Podcast transcript: Episode 25- Extended Reality (XR) Ecosystem in Africa

Host: Hello, my name is Chiwueze Ihebuzor and this is the experience pod where we discuss emerging technologies, trends, and their impact on the business landscape in Africa and across Nigeria. After years of research and development, Extended Reality - commonly referred to as XR - and metaverse technologies have become more accessible to businesses and individual consumers.

For those who might not know, Extended Reality is the family name for virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality technologies. According to market watch, the XR market was valued at approximately $25 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach approximately $346 billion by 2026 - representing a compounded annual growth rate of 46.5% - making it one of the fastest growing emerging technologies in the world second to artificial intelligence and machine learning. With Facebook's change to Meta and new metaverse platforms popping up daily, it has become essential to acknowledge the importance of the XR ecosystem and how it's affecting or how it will affect our lives on the African continent. The African XR ecosystem has been on the rise for the last few years, with more and more African XR creators joining the ecosystem and more Africa-centric, XR products, and events being launched. We have heard about numerous XR hackathons sponsored by the likes of Facebook and Google across the continent.

This episode of the experience pod focuses on understanding the XR market in Africa and its potential. By speaking to Judith Okonkwo, a formidable force in the African XR space. She's also a member of the world economic forums, the global future council for virtual and augmented reality, and the founder of Imisi 3D, One of the earliest virtual reality brands in Nigeria. 

Welcome, Judith. It's a pleasure to have you here. 

Judith: Thank you so much for having me. It's a real pleasure. Great. 

Host: Great! We'll just get started. Okay. So let's start with some background gist just for those of us who might not be familiar with you, Judith, and some of the things you do. Could you tell us a bit more about yourself and Imisi 3d and your journey, and what led you to founding this organization in Africa?

Judith: Sure, of course. The first thing I have to tell people when they say, how did you get into XR is to say, I'm a psychologist. I don't have a tech background, I'm actually a business psychologist and that was what I was doing professionally for several years. There's like a counterpoint to that; I've always been interested in technology in the future, really passionate about it. I was one of those children that were like, yes, when I grow up, I'm going to be going to the moon on vacation. You know, that sort of thing. Yeah. I'm all about that. I really am. So I've always had this sort of like really keen interest in technology, and the future. A few things, kind of like brought me here. So I was in London, working at British airways. I was doing organizational intelligence there, but I was also trying to do a Ph.D. and study leadership in Africa. And it kinda seemed like if I was studying leadership on the African continent, I should probably be on the African continent. Right? So, I started exploring different African cities. I was really fortunate to travel around. To go to Nairobi, to Accra, to Lagos and you know, how Lagos is? It was just the softest landing because of heritage and a few other things and I met some really incredible people. So this was January 2014, I think there was this renaissance happening in the tech ecosystem and yeah, I've met a lot of the players then. In fact, I met someone you might've heard about, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji.

Host: Yeah. He's actually been on the pod.

Judith: Okay. Brilliant. So this was when he was still doing four and the transition was happening to Andela and when he told me about Andela, I was just like, this makes so much sense, whatever I can do to help, I will. So I took on PB from BA and I came and spent a year in Lagos. Helping Andela get started here in Lagos and in Nairobi And, I'll just kinda like to track this back to the work that I was seeing around leadership in Africa.

One of the things that inspired me was in my professional practice as a business psychologist, I would often come across people who would complain about trying to do business in Africa. You know, we can't find talent. We can't find leadership talent, managerial talent, you know, all of those sorts of things. And I would always think, I mean, most of the Africans, I know some of the smartest, most hardworking people you will ever come across. So what is the problem here? And for me, it was that leadership was only being looked at from a certain paradigm. Like how could we expand the body of knowledge? So that was what was driving me. I mentioned that because one of the first things that I did with Iyin and Andela was recruiting their first full cohort. And it was really mad because in one week we interviewed 98 people. Yes. How did that happen? That's like a story for another time. Even where we did it was literally crazy.

But I mean, till today I still talk about the people that we interviewed. They were the most phenomenal people I think I've ever encountered, just to give you some examples, there were people that I remember. This was a time when Andela didn't even have a proper website. It was just a promise then, that even if you've never written a line of code before in your life, we will make you a world-class developer in six months. That's what we used to say. And there were people that traveled from the North, took an overnight bus to Lagos for the interview, had nowhere to stay in Lagos, and took an overnight bus back. 

Wow! Like that was the kind of grit and determination that we saw. Like people really hustling to be able to access opportunities. For me, this is now set against the context of the emergence of virtual reality in the consumer space, because as we know, there was the Google cardboard coming out around 2013. There was then Facebook's acquisition of Oculus in 2014 and all the buzz that was created and by 2016 the world media was saying, is this the year of virtual reality? For me, I was just like, I just want to get my hands on virtual reality. Do you know what I mean?  And in 2015, Samsung launched the Gear VR. I was first in line, like, let me get my hands on it and once I did, it was a game changer because I wanted to get the DK one, the Oculus DK one, and I wasn't able to make it. So I was like, I must get the Gear VR and I did. And once I put it on and for me, I mean, as a child, yes, I was imagining space. But with this headset on, it was just all our futures that were kind of there. So I thought, can you imagine combining this technology and this amazing talent and potential on the continent? Won't we change the world? That was really sort of like the beginning.

How can we then make sure that people have access to this technology across the African continent? That they're really remarkable young people that I know. Andela has already proven to do incredible things in technology that they are able to use this technology and start to leverage it for our own grand challenges on the continent. And so I talked about it and then it was like, somebody had better do it. And so I started doing it. And it was literally the simplest start. I mean, I have that gear VR I got.

Host: I thought you will say it was a difficult start, we normally get that, 

Judith: No, no, no. I see it as simple, not in the sense that it wasn't difficult, but that it was the most basic. I went on Amazon, and I ordered an alienware, like a computer. I ordered some books by Toni Pearson, you know, introduction to virtual reality. I went to Costco and I bought a carton of Kit Kats and a friend of mine is the CEO of a co-creation hub. When I told him what I wanted to do, he's like, oh, you know, Judith, you should come here, set up on the sixth floor because the kind of people you want to attract, they come here a lot.

I'm like, all right, great. So I got all of that equipment. I set it up. I had a bowl on the table with chocolates and you know how it is with everybody, “hey, can I have some?” And then I will be like, “yeah sure” and then, “and have you heard of virtual reality?”

There was some reason to it and that was just the beginning, that really was a simple start. When we started, it was sort of like literally the first week in July in 2016, we set up there, people would come, we'd give them Kit Kat and they would go like, wow. There was this Oculus 360, an experience there where you would like to explore the world and it was all these 360 experiences of different cities around the world. And people would be like, “oh my God, you mean I can travel without getting a visa. Like I could literally sit here and go anywhere in the world” and from there it just started. The next week we had sort of like our first showcase and we were fortunate then, to be able to have the then VR consultant for the Institute for The Future in Palo Alto, kind of like skyping to do a session with the folks who were attending. We had little gadgets to play with, there were VR headsets, the Ricoh Theta 360 VR camera, and different things just to get people talking, and get people excited so it began. But for us, the goal had always been not for people to just come and experience the technology. Like I said, there was definitely something around that allegiance to the narrative of becoming creators, not just consumers of technology.

So how can we get people to build? And for us, one way we know is hackathons. I mean, not that I personally knew a lot about XR hackathons, so I did a lot of learning, but we were like, we're gonna do a hackathon and then in November of that year, that was the first VR hackathon, certainly in Nigeria. Some people say in West Africa, you know, all of that so, that was the beginning. 

Host:  Okay. Wow. That's a very interesting origin story, so to speak. So just out of curiosity, now that you've been in the space for about five years now going on six, what in your opinion, what impact do you think XR can actually have, in Nigeria? What sectors do you think? Are you seeing any sector that people are sort of leaning towards, you know, adoption or actually in, your own view? Actually, Let's not even follow the Nigeria market because it's still sort of very virgin. What do you think are the three sectors that could benefit the most, from the XR space?

Judith: So if it's Nigeria specifically, I would say right now, there is tremendous potential when it comes to training and this is training across all sectors. So you look at training in sort of like high-risk environments and high-cost environments, things like virtual reality and mixed reality are game changers there. You look at training where people kind of get access to experts and mixed reality, virtual reality; these are able to make that distance disappear, so to speak, and literally put you in rooms and spaces where you can get the very best in terms of instruction. It also is able to create all sorts of experiences that take training to the next level, so as opposed to being in a traditional classroom, for example, or doing 2D learning, you have this immersive truly experiential experience where there are no holds barred, like anything that's possible. And one thing I always like to remind people is when we think about virtual reality, of course now, we say emerging technologies, things like that, but these are technologies that have been around for 60, 70 years, being used by NASA, the U.S Air force, and it was specifically for this purpose - training. So yeah, I think there are tremendous use cases there with the technology for that. 

I think education is another place where it will be a real game changer. I think if you look at the disaster that is education in Nigeria right now and, a disaster for a few reasons, that we'll get into later, but I think that there's a real potential here for VR to start to bridge that gap and get us closer to the SDG forum. 

The other sort of like area, the third area I want to mention, which might not sound kind of like if you would have off the top of my head is Storytelling. I say storytelling because I think storytelling is so broad that so many things come under it. So we can think about more traditional storytelling that we might see with, like films or movies, that sort of thing. But storytelling is also what brands do, storytelling is also what we do with our heritage sites, so I'm using storytelling as a catchall, cheating a little bit but yeah, I think that storytelling is going to be very, very powerful. And I say that because storytelling with these technologies would allow us to significantly shift that narrative globally about what it means to be African and how we represent ourselves.

Host: Great. Great. So let's maybe park on the education, on what you said about education and the impact on education. I know that in 2017 you spoke at TEDx, where you talked about the impact XR/Virtual Reality could have in Africa then and I also know that you have a VR for school initiative. Do you want to tell us a bit more about that and maybe, you know, talk to us about how you got into TEDx?

Judith: Okay. So it was actually Ted Lagos and Ted Lagos in 2017 was an event held in Lagos by the tech global organization and they were looking for four speakers from the African continent. I think it was Ted Lagos and Ted Nairobi that year and I applied to speak then. So I applied and I was quite fortunate to get selected and you're quite right, I was talking about VR for education because I mean, I talked about when I first got that Gear VR; right away, it showed me like a little bit and I say - really stress - a little bit about what was possible with this technology. One of the experiences that you could have on the Gear VR then was this experience called In The Body VR where you are literally inside the human body exploring it and it's like boom, you're like totally blowing people's minds. Wow. This is me as an adult, imagine what it will do for children, imagine how it will expand their worldview. So for me, when it came to education, I considered the local context, right?

If you go into a public school, basic infrastructure tables, chairs, maybe a black or white board student-teacher ratio, maybe 80:1 you know what I mean? And we know that we don't have the financial resources in the educational system for things like school trips. Most schools will not have fully functional and well-equipped labs for the sciences, things like that.

So I said, “well, hey, what if in these schools we had VR labs?” Now I know a lot of people were like, wait a second, VR labs? You're crazy, this is expensive, blah, blah, blah. But challenged there, I said, hey, guess what? If you compare the cost of a VR lab to the cost of a traditional computer lab, the VR lab if it is low to mid-cost, VR is on par or lower. So think about how much does a PC cost? 

Host:  Fair enough. 

Judith: Yeah, and not only that…

Host: That's recent though, right?

Judith: No, but there was mobile device-driven VR before, like the Oculus Go as well was coming out around that time, so there were options. Apart from that, think about having a computer lab, then think about our power grid and you know your computer lab might be there just for decoration, you know what I mean. But if you have mobile device-driven VR like these all-in-ones, you can charge them with a solar portable, you know what I mean? Like there were all of these solutions attached to using VR plus you have experiential immersive learning. So you can't go to a physical lab, but you can do all of those experiments in an immersive lab, an endless supply of chemicals: You got it wrong, you spilled it, we'll try again. And your students can literally walk through the pyramids of Egypt. I mean, I've been to see the pyramids. I was just outside. They were way over there, but in VR I could actually go into a tomb, you know what I mean? Like all of these things possible so that for children, we were starting to close the gap between what you would get in an elite private school and make it available to the masses.

So for me, I think, in that way, VR can be completely transformational for education and of course, we all know what education can do for society. 

Host: I absolutely agree with you, especially what you said about walking through the pyramids of Egypt. I think as soon as you said that, what resonated with me was the storytelling bit.

And if you think about the Nigerian story in terms of our history, our heritage, imagine telling that story in an immersive way and what it would do for learning. Fantastic. I think it's a wonderful, wonderful technology.

Judith: So, just to the VR for schools initiative. We kicked it off in 2017 and what we did was, we spoke to the education district, we got contacts for some schools in the local Yaba neighborhood where our lab is and then we started to go in there to meet the teachers, do sessions with the students… 

Host: Just curious, what was the first reaction? What was the reception?

Judith: Well, you know, it is like, people are pretty open like, oh, what is this? You know, first of all, is it going to stress them and if it's not, then it's okay. To be fair, I think what our teachers have to put up with, all the props to them. You know what I mean because I've been in academia a little bit and like marking the scripts, and then I think of 80 students and I'm already running in the other direction. And, so I really give them props. So it was really like, can we go in, look at their pain points and create solutions, as opposed to like creating burdens and saying, you have to do this or add extra time here. But, they love the experiences. I mean, you know, children are wonderful. They were on it right away. They'd be like, “can we do this ourselves? Can we build headsets?” You know, things like that. I'm like, “yeah, yeah, we're getting there.”

So, that was the early start, going to schools, doing sessions with students and teachers, giving them experiences of the technology. And then we were really fortunate, that in the end of 2018 going into 2019, we partnered with UNICEF as part of the UNICEF innovation fund and we were then able to specifically create virtual reality content that matched the Nigerian curriculum in three subject areas. So this was what we did in 2019; we were co-creating this with a local school in Yaba - Junior secondary school, and just then, the pandemic hit. So it's kind of been on pause, but the idea is that we can then go back into schools and do a proper robust pilot study. So we can then say, here is empirical evidence of the effects of VR's learning aid on learning outcomes because I think that's the kind of data that people need to be able to say, yes, let's embrace this and scale it out widely. 

Host: Yeah, now, I think even from a PwC perspective, we have some sort of data that shows that people tend to learn sort of at X times three with the VR but I think it will be useful to have local sort of study to see the impact on the local community.

Great. Great. So interesting. So one question though. So how did you fund all of that? I mean, ‘cause I'm thinking there are schools, you need a budget for that. So how did that happen? Or are you into charity? (laughs)

Judith: Honestly starting out, I told you I just went on Amazon and I started ordering stuff. I really started out bootstrapping and when we're first going into the schools in 2017, I'd be like, yeah, whatever does it cost to, like, you know, get people in and that kind of thing. And we just move on down and do that.

So that was a lot of it. But we have been fortunate to get support for some of our initiatives. For example, the first hackathon that we did, I mean, you mentioned that Facebook has sponsored and Google has supported some hackathons on the continent, most of those are OUR hackathons.

So Facebook supported that very first work that I told you about around the creation of the modules, we had funding from the UNICEF innovation fund. So there's been sort of like programmatic support for some of our initiatives but yeah, the rest, it's like us saying, we just got to do this somehow and look for partners like PwC, hopefully, who will support us as we go on.

Host: Yeah. I think we're all about that education and using VR to solve important problems. So, I mean, we've talked a lot. I think what we haven’t hammered on here is the role the government can play or is playing to foster XR growth in Africa.  I don't know if you have any view on that?

Judith: I have, well, probably quite strong views on that. So let's leave out the role the government is playing, let's go to what should be done. Okay. So I think, I mean, first of all, I say that we've been fortunate to get, sort of like, programmatic support for some of our initiatives, right? But one thing I should also say is that it is nothing like what I expected when I started out. I thought that there would be a lot more sort of, global inclusion for XR; that African XR would be something that people were excited about and that wasn't actually the case. And that lack of excitement was not just in the other part or in other parts of the world, it was also locally. It was like, “what's this thing? Oh, cool. Okay. Why are you guys doing this thing? Yeah, not especially critical.” And I mean, even back then, I think even though people were debating what the killer use case would be for VR and things like that, one thing that everybody would agree on, there was this consensus that spatial computing was a computing platform of the future.

So there was this inevitable match for humanity going in this direction. And for me, it just was a no-brainer for us to want to make sure that we were part of that. So from a government perspective, I think that given how difficult it is to do XR if you're an African city, African country and we know the challenges that are for everyone like electricity and connectivity but then think about additional challenges like the fact that XR hardware's not available locally on the continent. So for example, if you want to buy a Quest 2 or a hololens, you’re either traveling and bringing it in or having it shipped in, and by the time it gets to you, you're paying almost double what someone in London or New York or wherever they are would pay. When you consider the purchasing power of the Naira, you know we have a big problem, right?

Yeah. So there's that, first of all, that the government, I think, should really be thinking if this is the computing platform of now, right? What can we do to incentivize the space to help our people participate and participate on a global level? Because we must. We really must.

So, I think when you look at incentivizing the space and creating an enabling environment, there are so many things that support that, there's work that has to be done in terms of the educational curriculum, there are policies in terms of like, what does it mean to start an XR business, how do we create concessions and things like that, right that would support people and encourage them, do we do these, do we give them tax benefits? Like what do we do to say to people please come in? How does the government have conversations with big tech to kind of change these restrictions that exist in terms of accessing the technology? What else do we do to sort of help people understand that if you want to get started in this, we will support you? And this is something that I think is really, really critical on the African continent. We will create space for you to play and experiment because that's something that traditionally, we do not have the time or money to do.

And it's so, so important to a technology like this, so important. So yes, there's definitely a whole lot that must be done. 

Host: Okay. I think this leads nicely to my next question. So in 2021, you were part of the XR innovation week. And I think you mentioned there around how billions of dollars are being invested in the XR space globally but you also said that you know, the African ecosystem is not even getting any of those investments. And so my next question is, why do you think that is? And what do you think we need to do to be able to tap into that huge purse because Africa is a big market, you would think that it would be a market that would be considered by the global XR space.

Judith: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think that's such a great question. So, a couple of things that I just want to highlight here in response to that, I think there's some sort of like parallels between the way the world perceived Africa when it came to XR, and the way the world perceived Africa when it came to mobile phones back in the day. You know what I mean, where it was like, “Them? What are they going to do with it?” They might not have been saying it out loud but that was really the sentiment, so there’s definitely some of that. To give you some context in terms of the money, I said billions and billions being invested in the global XR space and it was crazy money, you know. I say crazy money because if you think about us in Africa, we’re celebrating like a bumper year in terms of investments in 2021, which is approximately 5 billion and the year before was maybe half that.

Host: Okay, That's good.

Judith: That’s good, but I’ll tell you about one XR startup, Magic Leap. You know, how much they've raised? 3.5 billion. Think about that crazy money, think about the fact that Magic Leap is not in a store everywhere right now, you know what I mean. That there's a lot being put in so that people can really research and experiment and create the next frontier when it comes to how we will interrogate information and communicate with each other but it's changing.

I think it was particularly dire when I started but we have definitely seen some changes happening, so let me give the flowers where they are due. In 2018, for example, Facebook started the FP star program. And I like to say that is probably one of the first accelerators that were specifically focused on deep tech, you know. So for the first time, somebody was saying, “Hey, if you're doing VR or AR, we want to hear about you, we want to support you.” It was a small ticket like 5,000 if you were a student undergraduate; 20,000 if you're a startup, that sort of thing - but it was the first time. It's like, whoa, this is a game changer, so that was that.

Of course, we know Microsoft opened their ADCs in 2019. And then poof, I mean they actually mixed reality teams and African cities, you know, that’s definitely something, PwC has an XR team, you know, so that's definitely changing the game. But when you think about it, I think how much is needed to move the need up, and I can give you one example. When I started - Ambitious Judith - one of my first goals was like, oh, let me try and get things together, I want to train a thousand XR developers, right? And for me, this makes sense because we meet talents if this ecosystem is going to grow and go anywhere. And then my model for training talent was well, okay, we know a few things, correct. Like combining really great, like learning, with mentorship, and create this package. And at the time Udacity used to run a VR nanodegree. So, back then, in fact, we offered a few scholarships for it to our community.

But my goal was, what if I can have a thousand people with this really robust, like XR program, they do the nanodegree? They do maybe three months of work experience, like that sort of thing. The VR nanodegree at that time cost $1,200 and then think of about 1000 people, so that's already like $1.2 million off the bat. Think about kind of like trying to do the mentorship and all the other bits, so let's say roughly, maybe I need $2 million for that program. I can assure you that 2 million has not gone through my space over all of these years and if we don't have that kind of dedication to advancing the space, then we have a real, real problem. But I think as the world starts to realize, I mean, props to all the meterverse hype and everything right now, the talk is happening and I think as the talk is happening, a number of other things have compounded the position we find ourselves in terms of this moment in time with XR. So there's the pandemic of course, there are things like the Black Lives Matter movement as well, where in these most unexpected of ways, we’re moved to connect virtually, and people started to talk more about these technologies. People also started to think more about black people, especially if they were big corporates and also Africa is always rising and falling depending on the type of day, but Africa’s technology talent is certainly making its mark on the global stage. And I think when you bring all of this together, then there's been this kind of shift like, “Oh, that continent over there, maybe we should have a look.”

Host: And we have to pay them as much as we can…

Judith: Well, we'll get into that later, ‘cause you know, lines are being drawn. 

Host: Okay. So we'll come to the metaverse conversation later, but can we talk a bit more about the global future council for AR and VR? Maybe tell us what your role is there or what the council's mission or activities are? I guess it is global but do you have anything focused for Africa in terms of products or anything exciting to look forward to?

Judith:  So first of all, the world economic forum, just to give you some context, has several global future councils focused on different areas. We are augmented and virtual reality, but the council’s on everything from 5G to the environments to, you know what I mean, like - endless. The council is this really interesting mix between sort of like a think tank but I suppose an expanded version of that. So we have representation from almost every continent and a variety of sectors so we have academia representing big tech, we have people doing community work, we have creators. Like it’s this really vibrant, diverse group that really has, I’d say - I'm a part of it so this may sound like a bit self selling but - innovative and inspired thinking around the technologies. And that cross-fertilization of ideas that I think gives it its richness. In terms of what we do, so you'll see us doing things like putting out position papers or learning resources. Now, these might be for the world economic forum specifically, or sometimes they might be more widely available. Certainly, we will have conversations or provide content that helps people understand the technologies more, and provide different perspectives on it. Also be future looking and even start to say, “Hey, what is it that we should be thinking about?” Sort of like going, five years into the future or ten years into the future. We also will represent the world economic forum at different events. An example, the global technology governance summit, last year in Japan we had representation and that sort of thing. So it varies widely, but we're not so much a group that is putting products out or things like that, I think it's really more around these diverse perspectives from sort of like all elements of XR possible together to help shape thinking. 

Host: Okay. So, it's really just to drive awareness and the thinking around these technologies across the different countries in Africa, I guess? Or it’s globally?

Judith: It's global, not even specifically Africa focused, but I think what's really beautiful about it. So I'll probably tell you some of my highlights. On the council, we have an incredible woman, Michaela Jade who is from Australia - first nation Australian and she has done sort of, literally game-changing work, taking mixed reality to indigenous communities and not just taking it to indigenous communities, but also bringing the wealth of knowledge and wisdom from indigenous communities and bringing that perspective into the technology. I think that as a world, we tend to think of the technology as only the here and now, and not really connecting it to our heritage and indigenous knowledge and all of the wealth that brings into whatever we're shaping for the future and her work is kind of a spotlight on that and what is possible when we do that.

Host: So when it comes to XR hardware, you already hinted the African ecosystem is behind, but we're really behind from a hardware perspective. What are your thoughts about that? Are there any sort of R&D? Do you know any R&D companies that are looking into that, maybe using recyclables just to create not necessarily awareness, just create affordable gadgets? I know the prices have come down, we're talking affordable, like something the guy on the street can afford. Right? Do you know any companies doing things around that? Is that something the council is looking into? The global future council?

Judith: Well, not the council specifically, but let me tell you about what I know is happening on the African continent. And probably I should start this conversation with one of our fields at Imisi 3D.

So very early on, it was clear that we have to do something about the hardware problem and we were thinking very hard about what it might look like to have a locally manufactured headset. One that was, you know, As you say, reasonable price points, accessible locally etc. We partnered with Hardware Lagos to do a design challenge because you know, that was the first step. Can we even design a VR headset? We had parameters that I thought were really important: It should be solar powered, it should be an all-in-one headset as well and all of that.

So we tried to do this design challenge remotely and we didn’t - it didn't really get off the ground. And one thing I learned from that was, next time I want to do a challenge like that, I have to be able to bring the people in, together, create a space for them, support them with all of the resources and all of that to do that. But it was really interesting even thinking through that, setting it up, and trying to get that going and I remember this was 2017 when we were doing this. I remember going to one of the big tech companies; I was in the bay area and I was visiting one of them. And I was talking to someone in the VR team and I was telling them what we wanted to do and I was like, “If I get any chance, would you guys want to help?” And the guy was like, “Nope.” He was like, “No, we definitely will not help you, but if you get it done we want to know about it.” But he was great, he gave me some advice and was like definitely go for solar-powered and stuff like that. And I appreciated his candor because if anything in this space, you really don't want people who will waste your time but I think it gives you a sense of, for me, that really emphasizing the fact that what we need for ourselves, but we must build those really because nobody else is going to do that. I want to highlight two startups that you should look out for on the African continent. The first is Eden Labs, Eden Africa based in South Africa and they have a product called the Eden snacker which at this time is really geared towards mass VR use. So exhibitions and things like that where we all know how it's been a little bit fiddly with the straps and stuff, how they haven't thought about my braids, things like that yet. So they've kind of circumvented that and created a solution where - check it out - you can hold your headset with this really great convenience - ergonomic. 

And you want to just hold it up to your face, so it’s really great for the more bite-sized or exhibition-like VR experiences that you might have, and of course, with the functionality for group control and all. Then the other company I want to tell you to look out for is Guzo Technologies in Ethiopia and they are - well probably Eden Labs are my favorite mad scientists in the South and these are my favorite mad scientists in the East - who are experimenting with all sorts of different things, with existing technology and technology they are building as well. I wouldn't say more because I think they're about to kind of share some things, but definitely keep an eye out for those guys.

Host: Okay. We'll be on the lookout. So what are your thoughts about the Metaverse? There's a huge buzz around it, especially with Facebook changing the name to Meta, everything's now Meta. What are your thoughts? Do you see any benefits for large-scale adoption in Africa? Or do you see any real use cases in Africa?.

Judith: Yeah, so probably the first thing is what is the metaverse? What's the relation to XR? And for me, I consider XR sort of like the gateway technologies into the metaverse so in terms of how you access experience and so from that perspective to all of the metaverse buzz - because of course, people have had to think about XR - there have been all these inbound requests, “Judith, can we create an XR?”, “Judith, is this what you are talking about?” You know, so there is curiosity, which is good because I think conversations always lead to possibilities, opportunities and all of that and I think that the focus will also mean that people cannot discard the African continent anymore and that's really good. So I'll give you some examples you talked about Meta, obviously, that name change got us on a roll in terms of all of the hype in the buzz, but alongside that Meta also announced that it was investing significant resources in the Metaverse and I think one of the first announcements was that it was going to dedicate maybe 50 million. I think it was last year, they were talking about, but what was interesting was that they had reached out to a few folks to say, “Oh, okay. We know we can’t do that and it only goes to one part of the world but we've got to include Africa.” which is brilliant. And one of the first things that came out of that for the African continent is that we worked with Africa-No-Filter Meta and Electric South, this fantastic non-profit in South Africa that does incredible work introducing African artists to the immersive technologies and supporting them in production. We worked with them to create a grant for African XR creators, so the awardees were announced on Monday, I believe. Six African artists have got grants of up to $30,000 to create an XR experience that will be released this year. 

Host: That’s big.

Judith: It’s actually big because if you know anybody that has done extra productions on the continent, The thing they will tell you is, to get funding for it has been bloody. There is no other way to describe it. I mean, $30,000 is not the greatest amount, but even that somebody is saying on the African continent, his 30,000 is a first step. We definitely need more to happen and once that first step has happened the next will come.

Host: Great. So as someone who's considered an expert in this XR space, you've talked about all the great sides of it. Are there any drawbacks? I notice that ‘cause when I go online, I don't really see any articles around looking at what's going to be the long-term effect? It is a bit like people being scared about getting the vaccine. So, I mean with this huge adoption and if it does come, are we going to see long-term effects? So even as simple as your eyesight, your vision, and then before we even start constrain,more psychological impact on the brain? I'm not trying to throw you under the bus. I'm just asking a question that I think should be asked.

Judith: This is a really, really important question because I think for the longest time humans have just done, and then when the unintended consequences come up, we're like, oops. And then our planet dies and I don't think we, at least want that, as we get more and more conscious, we don't want that situation. So people are thinking about those issues that you mentioned. It’s certainly something that we think about at the world economic forum, on the global future council, and in several other groups that I'm part of, that are exploring these technologies. The honest truth is that we don't know a whole lot. This technology in mass consumer space, it'll only be 10 years soon, you know, we're not even there yet. So a lot of learning is happening, but also a lot of research has to be done. And this is where it's important again that Africa is part of this because we have to do all the research, we have to figure out what will work, we have to understand things in the context of where we are and who we are. But we know some things, when the majority of headsets, for example, there's already a minimum age for some of them, which is 13 years, because of course, there's concerns about much younger children using the headsets. A number of them, you'll see most VR experiences, limited time. So the presumption is not that you will spend hours and hours in VR at this stage, there have been things around like the weight of headsets for example, and their effects. We also have heard stories of people who have been in VR and have forgotten that they are in VR and have hurt each other.

Host: (Laughs) It’s not funny, I’m laughing, but I mean, that could have some dire impacts for your life.

Judith: For example, one of my favorite things to do right now in VR is play table tennis. and it is like you're whacking that ball and then you want to go for that shot and you are like yeah, I'm almost Superman! You might end up somewhere else so they have injuries related to that but I think we're still doing significant research to find out what exactly should we be doing? What should we know? And of course, there are so many people thinking about things like safety and virtual space, about privacy as well, we all know issues around data so lots to think about and lots more to be done. 

Host: Great, so we've come to the end of the official questions. So we're going to ask you three compulsory questions. So let's talk about predictions. What's the last prediction you got wrong? Could be anything.

Judith: That people would give me money to change Africa with XR. I really thought when I was starting out that people would get it much quicker than they would, because, for me, Africa is the workforce of the future. And if these technologies are going to shape the future, for me, it's like a no-brainer that we better make sure everybody has access and understands, and yeah, that wasn't quite the case.

Host: You're absolutely right. I mean, Africa is the workforce of the future. When you consider our median age, I'm looking at the median ages of other continents and the talent flight and people leaving, it is the engine. So the next question, what's one view you seem to have that people don't agree with? Doesn't have to be about XR. It could be about jollof rice. It could be anything. 

Judith: Anything. Okay. So from the XR space, I think that Africa can and should think about - when I say global domination, it doesn't quite sound right but what I mean is we should think about becoming the very best in the world and yes we were starting from maybe the starting line for a few miles back, and everything and but you know I think when it comes to that, with a concentrated effort, a little bit of magic - ‘cause you always need that - things might be possible. So, I think that we should find some elements in some areas and kill it.

And then something that I believe in and not everyone believes, I really believe that - it sounds kind of mean, so this is particularly when I’m doing stuff with people - that if you are not going to achieve excellence you should stay in bed.

Host: That's deep. 

Judith: (Laughs) That said, just to say that the excellence can be whatever you're doing, so it might have been having a good time.

Host: Excellent. So, we often say disruption is interrelated. So, we tend to get the previous guest to ask a question to the next guest. We're going to ask you the question from the previous guest and this was the Chief Digital Officer of the Nigerian Exchange and he wants to know how many years would it take from now for Nigeria to be among the top 10 economies in the world? 

Judith: How many years from now? So, it depends on whether we do that global domination thing that I was talking about, right? How many years? I don't know. I don't think I'm good at predictions like that at all. Yeah. So I should just throw a number out there. 150 years.

Host: Whoa. That is huge. Wow, okay. Let me just move on.

Judith: At the current pace, that's the caveat at that current pace. 

Host: Is this Nigeria or Africa? Just trying to dimension this a bit, if I may.

Judith: Actually, that was probably super harsh, but you're like top 10 economies, it's probably going to happen much sooner than that. And it's going to happen much sooner than that because of the shift towards digital, just because of the fact that digital is allowing so much more independence in terms of what's happening.

So, I mean, that was tongue-in-cheek, but that said, I mean, I think the way we think about economies will change. I think that's going to change significantly and I don't think it will be the same parameters that we're thinking about today in like 20 or 30 years. Yeah.. 

Host: So finally, what's one question or one view you'd like to get from the next guest. We don't know who the next guest is. What question would you like to ask him or her? 

Judith: Okay. Yeah, absolutely. So for the next person, I would like to know if they are interested in sort of like planetary exploration and if they are why? And if they're not, why not?

Host: Yeah. That's interesting. That's a nice question.  Well, this brings us to the end of the Experience Pod. Thank you for your time, Judith. It's been a lovely conversation, a very, very fun one as well. And, yeah. Thank you. Feel free to come back anytime. 

Judith: Thank you so much for having me. It's been a real pleasure.

Host: Likewise. Thank you.

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Femi Osinubi

Femi Osinubi

Advisory Leader, PwC Nigeria

Tel: +234 1 271 1700

Ada Irikefe

Ada Irikefe

Associate Director/Head, Disruption, PwC Nigeria

Tel: +234 (1) 271 1700

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