The afternoon of Thursday June 4 and morning of Friday June 5, 2015 brought together over 200 participants to the Makerere University ResilientAfrica Network (RAN) Innovation Lab in an effort to encourage more female participation in Science and Technology directed towards development. The Uganda Technovation Challenge was sponsored by Makerere University School of Public Health ResilientAfrica Network (RAN), WeTech and MTN Uganda. Ms. Susan Ajok, Executive Director at the Straight Talk Foundation Uganda graced the event as Chief Guest. As she motivated both the females and male participants she emphasized the need for each one to discover and believe in him or herself saying “The journey to success is not a straight forward one and once you fail, the most important is what lesson you have learnt moving forward”. She urged all to remain persistent, never to underestimate the potential one has, have a positive attitude, and grab all opportunities beyond the world of science and technology among others. “We should all have big dreams directed towards transforming the communities and keep our eyes, hands and minds on those dreams to achieve development” she added.
The Technovation Challenge is a technology entrepreneurship program and competition for young women. This program teaches these young women to build mobile applications to solve community challenges where they live. Professional women mentor teams of 3 to 5 girls aged 18 and below and together they go through the online curriculum over a period of three months. The program, which has no direct costs to the participants, equips the girls with technical and entrepreneurial skills, with a goal of creating a mobile phone application that they can take to market. The teams first pitch their application to a panel of regional judges and winners of regional challenges are invited to the World Pitch Night in Silicon Valley. The winning team receives $10,000 USD to productize their application. The Global Theme for 2015 focuses on developing an application to solve a real problem in one’s community.The Global challenge selects eight teams from who win a trip to San Francisco to join in the Global Stage competitions. As a result of this, the girls who participate in this challenge locally have a minimal chance of getting to physically attend the final challenge.
Makerere University School of Public Health ResilientAfrica Network (RAN) www.ranlab.org in collaboration with the College of Design Art and Technology, Makerere University ran the National Technovation Challenge in Uganda with young women in High School and University participating. These ladies joined the challenge by academic institution. The competition attracted girls from all regions, East, West and North of Uganda. They submitted the same deliverables as required by the Global challenge and eventually pitched for the Regional Challenge on June 5, 2015 at the RAN Office premises on Plot 30 Upper Kololo Terrace, Kampala Uganda. This year’s National Theme “Local Solutions for Community Development” is specifically crafted to involve and appreciate the multi-disciplinarity of the various participants in regards to tackling community challenges. “Each one of us adds value to the solution, let us be open to working together for the benefit of the communities in need” Prof. William Bazeyo, Dean Makerere University School of Public Health and RAN Chief of Party/Lab Director. The RAN team recognizes that communities challenges cannot be solved by technology alone and hence collaborate with scholars and innovators from other fields and disciplines of specialization. He added, “We the Africans are the best developers of the innovative solutions to address African communities’ most pressing challenges/disasters because we know better and live with these challenges. The spice that the females come with and add to the innovation process cannot go without mention”.
To further build capacity of not only the female innovators but also all the Uganda Technovation Challenge participants, the following sub topics were discussed;
- Building a team to spur Innovations; This revolved around the invaluable facts about teamwork in realizing ideas hatch into feasible community solutions. The relevancy of multidisciplinary was stressed and how both indigenous and the “exotic” expertise or knowledge collectively enhance the success of innovations.
- Innovating with communities; A Needfinding Approach case study: Throughout the evolution of an innovation the target/end user should be involved. Innovating with the communities, an aspect strongly promoted by Makerere University School of Public Health ResilientAfrica Network (RAN), develops empathy on the innovators end in trying to understand both the intrinsic and extrinsic factors that accrue to the target community perceptions and behavior. The RAN Community Liaison Officer took participants through the features of how important the end-user is in developing potential solutions to address community challenges. The core approach adopted by RAN, Needfinding was case studied to enlighten the same.
- Story-telling and Pitching Approaches; Presentation as a form of induction and luring of target audiences cannot be further emphasized. The discussion dug into how best innovators can appreciatively present their ideas to particular audiences. The value of sharing experiences in particular innovation domains was also discussed.
- Gender Diversity in Innovations; Its neither about ladies nor gentlemen. We all can be a part of community changing interventions. But, where do we fall short with one gender? Why is it that some are for some? Could it be attitude, perception or nature? These and many more were tackled arguably from a gender diversity dimension.
- Innovators’ Journeys: Peers, experts and potential innovators shared about the key points in the evolution of an innovation. Issues like; “at the point where you feel like giving up”, “what if it doesn’t work first time”, “what did you do to get there”, and many more were also discussed.
From the above discussions, some of the issues highlighted included the following;
- Need to jointly support the implementation of innovative solutions in the communities
- How the different girl groups are innovating or doing whatever they are doing best? What leaves can the rest borrow to push forth innovation at all levels?
- What are the best practices in terms of evaluation and team management?
- What are the success rates? And
- What inspires these ladies to engage in what they are doing?
Panel Discussion: Innovators’ Journeys and experience with the communities
This panel discussion was inspired by three innovators who shared their journeys of innovation. These included; Agricultural Markets_Agro Market Day concept that aims at directly linking the farmers to the markets, breaking the monotony of the middle men, Health_Access Mobile and the importance of networks in the innovation pipeline. The three shared what inspired the innovation, the impact they have had on society, how they overcame the challenges, how they have managed their teams and partners and what the public should expect in the next year.
Key Participants/ Girl Groups at the Uganda Technovation Challenge included the following;
- Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET)
- Women Passion Program (WOPA)
- Django Girls
- AfriGal tech
- Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM)
- Kahill Insights
Teams from participating secondary schools and Universities pitched their ideas to the audience and a panel of judges including Ms. Diana Ntamu, Head, Entrepreneurship Center at Makerere University Business School, Ms. Charity Nuwagaba, a Behavioral Scientist with specialization in Leadership, Management and Monitoring and Evaluation and Mr. Solomon Opio, Program Manager at the Outbox Tech. Hub.
Participating institutions were later recognized in order of first to fourth position as;
High School Track
1. Gayaza High School – Farm Corp application
2. Mary Hill Senior Secondary School – Electronic Identity Card application
3. Makerere Modern Senior Secondary School – T2V Edu-Share (Town to Village Education Share) application
4. Gayaza High School – Donors Ville application
1. Makerere University – Vaginosis application (BVKit)
2. Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) – Clean Disposal application
3. Makerere University – Fruits and Beverages Sure-Hawker application
4. Busitema University – Fistula Awareness application
It was exciting to note that the Gayaza High School Team had won both at the Global and National levels. Details about the Technovation Challenge and these projects can be accessed at Uganda Technovation Report
Six additional schools including Lira Town Council, Ikwera Girls School, Wanyange Girls School, Bishop Kivengere Girls school, Kitante Hill School and Luzira Senior Secondary School participated as observers with the hope to actively participate in the 2016 Technovation Challenge. These also shared lessons learnt from across the board with an effort to inform the innovation pipeline. Technovation is an annual challenge and this is the second running since inception. The two pioneer winners from WeTech were also recognized.
The judges provided further mentorship and guidance to the female innovators highlighting need to focus on the value-add to the end users, problem being solved, cost implications, sustainability of the project/idea and who the customer segments are among others.
Prof. George Mondo Kagonyera, Chancellor Makerere University while addressing participants noted the need for all of us to embrace science and technology if we are to transform the communities. He added, “Work as hard as you possibly can…short cuts in life can be disastrous”. As an academician and politician, Prof. Kagonyera also shared his inspiring life story with the participants as a way to further motivate all into hard work and commitment to whatever they choose to do.
He was flanked by Prof. William Bazeyo, Dean Makerere University School of Public Health and RAN Chief of Party/Lab Director who expressed his joy in seeing more females than male gathered in a room to discuss how science and technology can be co-opted for the benefit of the vulnerable communities. “This is what we all want to see often, the young female generation embracing innovation at the lower education levels. This will aid continuity and sustainability of what we have put in place in the same regard” Prof. Bazeyo noted. He encouraged participants to always aim at doing things differently in order to add value to all we do but also work in multi-disciplinary teams.