Santiago, Morgan, Naomi, Kennedy, Wilbur, Innocent, Hope, Maxwell at GHII in April 2024

Why Malawi?

When people learn the AppHatchery’s software development team is based in Malawi, often the next question is why Malawi???

The short answer is that I have a personal connection to this slender country in East Africa named for Lake Malawi which dominates the eastern side of the country.

But the longer answer is more interesting and shows how groups across country lines can support each other.

After 8 years in corporate America as an engineer and consultant, I was feeling burnt out by the culture of large companies and I was motivated to start something on my own. In the summer of 2018 I joined Dr. Gerry Douglas in Lilongwe, Malawi for a summer in an attempt to build a new product to solve a problem he saw in the microbiology laboratory. Together we hired a team of young engineers from a local university called Daeyang University to prototype and build an automated device to read and interpret antibiotic sensitivity tests. The Open Antimicrobial Resistance (OpenAMR) project was born. During the work, I often heard the stories of individuals who recently graduated from universities in Malawi with computer science or Information and Communication Technology (ICT) degrees but could not find work in their field. Working on OpenAMR was a rare opportunity to be paid for engineering work right out of university.

By mid 2019 I was running out of money to support the project and had failed to convince funders that OpenAMR was a viable business beyond a small National Science Foundation grant. I closed the project and put it on the shelf but I kept in contact with a few of the students who had shown particular promise.

Fast forward to 2020 when I joined Emory’s newly launched AppHatchery program to build mobile apps and digital health products for clinical research within the Georgia Clinical and Translational Science Alliance (CTSA). The program had many people asking for app projects to be built but we lacked a robust team of developers to handle the volume of projects.

I remembered all the conversations I had with Malawi graduates and the difficulty of finding positions in software development. I wanted to support those students who had shown such promise and I wondered how could I help both the AppHatchery AND these students? Could I build capacity for the CTSA while building computer science capacity in Malawi?

One of the stars of the OpenAMR project, Comfort Mwalija, was looking for a job and agree to become our first AppHatchery employee - the Malawi AppHatchery team was born!

The team has now grown to 5 full time software developers working at our partner institution The Global Health Informatics Institute (GHII) and supported both by the Georgia CTSA and funding from individual projects. This tremendous team has created 10+ mobile apps for university clients in Atlanta and Georgia and two of our previous developers have gone on to higher paying positions in Malawi!

Morgan Greenleaf | March 29 2024