UNICEF opens Drone, Data academy in Lilongwe


About 150 students are set to benefit by 2021 from the first African Drone and Data (ADDA) academy that opened its doors on Monday in Lilongwe, with the aim of improving service delivery for children in Africa.

According to UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, the move is part of efforts to promote the use of drones in programmes and services that will impact the lives of children and young people.

UNICEF will provide free tuition to the first cohort of 26 students from across Africa courtesy of its funding partners to develop expertise in the use of drones for humanitarian, development and commercial purposes across the continent through a 12-week course.

“Humanitarian and development programme delivery in Africa and beyond can benefit significantly from the application of drone technology. The African Drone and Data Academy will be instrumental in equipping young people with the skills they need to use the technology to benefit children and their communities.” Fore said.

ADDA students captured in class- courtesy of UNICEF

Director of Malawi’s Department of Civil Aviation, James Chakwera reacted to the news saying: “In Malawi we strongly believe that adopting modern technologies such as drones and advanced data analysis and management techniques will help us to serve our children better. We are proud to partner with UNICEF in such an exciting endeavour.”

According to a statement released by UNICEF on Monday, the Academy’s curriculum has been developed in partnership with Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) – following its successful delivery of training workshops in Malawi since 2017.

UNICEF Malawi representative
UNICEF Malawi representative Rudolf Schwenk (C) with University partners 

The course will combine theoretical and practical methodologies in making, testing and flying drones before running a tuition-free two-year master’s degree program in drone technology, in conjunction with Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST) by 2022.

It will also deliver a curriculum that will build local capacity and a favorable ecosystem for the emergence of sustainable business models for using drones for humanitarian and development missions.

Rudolf Schwenk
Schwenk with one of the candidates- courtesy of UNICEF

Kevin Kochersberger, associate professor at Virginia Tech, who will lead the project said: “The ADDA reflects Virginia Tech’s ongoing commitment to the innovative application of drone technology and education in Malawi and the Africa region. The academy will give graduates the necessary skills for jobs using drone applications ranging from agriculture and health to natural resources monitoring.”

With support from the Global Fund, the German government, partners from Scotland and Sweden, the first cohort includes 16 Malawian students and 10 from across Africa.