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The R Consortium recently chatted with Fousenou Bah of the Bamako Data Science Group (also on Facebook) about the budding R community in Mali. Online events allowed the group to broaden its horizons and invite international speakers to appear at its events. They also hope to host hybrid events in the future to make the most of both online and physical event formats.
Fossenau is an economist currently working for the Electricity and Water Regulatory Commission. He did his Ph.D. and a Master’s degree in Economics from the University Grenoble Alpes, France.
How were you introduced to R?
I studied economics, and it’s a subject where you use a lot of data at undergraduate level. That’s how I started using R in the early 2000s. About 20 years later I realized what a powerful language it has become. This prompted me to talk to some friends and inquire about getting together a group of data science enthusiasts to share knowledge and discuss. My academic training mostly influenced me and inspired me to start this group. R is attractive because it’s free, open-source, and one of the best ways to get people interested in programming and data science. It doesn’t cost much and ensures reproducibility.
How is the R community in Mali? Can you name some industries in Mali that use R?
The R community in Mali is in its nascent stage. I have to go out and find people who use R and understand what it is. The main purpose of our group is to introduce people to R and promote its use in Mali. We’re trying to persuade people to use R for business management instead of proprietary programs, because it’s an amazing tool and free. They can train their employees and introduce it as a work tool in their data life. It’s mostly people in academia who are familiar with R and use it for their research. In Mali, industries have not embraced R as much as I would hope. Much work needs to be done to publicize, educate and promote R in Mali.
How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?
Before the pandemic, we used to hold physical events on Friday afternoons. Friday afternoon is when people are still in a work mood but also relaxed because the weekend is around the corner. We used to organize our events at different places. Mostly we used to visit the campus itself as it houses some research centres. We could use the infrastructure to do our presentations and we would meet in a room afterwards for breakfast.
With the pandemic, we have moved our programs completely online. It was interesting because we could connect with people from all over the world and ask them to come and speak at our sessions. We connect and feature people living in Europe, America, or North America. So online events allowed us to expand our horizons.
In the past year, have you had to change your techniques for connecting and collaborating with members? For example, did you make much use of GitHub, video conferencing, online discussion groups? Can these techniques be used to make your group more inclusive for those who may be unable to attend physical events in the future?
We are switching between Google Meet and Zoom for our online events. We have also created a WhatsApp group to interact with our group members. This group is not limited to presentations only, but we also exchange information about various opportunities, scholarships and collaboration requests. People also use it to showcase a project they have done and ask for help with problems they are facing.
Members of our group don’t use GitHub a lot. Whenever I present, I share the GitHub link and inform our group members that the slides, code, and data are available on GitHub. We do not upload our recorded sessions to YouTube. Instead, we share the link in our WhatsApp group due to privacy concerns. I hope in future maybe we will start a youtube channel as well.
These days, I’m nostalgic for our discussions over physical happenings and snacks afterward. I think this networking and human interaction is really important to our group. It allows people to come together and find common ground. So once the pandemic subsides, we would like to host hybrid events to take advantage of both physical and online events. This will allow us to keep our group open to international speakers while allowing us to promote data science locally.
What trends in the R language do you see affecting your organization over the next year?
I expect the R ecosystem to grow stronger in the years to come. Things are changing now in Data Science and the trend is to make sure people can collaborate. It is also a good opportunity to allow people to switch between different languages. I think it will make R more visible and highlight it’s power.
For our group, I think it’s very important to make sure people realize the power of R and turn to it. We’re also trying to educate people that they don’t need to be from a computer science or technical background to harness the power of R. They need domain expertise to find their way around with R and use it.
Among the projects funded by the R Consortium, is there a favorite project of yours? Why is this your favourite?
My favorite funded project is Deposit: Deposit Research Data Anywhere. Its purpose is to facilitate researchers’ access to the data. And this coincides with anyone trying to promote data science, because data is our most valuable raw material.
Of the active working groups, which is your favorite? Why is this your favourite?
Because of my background in economics, my favorite active working group is r/business.
When is your next show? Please provide details!
We don’t have any events right now, but follow us on your socials to stay up to date!
How do I join?
The R Consortium’s R User Group and Small Conference Support Program (RUGS) provides grants to help R groups around the world organize, share information, and support each other. The grants we’ve made over the past four years have grown to include more than 65,000 members in 35 countries. We want you to join! Cash grants and meetup.com accounts are awarded based on the funds available for the intended use and distributed. We are now accepting applications!
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