ResilientAfrica Network (RAN), through the Eastern Africa Resilience Innovation Lab (EA RILab) in partnership with Muhimbili University of Health & Allied Sciences (MUHAS), a Network Plus Partner University in Tanzania facilitated an energizing 3 day Innovation Boot Camp from 27th – 29th July 2016.
The event which drew together 105 multidisciplinary faculty, students and speakers from the private sector 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, development of innovative solutions and effectively diffusing them into the community. The Boot camp kicked off with a courtesy call to the University’s Associate Dean School of Public Health and Social Sciences Dr. Rose N.M. Mpembeni.
After this brief meeting with management, Dr. Mpembeni officially opened the Boot Camp and thanked participants for attending in big numbers depicting the desire for innovation. She commended the efforts by the RAN focal person Dr. Ezra Mrema who has been at the fore front in steering RAN’s activities within the University and thanked the RAN team that had travelled from Kampala (Makerere University) to Dar es Salaam – Muhimbili University to engage with the faculty and students. She applauded RAN’s initiative to physically engage in a meaningful and productive way by transferring innovation knowledge and skills to other beneficiaries. This she said resonates well with the University’s main agenda of Research, Teaching and Community service which can be achieved through innovation. She reiterated the fact that African challenges need to be solved by the people of the African continent since they know the local context better. The Dean encouraged all the staff and students in attendance to hone their innovation skills and maximize this learning opportunity so as to contribute to solving the ever looming community challenges. The University would like to actively participate in grant opportunities like the Grand Challenges Canada and this knowledge would help them to submit competitive proposals. Dr Mrema in his remarks mentioned that the partnership with Muhimbili University was initiated in August 2015 and would be marking one year in a few weeks’ time. He added that there were already many achievements to celebrate like the 4 Teams that had been selected in the competitive Youth Spark Innovation Grants (YSiG).
Panel Discussion with Experts from the Industry
The event included a panel discussion featuring experts from the private sector in Tanzania who are engaged in disruptive innovation. Panelists included;
- Mr. Ahad Katera an entrepreneur and co-founder at Guavay – an urban waste and creative recycling company in Dar es Salaam.
- Ms. David Aneth a scientist at University of Dar es Salaam, a PhD candidate at SLU (Swedish University of Agriculture), entrepreneur at Apitech Tanzania and ambassador of “Next Einstein Forum (NEF)” Science for Tanzania.
- Mr. Japhet Sekenya the CEO of BioFood Tech Enterprises with a background in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, a certificate in social entrepreneurship from the University of Cambridge
The speakers inspired participants by sharing from personal experiences on strategic business development including business modeling, commercialization, partnerships development, resource mobilization, innovation funding and detailed the process of how to transform ideas into tangible products on the market. They emphasized the virtue of passion in innovation and entrepreneurship, the power of partnerships. They noted that time management is critical in order for one to pursue big dreams. The event also provided an opportunity to explore ways in which universities can drive innovation for use in communities; Universities need to re-visit their curricula to incorporate modules on entrepreneurship and innovation, create a supportive structure with regular events like exhibitions, innovation and business plan competitions, and to connect to partners like Government, the Private sector and other Development actors.
Day one largely focused on articulating RAN and its approach to solving community challenges, the relationship with Muhimbili University and how the collaboration can be maximized while taking stock of RAN’s accomplishments so far. In the afternoon, we kicked off with the Human Centered Design training where participants 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. It was an exciting, highly interactive hands-on experience during which participants worked in teams to brainstorm, identify, develop, prototype and pitch meaningful innovations. They were fascinated to use locally available and low cost materials to visualize and bring an idea to life while getting end-user feedback.
Visit to Innovation Hubs and key Stakeholders in the Innovation Ecosystem in Tanzania
After an intense successful 2 days of the Bootcamp, the RAN Team held a debrief meeting on day 3 with University management, different heads of departments including; Department of Traditional Medicine, Development Studies, Epidemiology and discussed the next steps to have some immediate tasks clearly outlined to sustain what had been started. One of the key recommendations was to implement an Innovations conference piggy-backing on the University’s annual conference. It is time to take universities from the Ivory towers to Communities! Dr. Moshio re-affirmed that “President Magufuli has asked Tanzania nationals to strengthen their work with vulnerable communities instead of going abroad”. The president will be very pleased with RAN’s efforts if we keep the energy of innovation within and outside the University. The Faculty and students pledged their full commitment to push the Innovation agenda.
The RAN team together with the focal person (Dr. Mrema) and student Ambassadors then set out to visit some of the innovation hubs in the region with a goal to build collaborative partnerships, identify synergies and resources that are critical in growing innovation capacities at the University. The Team visited Buni Innovation Hub – a technology hub which fosters innovation and technology entrepreneurship through capacity building, mentoring programs and community empowerment. Founded in 2011, Buni Innovation Hub’s focus is to discover, nurture and mentor youths with innovative technological solutions to problems facing Tanzania. The manager of BUNI hub promised to support the student community at Muhimbili University if they became vigilant, organized themselves and approached the hub. As next steps, RAN will support the University to initiate a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with proposed roles and duties each partner is going to fulfill during the collaboration period especially to continue conducting Human Centered Design among other related workshops and activities.
We then had a meeting with the Program Coordinator of COSTECH– a prime driver of science, technology and innovation in Tanzania that supports budding entrepreneurs and start-ups. COSTECH is a parastatal with the responsibility of coordinating and promoting research and technology development activities in the country. The coordinator led the team through a tour of COSTECH working space where all interacted with founders of start-up companies working on transformative projects like the Time Ticketing, Counterfeit detection App, start-up building Security Systems among others. It was exciting to see that innovators are offered space to concentrate on their innovations for up to 1 year, a culture that ought to be emulated in countries if we want to witness innovations solve community challenges. COSTECH among other opportunities gives students and young innovators scholarships, access to funds through competitions and challenges, space to incubate their ideas, mentorship and technical support.
This was an opportunity to witness and appreciate so much enthusiasm and creativity, the Bootcamp was an overwhelmingly well attended workshop with participants from diverse University programs including;Medicine, Pharmacy, Nursing, Public Health, Environmental Health, Development studies, Laboratory Allied Sciences to mention but a few. “Expectations of participants who included faculty and students were far exceeded”; remarked Dr. Ezra Mrema. There was a lot that went into the event to make it a seamless experience for all attendees. All these efforts are geared towards creating a vibrant innovation ecosystem at Muhimbili University and beyond. The interaction with key players opened new opportunities for innovators at the University and the RAN lab.
Objectives of the Boot camp
- Engaging Faculty and Students by introducing them to the Human Centered Design (HCD) approach, to create a vibrant Innovation ecosystem in the University that supports innovative solutions from staff and students.
- To support the Youth Spark Innovation Grant (YSiG) beneficiaries with development of their Monitoring and Evaluation Plans, Theories of Change, to forecast their project outcomes and intended impact.
- Initiating and formalizing possible partnerships with existing Innovation hubs in Tanzania that can help to mentor and support student and faculty teams with innovative ideas and to create a bridge between the University, government and private sector.