Arts + Culture

The Ted Talk Questionnaire: Somali Tech Star Abdigani Diriye Wants to Change the Narrative On Somalia

The Somali scientist shares his desire to change the narrative around Somalia and Somaliland through innovation.

This August, Arusha, Tanzania will be the setting of TEDGlobal 2017 Conference where 21 innovators will come to spread worthy ideas. 10 are from Africa. As part of our focus on African Futures, this month we wrote to this year’s African Fellows to ask them questions about themselves and their work. TED recently announced that applications to be a 2018 TED Fellow are now open.


Find out more information about the program and how to apply, here.

Our fourth interview is with Abdigani Diriye, a research scientist at IBM. He’s told us about his mission to change people's perception of Somalia and his work on shedding light on innovation and technology in failed states.

How did you first find out you were selected?

I first found out I was selected via email earlier in the year.

What was your reaction when you got the word?

It felt very surreal and for a number of weeks it just didn’t hit me, but once reality set in, I was deeply humbled and over the moon about being selected as a TED Fellow.

What do you anticipate the world's response will be?

A big part of my work has been to change the perception and narrative around Somalia and Somaliland to a more positive outlook. There is a lot of innovation in areas like technology that’s happening there (and on the continent as a whole), and this opportunity should hopefully shed more light on this and challenge how people view and see innovation and technology in failed states.

What would you want it to be?

I would be thrilled if I could change the perception of Somalia and Somaliland by giving people hope and inspiration that progress exists.

What made you passionate about your subject?

This is a product of my background—where I’m from, the journey I’ve taken in life—and my training and professional experience as a scientist. I’ve seen the impact technology and innovation has had on society and the continent, and fundamentally believe it can help us address many of the challenges we face.

To the next generation of intellectuals who are reading about you and inspired by you right now—what would you say?

You have the capability and capacity to effect change and impact our continent—so think big and dream big. This requires dedication and ability to get up and try again when you’ve had a set back. But, as long as you’re moving forward you’ll achieve your goals and reach your destination. And most importantly, never lose faith in yourself because every great idea began as a dream.

Where do you hope to go to from here?

We expect to receive the next cohort applications and I will continue my important work at IBM Research in Kenya where we are developing technologies for driving more innovation in the financial services space for the continent.

Check out the rest of our interviews with this year’s TED Fellows here.

Photo by Meztli Yoalli Rodríguez

Dying Lagoons Reveal Mexico’s Environmental Racism

In the heart of a traditionally Black and Indigenous use area in Southwest Mexico, decades of environmental destruction now threatens the existence of these communities.

On an early morning in September 2017, in a little fishing village in the Pacific coast of Oaxaca, called Zapotalito, thousands of dead fish floated on the surface of the Chacahua-Pastoría lagoons. A 7.1-magnitude earthquake, which rattled Mexico City on September 19, was felt as far down as Zapotalito, and the very next morning, its Black, Indigenous and poor Mestizo residents, who depend on the area's handful of lagoons for food and commerce, woke up to an awful smell and that terrible scene of floating fish.

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