The evening of Friday, February 28th, 2020 saw the RAN team partner with Makerere Engineering Society (MES) to hold our 4th Innovation Fireplace at Makerere University College of Engineering Design Art and Technology (CEDAT) Conference Hall. The first of its kind at Makerere University-Main Campus. It is exciting to note that this engagement brought together 150 participants including students from all academic years of study, faculty, non-academic University staff, and even non-University based citizens. 

4th Innovation Fireplace participants

The RAN Innovation Fireplace sessions provide an opportunity for participants to interface and physically engage with notable entrepreneurs, experienced doers, and movers, high-level speakers, managers of top brands among others. These Fireplace sessions are designed to inspire, educate and update participants on the latest desired project operations, community needs and business trends to mention but a few. Through sessions like these, we provide a space for entrepreneurs, innovators, academics, students, faculty, technology enthusiasts, and business owners, representatives from the public and private sector to connect, collaborate, think creatively and discuss pertinent issues that affect their education path, growth and success of their projects/businesses/ventures. We aim at enhancing learning, networking and inspiration of all participants by a cozy warm traditional yet still relevant and applicable fireplace.

The theme of our RAN 4th Innovation Fireplace was ‘Integrating User Centeredness in Students’ Projects’. This theme speaks directly to the need for us to train and graduate more job creators than job seekers. In a world where unemployment is prevalent and job security is not guaranteed, it is important that we impart entrepreneurial principles, skills and this mindset in young people from an early age and at an early stage of their careers, so that we nurture and roll out job creators rather than job seekers. Tertiary level students are often tasked to submit a student project as part of their coursework and as a prerequisite to graduate. The time at which these students are working on their student projects is also an opportune time to prepare them for a career, as they apply the theories they have learnt to the real world. In the real world, user/consumer behavior can dictate the success or failure of a project, business or intervention. 

Dr. Dorothy Okello, Dean, Makerere University School of Engineering and Innovations Director at RAN addressing participants

The objective of the RAN 4th Innovation Fireplace discussion was to help students think about their final projects as more than just a ‘piece of coursework to help them graduate’ and that will later be shelved away and to open their eyes to the possibility of turning these projects into products, successful interventions, and possibly viable businesses. To do so, these students need to embrace, understand and integrate the human element into their project design from the inception phase. They need to know who the user is, what their needs are, what their habits demonstrate and how this has affected their adoption of similar/alternative solutions (if any). 

During our 4th Innovation Fireplace, we hosted three expert panelists who spoke to our theme. Our Panelists included the following; 

Ms. Grace Nakibaala- a former architectural student whose first business (Pedal Tap) actually spans out of her student project. Grace is an architect and innovator with a passion for Architectural and Cultural Suitability and Infection Prevention and Control in both community and occupational health.
Ms. Grace Nakibaala is a Graduate Architect, and Innovation Fellow at Makerere University, School of Public Health, ResilientAfrica Network (RAN) – She is the founder of “PedalTap” an innovation that is modifying the existing water tap systems to create a no-touch cost-effective solution for the developing country by ensuring “hands-free dispensing” incubated at the RAN Lab- With PedalTap Grace is the winner of the 1st Africa Innovation Challenge by Johnson & Johnson, Big IDEAS competition at UC Berkeley, USAID TechCoN2016, among others. PedalTap was launched on the market in partnership with Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) on March 14th, 2018 and is currently being modified for better functionality.   

Mr. Abid Weere Businge- who has mentored and coached several successful businesses and who is well versed with what it means to ‘consider the user’ first. Mr. Abid Weere Businge is an entrepreneurship and linkage expert who passionately believes in equipping the youth with the skills to lead. He loves food. He is currently the Social Venture Developer for United Social Ventures where he works with youth to develop socially impactful sustainable ventures. He is also the Africa Coordinator for the EU-funded ACTEA project that is assisting universities in Ethiopia, Uganda, and Tanzania to restructure their curricula by developing linkages with local industry and overseas experts in Europe. Abid has considerable experience in strategic planning, program management, developing and managing strategic partnerships. 

He has a PGD in Applied Computer Science from HOWEST Belgium and a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Makerere University Kampala Uganda. Abid has worked in the business development sector and the field of academia for 10 years and has held various positions in strategy, management, teaching and operations in different organizations in the Sub-saharan Region. His expertise spans youth entrepreneurship development, financial literacy, ICT management, and project management and partnership linkages. Abid is passionate about empowering youth and organizations to work together to develop economic linkages. 

He has worked with African Development Bank Kampala, Mountains of the Moon University, Enterprise Uganda, Fontes Foundation and HOWEST Belgium. He is also the co-founder of Innovent Consult, a company that develops physical card games to teach financial literacy. 

Dr. Annabella Habinka Basaza- who shared her experience as the chairperson of NIISP initiative which through funding from the Ministry of ICT has supported several start-ups by young people. Dr. Annabella Habinka Basaza-Ejiri is a distinguished researcher and Lecturer in Information Systems and Technology. Chairperson to the National Innovations Initiative Selection Program (NIISP) at the Ministry of Information Communication Technology and National Guidance (MoICT). A board member of the National Information and Technology Authority (NITA). She is the deputy chairperson on the National Research and Innovations Program (NRIP) at the Ministry of Science Technology and Innovations (MoSTI). She holds a Ph.D. (University of Groningen), in the Netherlands, an MPhil (ST&I) Stellenbosch University – SA, MSc. IS (Makerere University) and a BSC. Computer Science (MUST).  Her research areas include ICT for development, E-governance, Science Technology and Innovations (STI) expertise, research uptake, evidence-based policy, and Quality Assurance in both the public and private sectors.  

The Innovation Fireplace participants learned and shared so much just to highlight a few below;

  • ‘This was a rich earning opportunity, now we know that we need to think creatively in order to propose potential solutions to address the challenges we face like students’.
  • ‘I did not know that once I share my idea with for example the team at RAN Lab, they will not steal and run away with my innovative idea but rather they will share additional feedback with me and my team in order for us to improve our idea’ Thank you for bringing this knowledge to us’
  • ‘It is important for us to know that the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) is readily available to guide us as budding creative thinkers about the registration of our creative ideas. We have been fearing to even share with a neighbor in class or roommate about our idea, now we know that our ideas can be protected in one way or another, we will reach out to the staff at URSB’. 
  • ‘It was motivating hearing from a former Makerere University student, Grace Nakibaala that her end of course project materialized into an Innovation currently impacting different communities. I wish the Pedal Tap team all the best’.
  • ‘I also learnt that it is helpful to create multidisciplinary teams if I am to succeed in developing my Innovative idea. Imagine, as an Engineer, on the team I might need a Social Scientist, an Architect, Public Health Specialist, and an Educationist. This is what I am going to start with after this Fireplace session’.
  • ‘I also learned that it is better to start small then grow big. Do not aim to start big then remain there/big, rather start small with a few aspects of the idea if possible then incorporate more as the journey unfolds’.
  • ‘It is important to have a unique element in the idea I propose, so because my team and I have an idea already, let us start to think harder and identify that unique element in this idea so that that is what our value will be’.
  • ‘That before I invest in my own idea, no one might invest in it. Therefore, the saving culture needs to be upheld (I need to deliberately save) if I am to invest in my own potentially innovative idea’.
  • ‘No one knows your proposed creative idea or solution better than myself, I will therefore always passionately speak about my idea because I actually know best what it is than anyone else’.  
  • ‘We can make Uganda a better place together. There is so much talent in Uganda, let us work together to explore it for the benefit of the communities we live in and serve’. 

Our discussion was also shared live on Twitter @AfricaResilient #RANInnovationFireplace

Look out for details about the RAN 5th Innovation Fireplace on the RAN Website and Social Media platforms, the theme is ‘Engendering Innovation’.