Eastern Africa Resilience Innovation Lab (EA RI Lab) visits University of Rwanda in Kigali – Rwanda

02-04 March, 2016

ResilientAfrica Network (RAN), through the Eastern Africa Resilience Innovation Lab (EA RI Lab) in partnership with the University of Rwanda (UR) hosted a jam packed Innovation Boot Camp from 2nd – 4th March 2016 at College of Medicine and Health Sciences. The event which attracted multidisciplinary faculty, students and community members (10 faculty, 82 students, 4 Community) was guided by the theme: “Resilient Communities through university led Innovations”. It was aimed at providing participants with knowledge and skills to identify community needs/challenges, develop solutions and diffuse them to the community. The Boot Camp was an exciting, highly focused and hands-on experience during which participants worked in teams to brainstorm, identify, develop and pitch meaningful innovations via prototyping exercises, as well as interactions with seasoned innovators, Entrepreneurs and Innovation hub leaders in Kigali.

The whole 3 day visit to Rwanda was aimed at;

  1. Engaging Faculty and Students by introducing them to the Human Centered Design (HCD) approach, to create a culture of Innovation in the university in a bid to further support   development of innovative solutions to address community challenges.
  2. Publicizing the ongoing open Grants call; The Resilience Innovation Challenge for Conflict (RIC4CONF) through a seminar and clinic session to explain the call categories as well taking the participants through the application process.
  3. Initiating and formalizing possible partnerships with existing Innovation hubs in Kigali that can help to mentor students and faculty teams with innovative ideas as well as connecting the university to successful entrepreneurs and to the private sector.

Dr. Jeanne KAGWIZA, the Ag. Principal of College of Medicine and Health Sciences in the University of Rwanda graced this event, officially opened the boot camp and thanked participants for attending in big numbers depicting the hunger and thirst they all have for innovation. She also appreciated the efforts by the RAN Focal Persons at the University of Rwanda and RAN’s initiative to physically engage in a meaningful and productive way to transfer Innovation knowledge and skills to the University of Rwanda. This she said resonates well with the University’s three main pillars that include; Research, teaching and community service which can be achieve through innovation. This boot camp came in timely to strengthen the University’s efforts and existing structures that had been established to nurture innovations. She encouraged all staff especially the innovation coordinators from all colleges who were in attendance to replicate similar trainings especially adopting the HCD course into the curricular of the respective colleges.

Day one focused on articulating RAN and its value in solving African challenges, the relationship with UR and how it can be maximized while taking stock of RAN accomplishments so far. Thereafter, participants engaged in an interactive session with faculty and students understanding the current situation of the innovation ecosystem at the College of Medicine and Health Sciences and the University of Rwanda led by the Innovation coordinators at UR. They presented the Tripple Helix collaboration model they have been implementing and how this can support innovation activities. We then introduced hands-on activities on ideation and brainstorming current community challenges and their underlying phenomena in Rwanda. This was concluded with a seminar and clinic on the RIC4CONF grant opportunity which is open until April11th, 2016.

On Day 2, participants were immersed in the Human Centered Design Training where they were introduced to principles of Design Thinking, Needfinding/ Ethnography, Problem framing, Rapid prototyping, iteration and Storytelling. Participants were engaged in hands-on activities applying innovation methods and developing an innovation pitch. They were excited about the engaging processes, using locally available materials to visualize and bring an idea to life while getting end-user feedback. These activities helped participants to hone their skills for advancing and leading successful innovation projects in their teams. RAN believes that the Human-Centered Design (HCD) approach is vital to innovation. Tested at RAN, the HCD course equips individuals to design technologies and approaches communities can adopt more easily.

After an intense successful two (2) days of the workshop with students and faculty, the RAN team joined by other University representatives set out to visit innovation hubs with a goal of building collaborative partnerships on how to support the university and identify synergies and resources that are critical in growing innovation capacities.

Hehe Labs, Klab and The Office were identified as the most active and revered innovation hubs around Kigali where minds meet.

The first visit was to Hehe Labs, founded by Mrs. Clarisse Iribagiza a technology entrepreneur in Kigali. This is a vibrant space occupied by young and talented ladies and gentlemen coding away solutions/ inventions of the future. The meeting with Hehe Labs started with introduction of the University representatives and the RAN team. In her remarks, Clarisse introduced Hehe Labs as mobile technology, research and innovative solutions one stop center. The lab is focusing on digital education solutions, health care, transport and security systems for SME’s, Universities, and Corporate companies. It is here where young people are creatively engaged to build solutions for the Lab clients.

As part of growing the innovations ecosystem, Hehe works with high schools and universities through their Code Clubs and Fellowship programs respectively. Within these programs, participants (youth/students) are signed up for periodic software building and coding classes. These participants are also introduced to business development classes which help them to turn their skills into startups bound to positively impact the communities; product launch within 6 months. As part of the synergies identified with the University of Rwanda, the following were pointed out;

  • Establishing Code clubs at the University to allow peer to peer learning
  • Conducting a training of trainers for innovation courses including Human Centered Design and Design Thinking
  • Joint innovation research activities
  • Delivery of software solutions, for example developing a publishing website for the University research department
  • Co-organizing innovation events and training workshops for both students and faculty

As next steps, the University of Rwanda would initiate a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with proposed roles and duties especially gaps that each partner is going to fill during the collaboration period. RAN would support this process with its expertise in working with the community for pilots and conducting Human Centered Design among other related workshops.

At the end of the meeting, the team attended a pitch session organized by the Hehe Fellows who were presenting a digital class web platform for the code girls, a project earlier assigned to them. It was truly rewarding seeing the young talent in Rwanda focused on innovation and all participants  saw a rich opportunity to  connect this Innovation Hub with the UR.

The Team then visited the Center for Entreprenuership under the College of Business at UR and engaged students, enlightened them about existing student engagemnet opportunities highlighting the RIC4CONF grants call and how they can apply.

During this richly engaging event, the RAN Team also  visited Jonathan Stever, Founder of the The Office and Co-Founder of Impact Hub Kigali both community co-working spaces that convene expatriates, investors, project/industry specialists like Ejo Partners, innovators and both local and international multidisciplinary events. The Office has supported budding entrepreneurs. In addition to a conducive co-working space with a diverse network of personalities and organizations to tap-into, the office could offer support in the following ways;

  • Access to startup investors
  • Joint training in Human Centered Design
  • Joint fundraising for innovation projects at both university and student level
  • Providing incubation for the student innovators from the university
  • Supporting the university innovation department and its innovators in marketing and creating visual identity mileage amongst the wide network of the two (2) hubs.
  • Collaboration in organizing events either at the university or the hub.

The Innovation Coordinator at College of Medicine and Health Sciences Mr. Theogene NYANDWI, leading the university representatives asserted that indeed as a University, they have been challenged on how to move forward,  jointly organize such events, and who to target and attract as external partners. He confirmed that the University of Rwanda would originate a binding document with proposed areas of collaboration.

The 3 day Boot Camp was concluded with a courtesy visit to the UR – Director of Research, Innovation and Post Graduate Studies; Prof. Kato NJUNWA who pledged support to the team in pushing the innovation agenda and a final debrief on the next steps to have some immediate tasks outlined and clearly cut out to sustain what had been started. All these efforts are geared towards creating impact in Rwanda and beyond.