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"From communication to education, satellites are providing vital services to aid people’s development on the continent."


Many people across Africa lack access to basic services, cannot get goods delivered easily to their home because they live in an informal dwelling and are vulnerable in emergencies simply because the authorities can’t find their home. Poor addressing means deliveries go astray, businesses cannot be found, aid doesn’t end up where it’s needed and remote areas can be difficult to manage.

This affects nearly 75% of the world’s population, according to UN estimates. Across the continent one of the biggest challenges in providing relief to people living in extreme poverty is locating them.

So what if providing the world with addresses was simplified to just three words? That’s what CEO and co-founder of a system called What3words, Chris Sheldrick, has developed. Speaking at this year’s Design Indaba – held in Cape Town during March – he discussed how using satellite images to divide the world into a grid of 3m by 3m squares could change the way we look at locations. The system’s formula is quite simple. Each block (of which there are 57 trillion in total) is assigned with a unique three-word address, for example toffee.chair.plant.


‘Our goal has been to create an infrastructure that quickly solves a problem many countries have been struggling with for years,’ says Sheldrick. He further states, however, that the system is not meant to replace street addressing, but should rather act as an addition when street addresses are not accurate enough, as well as be an instant, scalable solution where they don’t exist.