Science, Tech & Environment

DJ Focus becomes youngest visiting practitioner at MIT

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The MIT Media Lab where Doe and Sengeh spent most of their time during Doe's visit. (Photo by Andrew Thomas Ryan via Wikimedia Commons.)

Kelvin Doe, also known as DJ Focus, is a 16-year-old innovator from Sierra Leone. This fall he became the youngest visiting practitioner at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab.

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Recognized by MIT as an innovator, Doe created his own radio station with materials he salvaged from his community.

He also caught the eye of Sierra Leone native David Sengeh, a doctoral student at MIT. Sengeh says he knew instantaneously Doe was a natural leader and innovator.

"At a very young age (Doe) understood this concept of innovation and its impact on the community (and) his nation," he said.

When Doe was younger he deejayed at children's parties in his community, Sengeh says. The money Doe made from parties would be put towardpurchasing batteries. But once Doe realized all of his money went towards purchasing batteries, his solution was to make his own rechargeable battery. Doe has since made a number of other things including a generator, used to power the mixer he also made from scrap materials.

At 15, Doe created his own radio station giving people in his community an opportunity to participate in sharing important information. People would call into the studio if something were happening, like a soccer game, Sengeh says. And if young artists wanted their songs played on-air, they went to DJ Focus.

But innovation doesn't have to be high tech. Sengeh says by seeing and understanding the different facets of a problem and using any available resources, a solution can be created. 

Innovation for Doe is a lot of fun, Sengeh says, especially when working with the tools at MIT. But Doe also enjoyed sharing his experiences. 

"We learned a lot from (Doe). We were able to get from his experience — how he uses the resources he uses," Sengeh said. "There was mutual learning involved, which was a lot (of) fun."

Doe was a finalist in the contest Sengeh created, called Innovate Salone, part of Global Minimum Inc, an international non-profit. The contest was designed to encourage innovation in Sierra Leone’s young people. It started out of the frustration Sengeh felt.

“At the Media Lab we’re (given) this creative freedom and we have access to any tools and resources we want,” he said. “And I felt like I needed to create technology solutions for Sierra Leone.”

But Sengeh said, creating technological solutions would only continue the cycle of giving technology to others without allowing them to experience the joy of creating and learning the design process.

“If you want people to be developed, you want them to take care of their own problems. You want to enable them to be able to create their own solutions,” he said. “It was out of frustration that we launched this high school innovation challenge.”

Sengeh said he now sees young people all across Sierra Leone who understand the first step of a solution is to build a prototype. The aim of the challenge, he says, was to encourage young people to create a culture of innovation. If they have a problem or an idea, they can build a prototype with whatever resources are available to them.

“I think my dream is that this generation of young people coming up are the ones who will solve any problem (present) in their community,” he said. "It's exciting once you create an avenue for young people to create freely."

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