar with R and using it for their research. In Mali, industries have not embraced R as much as I would hope. A lot of work needs to be done to evangelize, educate, and promote R in Mali.
How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?
Before the pandemic, we used to host physical events on Friday afternoons. Friday afternoons are when people are still in the mood for work but also relaxed because the weekend is close. We used to host our events at different locations. Mostly we used to go on the campus as it has some research centers. We could use the infrastructure to do our presentations and we used to meet in a room afterward for snacks.
With the pandemic, we have completely shifted our events online. It was interesting because we could connect with people from around the globe and have them attend and speak in our sessions. We connected with people living in Europe, the US, or North America and have them present. So online events allowed us to expand our horizons.
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?
We have been switching between Google Meet and Zoom for our online events. We have also created a WhatsApp group to interact with our group members. This group is not just limited to the presentations, but we also exchange information regarding different opportunities, scholarships, and collaboration requests. People also use it to showcase a project they have done and ask for help with issues they encounter.
Our group members do not use GitHub a lot. Whenever I present, I share the GitHub link and inform our group members that the slides, code, and data are available on GitHub. We do not upload our recorded sessions on YouTube. Instead, we share the link within our WhatsApp group due to privacy concerns. I hope in the future maybe we will also start a YouTube channel.
These days, I am nostalgic for the physical events and our discussions over snacks afterward. I feel that this networking and human contact is really important for our group. It allows people to come together and find common ground. So after the pandemic settles, we would like to host hybrid events to reap the benefits of both physical and online events. It will allow us to keep our group open to international speakers while allowing us to promote data science locally.
What trends do you see in R language affecting your organization over the next year?
I hope that the R ecosystem becomes stronger in the years to come. Things are changing in data science now and there is a trend of making sure that people can collaborate. Allowing people to switch between different languages is also a great opportunity. I think it will make R become more visible and highlight the power it has.
For our group, I think it is very important to make sure people realize the power of R and turn to it. We are also trying to educate people that they don’t need to be from a computer science or technical background to harness the power of R. They need domain expertise to find their way with R and use it.
Of the Funded Projects by the R Consortium, do you have a favorite project? Why is it your favorite?
My favorite funded project is deposits: Deposit Research Data Anywhere. It aims to facilitate the access of researchers to data. And that hits a cord with anyone striving to promote data science, for data is our most valuable raw material.
Of the Active Working Groups, which is your favorite? Why is it your favorite?
Due to my background in economics, my favorite active working group is R/Business.
When is your next event? Please give details!
We don’t have any events planned at the moment, but follow us on our socials to stay updated!
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