CORNER BROOK — Nicholas Fleming has always been drawn to problem solving.
“I really love the notion of using analytical skills to see really tangible differences made in the built environment.
“Taking plans, conceiving them, seeing big things happen,” Fleming said.
That’s just what Fleming has been doing over the past year as a participant in the Engineers Without Borders Junior Fellowship Program.
Fleming was born and raised in Corner Brook and graduated from Corner Brook Regional High in 2010. His parents, Melva Humber and Mike Fleming, relocated to St. John’s about a year ago.
He is currently in the third-year of the civil engineering program at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. where he became involved with Engineers Without Borders.
The Junior Fellowship is a 16-month program that brings together university students from across the country to work on global development projects in Africa.
Prior to travelling to Africa participants run through a curriculum that provides them with a base knowledge of development theory and economics.
This study is on top of their regular course load and is followed by a week-long training session before participants are placed with Engineers Without Borders African program teams in either Ghana, Malawi, Zambia or Uganda.
Fleming’s placement was a little bit unique in that instead of being placed with an existing team he was tasked with establishing a team that would help with the formation of a technology startup aimed at improving the democratic process in Ghana.
He spent nearly four months in the country, from May 14 to Aug. 27, working on the development of VOTO, a cellphone-based survey platform.
Fleming said with 90 per cent of people in Ghana having a cellphone, VOTO was looked at as a way to reach people.
“With the intention of really expressing the voices of those who wouldn’t otherwise really have the opportunity,” said Fleming.
However, literacy rates proved to be a hurdle and through a travel study Fleming found people wanted to be able to speak, rather than read and type.
So the team developed an interactive voice response system where people would hear questions in their native language and then be able to chose a response.
The tool is now being piloted in partnership with Ghana’s national government in three local government offices and has the potential to be expanded to all 46 of the country’s local government offices.
In addition to the survey tool, the team has added a couple of extra tools, a subscription service where people can subscribe to automated updates from their local government office, and an openline tool where they can call a toll-free number to listen to updates and record their opinions.
The team is also working with a group known as Savana Signatures that has partnered with health institutions in the country to use the service to send out updates to pregnant women on things like when to get an ultrasound and the types of vitamins they should be taking.
Now that he’s back at university, Fleming will share his African experience with others and will continue to work on the VOTO project from Canada.