Tenacious, tireless and with an insatiable drive to bridge the gap between education and technology, Samia Chelbi is a university teacher with more than 25 years of experience in different fields tightly linked to creative technologies. The co-founder of the first school of 3D, animation and gaming in North Africa for more than a decade, she has contributed extensively to the progress of the industry in Tunisia and Africa as a whole.
She currently leads the DigiArtLivingLab project which is the first living lab in North Africa with a specialisation in digital arts and certified by ENoLL(European Network of Living Lab) as well as NETINFO. In 2020, she jointly founded the AfricanGameDev Program which received an Epic Mega Grant in 2020.
She speaks briefly about her work in the education sector as well as the challenges of building a sustainable gaming ecosystem fuelled by education.
Why has it been difficult for such an initiative to really take off?
Game development education in Tunisia is starting to emerge in the private sector and in some public universities but is still a long way from translating into employment and consistent levels of investment, which is why we work tirelessly as advocates.
Leading this kind of initiative in Africa was a real challenge because there was no government or private support for this kind of project which is with huge risk because it is based on very dynamic technologies and is a long-term investment.
What challenges have you experienced in trying to shape the educational and progression of a game development curriculum?
I am basically a university lecturer in software engineering with more than 25 years of experience from the public and private sector. I strongly believe in the prosperity of Africa through education. However, I am too
invested in innovation and education to contribute to the creation of a good environment for the investment and employability of young people.
We believed in the impact of game development in the production of innovative user experience based digital content and we are in the process of applying them to the fields of architecture and industrial production as well as within the entertainment sector.
How did the decision to create the AfricanDev initiative come about?
It was spurred on by the ongoing pandemic which accelerated remote work and digital adoption. We had already developed a network of partners in sub Saharan Africa just before the Covid-19 outbreak which had been nourished by the NETINFO alumni Network in 15 sub-Saharan African countries.
I had unsuccessfully applied to Epic Games Mega Grants in 2019, which even though didn’t result in any tangible support, I was inspired by some of the winning projects, which gave me an understanding of what it took to receive funding. I then re-applied while trying to clearly define the objectives of the project with measurement indicators.
What kind of key and local partnerships have been crucial to achieving your goals?
We have developed partnerships with a network of universities, schools, incubators and organizations active in the gaming space and especially interested in the development of this industry in their countries. These partners will play the role of facilitators and ambassadors of these communities in their territories.
We also have a network of funders and investors who are interested in supporting the prototypes that will be made by young participants in the AfricanGameDev program.
How do you plan to attract aspiring developers to the program from across the continent?
In order to be an inspiring sustainable project for young Africans, this first cohort of AfricanGameDev, which ends on April 10, 2021, must be able to impose itself through its productions and obtain investment opportunities, which will encourage all stakeholders ecosystem reinforce the AfricanGameDev capacities and resources.
Are there plans in place to further develop the online component to the program and how do you see that developing over time?
AfricanGameDev is a project born with COVID-19 for this it has been specially designed so that it is 80% online and 20% physical support.
What would you view as a successful year for AfricanDev over the coming couple of years?
The success of the project is linked to the number of startups that will emerge from the program, after 2 years we hope to launch one startup per country that means 10 startups.