Akowe Aims to Revolutionize Africa’s Education System with Blockchain Technology
This groundbreaking initiative, which was showcased at TechCrunch Disrupt’s 2023 Startup Battlefield, seeks to bridge the gap in regions where essential infrastructure is often lacking.
By Anna B Kiwanuka
In an effort to address the challenges plaguing traditional certificate systems in Africa, Akowe, a Lagos-based startup, has leveraged blockchain technology to create a secure and verifiable platform for academic record issuance. This groundbreaking initiative, which was showcased at TechCrunch Disrupt’s 2023 Startup Battlefield, seeks to bridge the gap in regions where essential infrastructure is often lacking.
Akowe’s founder, Ayodeji Agboola, explained in an interview that the demand for digital certificate verification systems in sub-Saharan Africa is substantial. This demand stems partly from the difficulties associated with reissuing academic records and universities’ reluctance to do so. Agboola highlighted that universities are often protective of their certificates, issuing them only once. If a certificate is lost, universities typically provide an affidavit instead of a replacement certificate.
The genesis of Akowe can be traced back to 2018 when Agboola, who was running a digital marketing business at the time, began training small business owners in the use of Facebook. By 2019, the program had trained an impressive 30,000 individuals, and the need to prove completion of the course became apparent. Frustrated by the lack of simple tools for this purpose, Agboola decided to develop a solution himself. In late 2020, he and his team built the platform in just three weeks and successfully tested it with their own certificates, setting the stage for Akowe’s journey.
Agboola emphasized the importance of making blockchain a tangible utility for people in Nigeria and across Africa, addressing real-world problems and challenges. Akowe’s innovation brings blockchain into everyday use by addressing a critical need for secure academic record verification.
The key role that blockchain plays in this system is data storage. Organizations upload their certificate templates and recipient lists to Akowe, which then automatically generates digital copies of academic records for each individual. When a recruiter or a visa officer needs to verify a person’s college certificate, they can access all the relevant metadata, including the certificate’s hosting URL (typically a school’s website), university names, student names, courses, grades, and graduation year, stored securely on the blockchain.
While Akowe initially used Hyperledger, a permissioned blockchain, it has since explored Amazon’s QLDB, a new ledger database solution that allows organizations to create centrally managed records. This move ensures the security and immutability of the ledger, crucial for maintaining the integrity of academic credentials.
Although Akowe offers its platform to universities for free, it sustains itself by taking a percentage of the fees that universities charge users. Currently, the startup is finalizing pilot programs with two institutions and engaged in discussions with 15 others.
One of the primary challenges facing Akowe is user acquisition, particularly in public universities, which are more bureaucratic in their processes. Agboola mentioned that he has been cautious in presenting blockchain in his pitches, as many educational institutions in Nigeria have a negative perception of it due to its association with cryptocurrencies. Instead, he focuses on emphasizing the platform’s focus on safety, data security, and privacy, differentiating it from the world of crypto and leading to more productive conversations with potential partners and clients.