Abdigani Diriye is seen giving a talk in front of a map of the African continent
Abdigani Diriye was included in a recent ranking of the top 200 young African economic leaders by Institut Choiseul. Born in Somalia, Diriye is passionate about using science to unleash innovation in Africa, and says his research is closely aligned with that goal.
Credit: Bret Hartman / TED

Abdigani Diriye named among top young African economic leaders

The Amazon research manager was included on a list of individuals 40 and younger who are projected to play a leading role in Africa’s economic future.

Over the past decade, the tech industry in Africa has witnessed explosive growth. According to Briter Bridges, the number of tech hubs on the continent has almost doubled over the past few years. Countries on the African continent have the potential for profound economic change — change that will be driven by technology.

Abdigani Diriye has spent several years contributing to that transformation as part of a career spent thinking about how technology can help accelerate economic development. That commitment led to his inclusion in a recent ranking of the top 200 young African economic leaders by Institut Choiseul. The Paris-based think tank, which is dedicated to the analysis of contemporary strategic issues and international economic affairs, recognizes leaders age 40 and younger who are projected to play a leading role in Africa’s economic future.

Born in Somalia, Diriye moved to England in 1989. He is passionate about using science to unleash innovation in Africa and said that his research in academia and at companies like Amazon is closely aligned with that goal.

“I’m humbled to be included among CEOs and other business leaders in the rankings released by Institut Choiseul,” said Diriye. “I’m also excited that they are beginning to include scientists on the list, and recognizing the prominent role science will have to play in accelerating economic development in Africa.”

Today, as a research manager in Alexa’s Text-to-Speech team in the United Kingdom, Diriye helps develop new models that enable Alexa to talk with users more naturally. Neural text-to-speech models used by Diriye’s team enable Alexa to sound more natural, and change speaking style to match different interactions.

In a conversation with Amazon Science, Diriye spoke about his journey in becoming a scientist, his contributions to furthering innovation in Africa, and how science is poised to change the economic landscape in Africa in the near future.

Q. How did you develop an interest in science?

My first significant interaction with technology was quite literally an electrifying one. I was seven years old and was living in Somalia at the time. My uncle had a transistor radio in his home. I was fascinated by the device, and how this small box could bring us voices and music from faraway countries. I took the radio apart to see how it worked. To this day, I vividly remember the electrical shock I received while reassembling the parts.  The shock was thankfully a mild one, and I was able to move on from assembling transistor radios to math and coding.

Q. Why did you decide to persist with science after moving to England?

Throughout my career, my motivation always remained the same — to move beyond developing technology for technology’s sake, but to understand how it can be used to help humans forge connections with each other, and improve our lives.

Abdigani Diriye at TEDGlobal 2017 - Builders, Truth Tellers, Catalysts - August 27-30, 2017, Arusha, Tanzania
“I’m humbled to be included ... in the rankings released by Institut Choiseul. I’m also excited that they are beginning to include scientists on the list."
Credit: Bret Hartman / TED

The early 2000s saw an explosion in the world of big data. This was also a time when we saw a plethora of machine learning tools released, which in turn enabled us to make sense of all this data. I pursued research in data mining and modeling while obtaining my bachelor’s degree (at the Queen Mary University of London), my master’s degree in advanced computing from King’s College London, and a PhD in computer science, focusing on information retrieval and human-computer interaction, at University College London.

I was also incredibly fortunate to have been given the opportunity to pursue people-focused science in the United States. During a postdoc at Carnegie Mellon University’s Human Computer Interaction Institute, I worked with my colleagues to conduct research on how people can build on each other’s learning as they look up information online. This increases the speed, as well as the depth, of their sensemaking — the amount of information a person can glean about a particular topic online – across a variety of fields. I also contributed to research that created classifiers to understand why users abandon searches and designed systems for multi-session, exploratory search systems.

Q. How has some of your work in academia and the industry contributed to economic development in Africa?

I’ve always had a deep emotional connection to Somalia and Africa at large, and have consciously focused on the many ways science can be used to accelerate economic development in Africa.

I remain tremendously energized about the opportunity to shape the lives of people using science and technology in Africa.
Abdigani Diriye

In 2016, I helped develop a system tailored to underbanked individuals that helped determine the creditworthiness of consumers based on mobile phone usage patterns. We’ve white-labeled the platform, and made it available to banks, government institutions and businesses in Africa. Determining the eligibility of a person to receive credit is especially applicable in many emerging economies, where there is a paucity of consumer data. More than 2 billion individuals around the world are unable to access financial services like credit lines, savings accounts, and insurance because they aren’t able to establish a credit score or pass a KYC check (Know-Your-Customer). This prevents millions of people from forging a path out of poverty.

I’m also on the board of directors for Innovate Ventures, a Somali startup accelerator. In this role, I have been fortunate to have worked with so many talented people such as the team behind e-commerce shopping company Muraadso. The platform combines e-commerce services with brick-and-mortar stores, so that customers in a country with limited internet access are first able to see products in person before buying them.

I remain tremendously energized about the opportunity to shape the lives of people using science and technology in Africa.

Q. What are some of the ways you see science accelerating economic development in Africa?

We are at the beginning when it comes to leveraging science and machine learning to better the lives of people on the African continent. I’m particularly excited about three discrete application areas.

The first is related to leveling the playing field when it comes to education. When a child is able to ask a smart assistant a question in her local language, and get an answer, she now has access to the same information as a child in Europe or America.

Looking for innovation in unexpected places
Abdigani Diriye gave a TED talk about innovation in Africa and the inventiveness to be found in countries like his native Somalia.

Fintech also represents another massive area of opportunity in Africa. Over 60% of the adult population in Africa doesn’t have access to formal banking. I’m awed by the innovative ways countries in Africa have tailored science and technology to meet their unique needs and enable financial inclusion. This is not something that’s particularly well known outside Africa, but more than 40 million people in Kenya today — some of them without bank accounts — use a digital currency called M-PESA to buy goods and services via credits stored on their mobile accounts.

Lastly, Africa is such a large continent. The continent is larger than the United States, China, India, Mexico, and many countries in Europe combined. Given the current state of infrastructure in many parts of Africa, I see innovations like drones playing an increasingly important role in delivering goods and services to people. The revolution in transportation and logistics is already well underway. To give just one example, Rwanda is starting to use drone delivery for its transfusion blood supply.  A hospital can place an order for blood and receive delivery within an hour of placing the order.

Amazon is working on many similar problems – be it leveling access to information, developing new ways of paying for goods and services or new ways to ship products to customers. I love working at Amazon for the same reason that I got interested in pursuing a career in science.  At Amazon, I’m able to work on projects that have a tangible benefit on the lives of millions of people. As humans, we all have aspirations no matter where we are, and technology can be shaped to help us meet those aspirations.

Research areas

Related content

US, CA, San Francisco
About Twitch Launched in 2011, Twitch is a global community that comes together each day to create multiplayer entertainment: unique, live, unpredictable experiences created by the interactions of millions. We bring the joy of co-op to everything, from casual gaming to world-class esports to anime marathons, music, and art streams. Twitch also hosts TwitchCon, where we bring everyone together to celebrate, learn, and grow their personal interests and passions. We’re always live at Twitch. Stay up to date on all things Twitch on Linkedin, Twitter and on our Blog. About the role: Twitch builds data-driven machine learning solutions across several rich problem spaces: Natural Language Processing (NLP), Recommendations, Semantic Search, Classification/Categorization, Anomaly Detection, Forecasting, Safety, and HCI/Social Computing/Computational Social Science. As an Intern, you will work with a dedicated Mentor and Manager on a project in one of these problem areas. You will also be supported by an Advisor and participate in cohort activities such as research teach backs and leadership talks. This position can also be located in San Francisco, CA or virtual. You Will: Solve large-scale data problems. Design solutions for Twitch's problem spaces Explore ML and data research
LU, Luxembourg
Are you a talented and inventive scientist with a strong passion about modern data technologies and interested to improve business processes, extracting value from the data? Would you like to be a part of an organization that is aiming to use self-learning technology to process data in order to support the management of the procurement function? The Global Procurement Technology, as a part of Global Procurement Operations, is seeking a skilled Data Scientist to help build its future data intelligence in business ecosystem, working with large distributed systems of data and providing Machine Learning (ML) and Predictive Modeling expertise. You will be a member of the Data Engineering and ML Team, joining a fast-growing global organization, with a great vision to transform the Procurement field, and become the role model in the market. This team plays a strategic role supporting the core Procurement business domains as well as it is the cornerstone of any transformation and innovation initiative. Our mission is to provide a high-quality data environment to facilitate process optimization and business digitalization, on a global scale. We are supporting business initiatives, including but not limited to, strategic supplier sourcing (e.g. contracting, negotiation, spend analysis, market research, etc.), order management, supplier performance, etc. We are seeking an individual who can thrive in a fast-paced work environment, be collaborative and share knowledge and experience with his colleagues. You are expected to deliver results, but at the same time have fun with your teammates and enjoy working in the company. In Amazon, you will find all the resources required to learn new skills, grow your career, and become a better professional. You will connect with world leaders in your field and you will be tackling Data Science challenges to ensure business continuity, by taking the right decisions for your customers. As a Data Scientist in the team, you will: -be the subject matter expert to support team strategies that will take Global Procurement Operations towards world-class predictive maintenance practices and processes, driving more effective procurement functions, e.g. supplier segmentation, negotiations, shipping supplies volume forecast, spend management, etc. -have strong analytical skills and excel in the design, creation, management, and enterprise use of large data sets, combining raw data from different sources -provide technical expertise to support the development of ML models to facilitate intelligent digital services, such as Contract Lifecycle Management (CLM) and Negotiations platform -cooperate closely with different groups of stakeholders, e.g. data/software engineers, product/program managers, analysts, senior leadership, etc. to evaluate business needs and objectives to set up the best data management environment -create and share with audiences of varying levels technical papers and presentations -deal with ambiguity, prioritizing needs, and delivering results in a dynamic environment Basic qualifications -Master’s Degree in Computer Science/Engineering, Informatics, Mathematics, or a related technical discipline -3+ years of industry experience in data engineering/science, business intelligence or related field -3+ years experience in algorithm design, engineering and implementation for very-large scale applications to solve real problems -Very good knowledge of data modeling and evaluation -Very good understanding of regression modeling, forecasting techniques, time series analysis, machine-learning concepts such as supervised and unsupervised learning, classification, random forest, etc. -SQL and query performance tuning skills Preferred qualifications -2+ years of proficiency in using R, Python, Scala, Java or any modern language for data processing and statistical analysis -Experience with various RDBMS, such as PostgreSQL, MS SQL Server, MySQL, etc. -Experience architecting Big Data and ML solutions with AWS products (Redshift, DynamoDB, Lambda, S3, EMR, SageMaker, Lex, Kendra, Forecast etc.) -Experience articulating business questions and using quantitative techniques to arrive at a solution using available data -Experience with agile/scrum methodologies and its benefits of managing projects efficiently and delivering results iteratively -Excellent written and verbal communication skills including data visualization, especially in regards to quantitative topics discussed with non-technical colleagues
US, CA, San Francisco
About Twitch Launched in 2011, Twitch is a global community that comes together each day to create multiplayer entertainment: unique, live, unpredictable experiences created by the interactions of millions. We bring the joy of co-op to everything, from casual gaming to world-class esports to anime marathons, music, and art streams. Twitch also hosts TwitchCon, where we bring everyone together to celebrate, learn, and grow their personal interests and passions. We’re always live at Twitch. Stay up to date on all things Twitch on Linkedin, Twitter and on our Blog. About the role: Twitch builds data-driven machine learning solutions across several rich problem spaces: Natural Language Processing (NLP), Recommendations, Semantic Search, Classification/Categorization, Anomaly Detection, Forecasting, Safety, and HCI/Social Computing/Computational Social Science. As an Intern, you will work with a dedicated Mentor and Manager on a project in one of these problem areas. You will also be supported by an Advisor and participate in cohort activities such as research teach backs and leadership talks. This position can also be located in San Francisco, CA or virtual. You Will: Solve large-scale data problems. Design solutions for Twitch's problem spaces Explore ML and data research
US, CA, San Francisco
About Twitch Launched in 2011, Twitch is a global community that comes together each day to create multiplayer entertainment: unique, live, unpredictable experiences created by the interactions of millions. We bring the joy of co-op to everything, from casual gaming to world-class esports to anime marathons, music, and art streams. Twitch also hosts TwitchCon, where we bring everyone together to celebrate, learn, and grow their personal interests and passions. We’re always live at Twitch. Stay up to date on all things Twitch on Linkedin, Twitter and on our Blog. About the role: Twitch builds data-driven machine learning solutions across several rich problem spaces: Natural Language Processing (NLP), Recommendations, Semantic Search, Classification/Categorization, Anomaly Detection, Forecasting, Safety, and HCI/Social Computing/Computational Social Science. As an Intern, you will work with a dedicated Mentor and Manager on a project in one of these problem areas. You will also be supported by an Advisor and participate in cohort activities such as research teach backs and leadership talks. This position can also be located in San Francisco, CA or virtual. You Will: Solve large-scale data problems. Design solutions for Twitch's problem spaces Explore ML and data research
US, CA, San Francisco
About Twitch Launched in 2011, Twitch is a global community that comes together each day to create multiplayer entertainment: unique, live, unpredictable experiences created by the interactions of millions. We bring the joy of co-op to everything, from casual gaming to world-class esports to anime marathons, music, and art streams. Twitch also hosts TwitchCon, where we bring everyone together to celebrate, learn, and grow their personal interests and passions. We’re always live at Twitch. Stay up to date on all things Twitch on Linkedin, Twitter and on our Blog. About the role: Twitch builds data-driven machine learning solutions across several rich problem spaces: Natural Language Processing (NLP), Recommendations, Semantic Search, Classification/Categorization, Anomaly Detection, Forecasting, Safety, and HCI/Social Computing/Computational Social Science. As an Intern, you will work with a dedicated Mentor and Manager on a project in one of these problem areas. You will also be supported by an Advisor and participate in cohort activities such as research teach backs and leadership talks. This position can also be located in San Francisco, CA or virtual. You Will: Solve large-scale data problems. Design solutions for Twitch's problem spaces Explore ML and data research
US, CA, San Francisco
About Twitch Launched in 2011, Twitch is a global community that comes together each day to create multiplayer entertainment: unique, live, unpredictable experiences created by the interactions of millions. We bring the joy of co-op to everything, from casual gaming to world-class esports to anime marathons, music, and art streams. Twitch also hosts TwitchCon, where we bring everyone together to celebrate, learn, and grow their personal interests and passions. We’re always live at Twitch. Stay up to date on all things Twitch on Linkedin, Twitter and on our Blog. About the role: Twitch builds data-driven machine learning solutions across several rich problem spaces: Natural Language Processing (NLP), Recommendations, Semantic Search, Classification/Categorization, Anomaly Detection, Forecasting, Safety, and HCI/Social Computing/Computational Social Science. As an Intern, you will work with a dedicated Mentor and Manager on a project in one of these problem areas. You will also be supported by an Advisor and participate in cohort activities such as research teach backs and leadership talks. This position can also be located in San Francisco, CA or virtual. You Will: Solve large-scale data problems. Design solutions for Twitch's problem spaces Explore ML and data research
US, WA, Seattle
Amazon is seeking an experienced, self-directed data scientist to support the research and analytical needs of Amazon Web Services' Sales teams. This is a unique opportunity to invent new ways of leveraging our large, complex data streams to automate sales efforts and to accelerate our customers' journey to the cloud. This is a high-visibility role with significant impact potential. You, as the right candidate, are adept at executing every stage of the machine learning development life cycle in a business setting; from initial requirements gathering to through final model deployment, including adoption measurement and improvement. You will be working with large volumes of structured and unstructured data spread across multiple databases and can design and implement data pipelines to clean and merge these data for research and modeling. Beyond mathematical understanding, you have a deep intuition for machine learning algorithms that allows you to translate business problems into the right machine learning, data science, and/or statistical solutions. You’re able to pick up and grasp new research and identify applications or extensions within the team. You’re talented at communicating your results clearly to business owners in concise, non-technical language. Key job responsibilities • Work with a team of analytics & insights leads, data scientists and engineers to define business problems. • Research, develop, and deliver machine learning & statistical solutions in close partnership with end users, other science and engineering teams, and business stakeholders. • Use AWS services like SageMaker to deploy scalable ML models in the cloud. • Examples of projects include modeling usage of AWS services to optimize sales planning, recommending sales plays based on historical patterns, and building a sales-facing alert system using anomaly detection.
US, WA, Seattle
We are a team of doers working passionately to apply cutting-edge advances in deep learning in the life sciences to solve real-world problems. As a Senior Applied Science Manager you will participate in developing exciting products for customers. Our team rewards curiosity while maintaining a laser-focus in bringing products to market. Competitive candidates are responsive, flexible, and able to succeed within an open, collaborative, entrepreneurial, startup-like environment. At the leading edge of both academic and applied research in this product area, you have the opportunity to work together with a diverse and talented team of scientists, engineers, and product managers and collaborate with others teams. Location is in Seattle, US Embrace Diversity Here at Amazon, we embrace our differences. We are committed to furthering our culture of inclusion. We have ten employee-led affinity groups, reaching 40,000 employees in over 190 chapters globally. We have innovative benefit offerings, and host annual and ongoing learning experiences, including our Conversations on Race and Ethnicity (CORE) and AmazeCon (gender diversity) conferences. Amazon’s culture of inclusion is reinforced within our 14 Leadership Principles, which remind team members to seek diverse perspectives, learn and be curious, and earn trust Balance Work and Life Our team puts a high value on work-life balance. It isn’t about how many hours you spend at home or at work; it’s about the flow you establish that brings energy to both parts of your life. We believe striking the right balance between your personal and professional life is critical to life-long happiness and fulfillment. We offer flexibility in working hours and encourage you to find your own balance between your work and personal lives Mentor & Grow Careers Our team is dedicated to supporting new members. We have a broad mix of experience levels and tenures, and we’re building an environment that celebrates knowledge sharing and mentorship. Our senior members enjoy one-on-one mentoring and thorough, but kind, code reviews. We care about your career growth and strive to assign projects based on what will help each team member develop into a better-rounded engineer and enable them to take on more complex tasks in the future. Key job responsibilities • Manage high performing engineering and science teams • Hire and develop top-performing engineers, scientists, and other managers • Develop and execute on project plans and delivery commitments • Work with business, data science, software engineer, biological, and product leaders to help define product requirements and with managers, scientists, and engineers to execute on them • Build and maintain world-class customer experience and operational excellence for your deliverables
US, Virtual
The Amazon Economics Team is hiring Interns in Economics. We are looking for detail-oriented, organized, and responsible individuals who are eager to learn how to work with large and complicated data sets. Some knowledge of econometrics, as well as basic familiarity with Stata, R, or Python is necessary. Experience with SQL, UNIX, Sawtooth, and Spark would be a plus. These are full-time positions at 40 hours per week, with compensation being awarded on an hourly basis. You will learn how to build data sets and perform applied econometric analysis at Internet speed collaborating with economists, data scientists and MBAʼs. These skills will translate well into writing applied chapters in your dissertation and provide you with work experience that may help you with placement. Roughly 85% of interns from previous cohorts have converted to full time economics employment at Amazon. If you are interested, please send your CV to our mailing list at econ-internship@amazon.com.
US, WA, Seattle
Amazon internships are full-time (40 hours/week) for 12 consecutive weeks with start dates in May - July 2023. Our internship program provides hands-on learning and building experiences for students who are interested in a career in hardware engineering. This role will be based in Seattle, and candidates must be willing to work in-person. Corporate Projects (CPT) is a team that sits within the broader Corporate Development organization at Amazon. We seek to bring net-new, strategic projects to life by working together with customers and evolving projects from ZERO-to-ONE. To do so, we deploy our resources towards proofs-of-concept (POCs) and pilot programs and develop them from high-level ideas (the ZERO) to tangible short-term results that provide validating signal and a path to scale (the ONE). We work with our customers to develop and create net-new opportunities by relentlessly scouring all of Amazon and finding new and innovative ways to strengthen and/or accelerate the Amazon Flywheel. CPT seeks an Applied Science intern to work with a diverse, cross-functional team to build new, innovative customer experiences. Within CPT, you will apply both traditional and novel scientific approaches to solve and scale problems and solutions. We are a team where science meets application. A successful candidate will be a self-starter comfortable with ambiguity, strong attention to detail, and the ability to work in a fast-paced, ever-changing environment. As an Applied Science Intern, you will own the design and development of end-to-end systems. You’ll have the opportunity to create technical roadmaps, and drive production level projects that will support Amazon Science. You will work closely with Amazon scientists, and other science interns to develop solutions and deploy them into production. The ideal scientist must have the ability to work with diverse groups of people and cross-functional teams to solve complex business problems.