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. This event was the first of its kind to be held at the Makerere University-Main Campus. It was exciting to note that the engagement brought together 150 participants among whom were students from all academic years of study, faculty, colleges, non-academic University staff, and even non-University based citizens.

4th Innovation Fireplace participants

The RAN Innovation Fireplace sessions seek to provide an opportunity for participants to interface and physically engage with notable entrepreneurs, experienced movers, and shakers, high-level speakers and managers of top brands, among others. The 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 and impact the trajectory of their education and the success of their projects and future business ventures. The sessions use the analogy of a cozy, warm fireplace as a place of gathering, inspiration and imparting of relevant wisdom. 

In a world where unemployment is on the rise and job security is not guaranteed, it is important that we impart our young people with an entrepreneurial mindset and the skills that accompany it from an early age and at an early stage of their careers. The theme of our RAN 4th Innovation Fireplace- ‘Integrating User Centeredness in Students’ Projects’, sought to do this by inspiring a nation of more job and wealth creators.  Tertiary level students are often tasked to submit a student project as part of their coursework and as a prerequisite to graduate. These projects present an opportune time to prepare students for a career, as they apply the theories they have learned to the real world. In the real world, user/consumer behaviors can and often do 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

Participants were encouraged and challenged to think about their final projects as more than just a ‘piece of coursework to help them graduate’ and that would later be shelved away and rather reflect instead on how to turn these projects into products, successful interventions, and possibly viable businesses. To do so, these students would need to embrace, understand and integrate the human element into their project design from the inception phase. ‘You need to know who the user is, what their needs are, what their habits demonstrate,’ one of the speakers highlighted and ‘how this can affect their adoption of similar/alternative solutions (if any)’. 

Three expert panelists spoke to the theme. They included; 

Ms. Grace Nakibaala- a Graduate Architect, and Innovation Fellow at Makerere University, School of Public Health, ResilientAfrica Network (RAN). Her first business- Pedal Tap, actually span out of a student project she worked on while she at Makerere. Grace has a passion for Architectural and Cultural Suitability and Infection Prevention and Control in both community and occupational health.
Her flagship innovation “PedalTap” was incubated at the RAN Lab and is modifying existing water tap systems to create cost-effective, hands-free water dispensing units for the developing world. The innovation has earned her several accolades. She was the winner of the 1st Africa Innovation Challenge by Johnson & Johnson, as well as the Big IDEAS competition at UC Berkeley and USAID TechCoN2016, among others. It was also 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, an entrepreneurship and linkages expert, has mentored and coached several successful businesses and is well versed with what it means to ‘consider the user’ first.  He is passionate about equipping the youth with the skills to lead. 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. 

Dr. Annabella Habinka Basaza- who shared her experience as the chairperson of the National ICT Initiatives Support Program (NIISP), which through funding from the Ministry of ICT has supported several start-ups by young people. She is a distinguished researcher and Lecturer in Information Systems and Technology and leads on several boards including the National Information and Technology Authority (NITA), the National Research and Innovations Program (NRIP) at the Ministry of Science Technology and Innovations (MoSTI). 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 public and private sectors.  

The panel was moderated by the famous Walter Mwesigye, an anchor on NTV and advocate for innovations, particularly in the health sector. During the Fireplace, participants learned and shared so much. A few key lessons shared were: 

  • To be ‘relentless’ in working towards achieving the goal at hand
  • For an idea to work it must be ‘solving someone’s problem;- people will only buy your product if it adds value to them
  • Having a business that makes money takes time. It is important to have a vision for your business, the right structures and systems to be able to receive money in grants. It is equally important to channel some of the money made back into the business
  • Dr. Anabella spoke in great depth about how to approach the government and the support offered by the government for budding entrepreneurs
  • A lot was also shared on the process of registration and on seeking a patent or copyright for an idea.

A few students shared their thought on the session:

‘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’.

‘It was inspiring 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 learned 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’.

My key takeaway was in learning that I have to invest in my own idea before others can 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’.

Our discussion was also shared live on Twitter @AfricaResilient #RANInnovationFireplace. On the whole, we had some very insightful deliberations. We urge you to keep on the lookout for RAN’s 5th Innovation Fireplace details, the theme is ‘Engendering Innovation’.