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Jessica O. Matthews is the Tech Maven Bringing Renewable Energy to Nigeria and Beyond

Jessica O. Matthews is bringing renewable energy to countries throughout the Continent with her global tech company, Uncharted Play.

This feature is in conjunction with our inaugural list—“OkayAfrica’s 100 Women”—where we take a look at the women making an impact on the African continent and in the diaspora.


Check out the biggest names in culture to young up-and-comers in "OkayAfrica's 100 Women" list here.

Energy is something Jessica O. Matthews knows a thing or two about. A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business School, Matthews launched Uncharted Play, a renewable energy tech start-up, at just 22 years old.

But despite being an award-winning social enterprise, Uncharted Play is the product of chance.

“Believe it or not, I never aspired to be a businesswoman or run a major company,” Matthews says. “I always wanted to make really cool meaningful things, and generally help people self-actualize and get more value out of whatever time they have left on this planet. As it turns out, to do that sustainably and at scale you have to build a business.”

Matthews, a dual citizen of Nigeria and the United States, first came up with the idea for the company when visiting Nigeria for a family wedding. When the power went out during the party, her relatives switched on the noisy, noxious diesel generators that have become a way of life for nearly 60 million Nigerians. Only 25 percent of Nigerians have access to regular electricity, and the nation averages 32 eight-hour power outages per month.

At that moment a light bulb went off. “Even in the most developed communities power is not something that's always available,” she explains. “You're constantly looking for that plug; constantly figuring out how to get the power you need for your devices when you are outside your home. You're still tethered to the wall. And then of course when you go to less developed communities you don't even have a reliable grid system. So to me the future is decentralization, removing ourselves from the grid and relying on new technologies more integrated into our environments that allow us to always have access to the power we need, when we need it.”

Matthews’ innovative approach to off-grid power is micro-generator technology has spawned two signature products, the SOCCKET, an energy-generating soccer ball, and PULSE, an emergency battery charging jump rope. Both products use Uncharted Play’s proprietary M.O.R.E. (Motion-based, Off-Grid, Renewable Energy) technology to harness power generated by minutes of play to create hours of electricity.

Over 500,000 SOCCKET and PULSE products have been used across developing countries, primarily in Latin America and Africa. Now, Matthews has set her eyes on an enhancing the company’s presence in the U.S. market by engaging parents and youth interested in renewable energy and global issues. But it’s not all about business—the company hasn’t neglected its social enterprise roots: through its Think Out of Bounds educational program, Uncharted Play aims to teach one million kids innovation and STEM by 2020.

While the company started in the “play” space through its soccer balls and jump roses, Matthews doesn’t rule out potential applications of the M.O.R.E. technology to products in other industries. Other social issues, such as food and water, may also be targets of future Uncharted Play products.

As the 13th black female founder to raise more than $1 million in outside investment, Matthews stands out in an industry primarily dominated by white men. Like many minorities, the Uncharted Play founder has faced bias from investors skeptical of her role as a tech founder and CEO. Despite these challenges, Matthews has actively embraced her identity. “I have decided to be very authentic in terms of my perspective, my culture, my personality, as a black woman of the African Diaspora, and finding people who want to work with that,” she says. “And so in raising the round, moving to Harlem, working in Africa, hiring a very diverse team, and doing business with diverse people, I feel very confident and very happy to say that it is possible to raise money and it's possible to be successful and still be authentically, one hundred percent a black woman.”

Today, Matthews leverages her experiences a black woman in tech to help others as the chairman of the board of the Harlem Tech Fund (HTF), a separate nonprofit entity of Uncharted Play. Through HTF, she works to empower Harlem residents and members of historically disenfranchised communities through technology entrepreneurship.

The CEO’s ambition and drive have not only caught the attention of the White House, but also have attracted significant investment. In late 2016, Uncharted Play closed its first major round of financing with $7 million in seed funding from heavy hitters including NIC Fund, an African renewable energy investor, and Magic Johnson Enterprises, an investment company owned by the NBA Hall of Fame legend.

As the saying goes, “Naija no dey carry last.”

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(From left to right) Stéphane Bak and Marc Zinga in 'The Mercy of the Jungle.' Photo courtesy of TIFF.

Congolese Actor Stéphane Bak on His Intense Experience Shooting 'The Mercy of the Jungle' In Uganda

We catch up with the actor after the film made its North American premiere at TIFF.

When actor Stéphane Bak first got the script for The Mercy of the Jungle (La Miséricorde de la Jungle), he knew there was one person he had to consult: his father. "My dad did school me about this," he says. While Bak was born and raised in France, his parents had emigrated from what was then Zaire in the 1980s—before the events of the movie, and not exactly in the same area, but close enough to be able to pass on firsthand knowledge of the simmering ethnic tensions that underpin the action.

The story takes place in 1998, just after the outbreak of the Second Congo War—which came hot on the heels of the First Congo War. Two Rwandan soldiers find themselves separated from their company and have to make a harrowing trek through the jungle to link back up with their regiment. Bak plays Private Faustin, the young recruit hunting Hutu rebels to avenge his murdered family, a foil to Marc Zinga's seasoned Sergeant Xavier. As a Congolese militia swarms the area, and it becomes increasingly difficult to tell enemies from friends, the two are forced off the road and into the thick vegetation.

Their journey is physically difficult, but the jungle also nurtures them, providing food, water, and shelter. "The title is very explicit in a way," says Bak. It is the human beings they encounter, from rival soldiers and militiamen to the hostile security forces guarding illegal gold mining operations, who bring sudden danger and violence. The challenges are conveyed as much through the actors' physicality as through the minimal dialogue. As for the strain on his face, Bak says it was all real. "To be honest, it was very difficult," he says of the shoot, which took him 25 days. "I had to learn my accent in two weeks." Prior to commencing, there was training with the Ugandan army for realism. Due to the ongoing conflicts in the DRC, the movie itself was shot in Uganda.

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Brazil Has Made Yoruba an Official Language

The language will also be incorporated into primary and secondary school curriculum in the country, says the Minister of Culture.

Yoruba history and culture has an undeniably strong presence in Brazilian society, due of course, to the Transatlantic slave trade which brought millions of enslaved West Africans to the Americas. Despite the inhumanity they faced, many managed to keep their ancestral culture and traditions alive.

Centuries have passed, and Yoruba influences still continue to thrive in various regions of the country, as many Brazilians maintain a strong relationship with the language and religion. Its influence can be seen through the music, food and spiritual practices of various communities. Last month the Ooni of Ife—the spiritual leader of the Yoruba people—visited the country, where he was met by crowds of Black Brazilians who turned up to pay their respects.

This connection will likely remain strong for future generations, as the language has now become an official foreign language in the country.

WATCH: How Ilê Aiyê Brought Blackness Back to Carnival

Brazil's Minister of Culture, Dr. Sérgio Sá Leitão, has said that the language will now be incorporated into primary and secondary school curriculum, reports the Nigerian Voice.

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This EP Blends the Afro-Brazilian Rhythms of Bahia With Bass Music

Get into Telefunksoul and Felipe Pomar's Ré_Con Ba$$ EP.

Brazilian producers Felipe Pomar (of TrapFunk & Alivio) and Telefunksoul come through with a dizzyingly energetic EP in the form of Ré_Con Ba$$.

Telefunksoul, who happens to be one of the main promoters of Bahia Bass music, came up with the concept of exploring the rhythms coming out of Recôncavo of Bahia and showing how they can fit into bass music.

Through the 7-track Ré_Con Ba$$ EP, him and Pomar mold and transform the diverse music of Bahia, fusing its rhythms with afrobeat, future house, deep house and much more.

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