Engaging with our Grantees and Supporting Techies and Entrepreneurs in Uganda

Whilst in Uganda, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit some of our grantees and see some of the exciting work which they are involved in first hand and to make connections with organisations, some of which we hope we will establish fruitful collaborations with in the future.[slideshow]

I really enjoyed spending time with Barbara Birungi at Hive Colab, who we awarded our first grant to in February last year.  They hope to be a self-sustaining social enterprise.  Off the back of this visit, we have awarded them with a second grant in order to help them establish a larger space, better equipment and furniture and become a separate legal entity (it currently operates under Appfrica Labs).  The innovation space is still in its infancy and was having to overcome significant challenges including power cuts and a disrupted internet connection before moving to the new space.

Current activities include providing an open space for anyone using ICTs, hosting Mobile Monday (monthly) where app developers showcase products and get exposure to businesses and other events, creating links with Makerere to encourage students to join the Hive, identifying contracts for developers based at the Hive and running WITU (Women in Technology Uganda) which aims to encourage women to join the tech sector.

There are a variety of Apps being developed at the Hive including an app which enables reporting on water and sanitation issues, a food management system which provides nutritional advice to people with health needs e.g. high blood pressure, diabetes and HIV/AIDS, an mhealth project which aligns with Ministry of Health objectives to decrease maternal and infant mortality, a website tracking government spending (including local government) and a restaurant and club review website.

The Hive Colab team are most excited about having successfully developed Apps for Apps4Africa, supporting the Grameen Foundation’s Question Box project which provides agricultural and health advice to citizens in rural areas around Kabale and Mbale and for supporting two entrepreneurs which have started their own companies and two who are now employed by UNICEF.  I look forward to seeing how the Hive develops as we support their expansion.  We are also providing them with business support through Enterprise Uganda, which we hope will support them through this process.

I was delighted to be in Uganda at the right time for an Africa Gathering event to take place at Hive Colab.  They had an excellent turnout of around 70 people and boasted a combination of participatory discussions and presentations.  It was fantastic to see such a highly enthusiastic tech community, with a thirst for change as well as the majority of speakers being female, a real rarity in the tech sector.

Speakers included John Baguma from Africa Rural Connect who described a platform which is promoting entrepreneurship in Africa and Evelyn Namara from Solar Sisters, an inspirational speaker who is a famous Social Media user in Uganda.  Her organisation is exploring ways in which women can act as entrepreneurs (Avon style) to sell micro solar which are clean, affordable and environmentally friendly.  Maureen Agenda from Text2Change spoke about their use of mobile technologies for marketing and for projects involving social change in the fields of health, education, economic development and accountability whilst Darlyne Komukama, who runs Shakai Media, focused on harnessing the power of the internet for marketing and real time monitoring and explored how blogging can be a powerful tool in stimulating social change.

Joseph Malinga, a media and communications specialist at Panos (a media development group) described the Guardian’s Katine project and the way that it has encouraged people to engage in dialogue around development issues and has empowered school children to start discussing local challenges such as water supply.  It has also given students, farmers and other community members a chance to interact with a UK audience.  Rosebell Kagumire is a multimedia journalist who has worked on Channel 16 and Oxfam projects.  She is trying to raise awareness of the food crisis problems to avert future crises.  She works with many local bloggers who she encourages to talk about what is happening on the ground e.g. Global Voices, Naked Chiefs, Andrew M Mwenda, UgInsomniac.  She is also trying to explore ways in which information can be shared with rural communities and how they can best be supported as she believes too much focus is on cities where the minority live.

There were also breakout sessions exploring the successes and challenges of entrepreneurs in Uganda.  Challenges included a closed government, a complicated bureaucracy, a fear to share information/lack of trust/lack of collaboration, an unjustified lack of trust in local projects and products, bandwidth and power, a lack of business support, lack of funding, few having the finances to start up and a general lack of capacity in tech and business skills.

During my visit, I was also able to visit the Mara Launchpad, a new business incubator (a partnership between Mara Foundation and Angels Finance Corporation) in Kampala.  Currently they are incubating one ICT company and a couple which use ICT services (a Boda Boda dispatch service and market research company).  It would be fantastic to see some of Hive Colab’s members supported by them in the future.

The wonderful Violet Businge of GROW Movement also spoke to me about their provision of voluntary business consultancy services to micro, small and medium enterprises.  They have volunteers from 36 countries (50% from the UK and USA) who are business experts/consultants/professionals and they match start-ups or small enterprises to appropriate people.  Any business (or charity) can apply if they speak English, French or Arabic as long as they show commitment to the process.  They are supporting some ICT projects including computer training businesses, a website design company and internet cafes.  They are also supporting a project which uses mobile phones to provide agricultural extension services and access to loans and climate information.

They can provide services in project planning, marketing, financial modelling/management, systems, business plans and legal advice.  They work closely with Enterprise Uganda which provides a free 5 day training for early stage start-ups with good ideas including access to capital and marketing.  Organisations will be allocated a consultant after completing training.

I was also able to meet with the Not In My Country team, who have developed a platform which enables students to rate their professors and ranks Universities and University Departments accordingly.  Students are also able to report corruption taking place within their University via their website or an Android application.  The team hopes to replicate this site in other countries and you can read about the launch of this fantastic site here.

All in all, it’s exciting times for Uganda in both the commercial and tech for social change sector.  The entrepreneurial spirit is strong and as the ecosystem blossoms and begins to support promising ideas, I look forward to seeing locally driven solutions springing up to address some of the most pertinent challenges.