Dodzi Aglago: "Showing a new way of doing science and find the next Einstein"

He was propelled to the forefront of the national and international scene in 2018 with the award for the most innovative company in the field of education in Africa. Since then, he has become a major player in the promotion of science in Togo.

Who is Dodzi Aglago ?

Dodzi Aglago : He is a young entrepreneur in his own way, director of Mobile Labo, a company specializing in the design and sale of experimental equipment. I am involved in science education and I chair an association called Les Archimèdes. On the international level, I represent in Togo the Next Einstein Forum, an initiative of the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences, which wants the next Einstein to be an African. So my role is to do everything I can to make the next Einstein to be a Togolese. Then, on behalf of the United Nations, I also represent the Special Generation Advertising Council, an organization that works for space science. They have focal points in each country and I am the one in charge of this function in Togo.

Let's talk about Mobile Labo and Les Archimèdes. What are you doing in practice?

Mobile Labo works in the design of science teaching materials in general such as physics, chemistry, geology, geography, medicine, mathematics and computer science. We are working on setting up electrical and electronic circuits to show the students how energy can be produced, how chemical reactions can be produced from such and such substance. We design chemical experiment supports. We work on maps, biological species, rocks, in short everything that can be scientific and can help the learner to better assimilate his course, but with a strong focus on practice. Les Archimèdes, on the other hand, is the association that supports Mobile Labo and brings together young scientists by training, who work to promote and popularize science as well as train the best scientific elites in our country.

How did the idea of setting up Mobile Labo come about?

The idea of setting up Mobile Labo is closely linked to that of Les Archimedes and began a few years ago, when I was still a student. I am a physicist by training. After obtaining my first degree in 2012 and with some concerns about Master's courses, I became a teacher. It did not take me long to observe several problems that needed to be fixed in our education system. And the main one was the lack, if not the absence, of practice in the teaching of science subjects. The courses are essentially theoretical. I have participated in the marking of baccalaureate exams, and I have observed the catastrophic results in the physical sciences. On a batch of 200 copies that I had to mark, only 25 were above the average. For scientific series, this is rather problematic, when we know the high value of the coefficients of scientific subjects in these fields. The resulting failures, in addition to ruining parents' investment, undermine the development of our countries, which are unable to produce enough engineers or scientists. Under normal conditions, physical science courses, for example, should be based on experiments.

What does that mean, concretely?

Showing children what is an electrical circuit, how a battery or generator powers the circuit to turn on the lamp, is more beneficial and educational than the theoretical explanation that is usually given. The student learns better, faster and won't soon forget, because he or she has put his or her finger on the mechanism. To solve this problem, I decided to set up a mobile laboratory. When I started, I only had my motorcycle and a simple box in which I put various materials, and I drove from school to school. Many school principals were reluctant at the time, and some are still reluctant, to let me make presentations to students. I just asked for half an hour to talk to them and let them enjoy it. The first victory was when, after my visits, people in charge called me back and asked me to come back and repeat these brief presentations that excited the students and made them enjoy the lessons. Gradually, the demand became large and varied and I reached my personal limits. I told you I was trained in the physical sciences. I therefore had to associate myself with people who have other skills, especially in biology, geology, geography, etc.... This is how the association Les Archimèdes and Mobile Labo were born, a mix of various skills that have combined to popularize science in our country. Later, we found that the equipments we used costed us a little more because we ordered them in France. At one point, we decided to make them ourselves, with our means. And we opened a workshop.

Have you received external assistance, a grant or a support fund?

In 2016, we got support from Total Togo, through the Total Startupper of the Year competition that we won. This success has helped us to build our structure, and has opened doors. Because the jury for this prize included members of the Faiej (Fonds d'aide aux initiatives économiques des jeunes), whom we did not know at the time. We first met them there. The jury asked all kinds of questions about accounting and management, questions we were not used to at the time, having been trained only in sciences. However, they were thrilled by our presentation and project, and many congratulated us and handed over their business cards, including Mrs Céline Mivédor Gbadamassi Sahouda, the Director of Faiej. I wrote to all these people when I got back and Mrs. Mivédor responded very favourably. She called a big meeting for us at the fund's headquarters, where I set foot for the first time and introduced us to the institution, which they do for young people. This is where the collaboration was born, which allowed us to benefit from technical support from Faiej. We were equipped during technical training sessions, on the elaboration of a business plan, the management of a company, etc... So yes we benefited from support from Faiej, and this still continues today as they follow us closely.

What successes did you achieved?

For me, success is not just about prices. I don't really consider them. The first success for me and Les Archimèdes in general, is to have made my vision a reality by demystifying science. Whether at the level of the ministry (in charge of education), in the sub-region or now in Africa, when people mention examples of scientific training models today, they mention Mobile Labo and myself: it is a great success. We now have three stores throughout the country, in Lomé, Atakpamé and Dapaong. We market science teaching kits and more than half a million students benefit from our products. We sell and provide services to schools, educational NGOs and parents as well. In short, all those who are concerned by education. Now, to support this vision, last year we won the 2nd Prize for the most innovative company in Africa in Dakar with the African Union, with an award of $40,000. This money will allow us to leave artisanal production for industrial production, not only to serve the Togolese market but also the sub-regional or even African market.

You also represented Togo in Addis Abeba.

Not just there. Through the Next Einstein Forum, and initiatives of the African Union, we were able to share what we are doing and discover what is being done elsewhere. We had the opportunity to present our project in different countries, thanks to our award, notably in Lilongwe, Malawi, where there was the summit of the ten heads of state "Champions in terms of education on the Continent". In Addis, it was as part of an Entrepreneurship Forum on the African continent, and it should be noted that in the English-speaking countries, entrepreneurship is highly integrated into the school system.

Mobile Labo, today, how does it look with figures?

Ten laboratories built in Lomé and in the country, in public and private schools, national and international (Lycée Français, Cours Lumière...). Our laboratories are rooms built, secured and equipped with equipment that can allow students and teachers to get a little more tools. 520 schools have benefited from our kits. These are the figures obtained after the accounts carried out in January 2018. Our kits are a set of grouped materials from which the student can easily find in practice what he has learned or noted in his notebook. 400 teachers accompanied or with whom we have commitments to use our gadgets and products. We will even work with them in schools.

How do you see your future?

Go even further and ensure that science is better understood. As for us, we would like to see ourselves conquer several African countries in a few years' time, if not the entire continent. Others could also be inspired by our model. And we will need the help of the competent authorities, which Togo's authorities are already doing by allowing us to go freely to schools.

Interview by Octave A. Bruce and Renaud A. Dossavi

This article has first been published by Togo First. It has been translated in English by Afriscitech.


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