And the winners are…

Henri Nyakarundi and Elizabeth Kperrun are the winners of the first edition of the “ICT for Social Good”, financed by Innovazione per lo Sviluppo Program and Fondazione Mission Bambini Onlus. They will be officially awarded during the Open Days of Innovation, scheduled in Milan, on November 6th and 7th.

By Viviana Brun

 

The first edition of the “ICT for Social Good” Grant started in March 2017, when Ong2.0 opened a call to invite social innovators to apply for a prize of 12.000 euros – offered by Fondazione Cariplo and Compagnia di San Paolo within the Programme “Innovazione per lo sviluppo” – to sustain and support innovative ideas created with a bottom-up approach in low-income countries. Fondazione Mission Bambini added a special grant named “ICT 4 Children” equals to 10.000€, to the project focused on children more aligned with the Foundation’s mission. The aim of both Grants was to sustain, as much as possible, local entrepreneurs but also to inform the development sector – too often still based on traditional intervention models – about local innovations. In the Global South, many amazing projects, realities and innovative ideas are created daily with a bottom-up approach. Unfortunately, often these ideas are not fully recognised and they face difficulties in being involved in international development projects. However, they represent a good starting point to build a new approach to the international cooperation and local development.

In two months, 233 applications were received from 57 countries in the world. The Scientific Committee of the Grant – composed of representatives from SocialFareFundacion Paraguaya, MoxoffE4impact and Nesta – worked hard to evaluate the projects, paying close attention to innovation, both from the point of view of technology and of the methodologies and approaches that have been adopted. The main focus was on the positive impact the projects could generate at the local level.

Henri Nyakarundi wins the main Prize with Ared, his Rwandan social enterprise, followed by Elizabeth Kperrun, who wins the “ICT for Children” Prize with her Nigerian startup, Lizzie’s Creations.

Let’s take a closer look at the two winners.

 

Henri Nyakarundi and his mobile solar kiosk

Henri Nyakarundi - Shiriki Hub

The Rwandan social entrepreneur, Henri Nyakarundi is the founder of Ared -African Renewable Energy Distributor- a hardware, technology and service company who developed Shiriki Hub, a mobile solar kiosk, which offers customers a convenient low-cost solution to charge their phones, to browse the web and to have free offline access to digital content such as news and information on health and education. The Scientific Committee of the Grant evaluated Nyakarundi’s project as the best one among the 233 applications received.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Kperrun and her mobile apps for children

Elizabeth-KperrunElizabeth Kperrun is the co-founder of Lizzie’s Creations, an initiative that aims to revive the African traditional culture and storytelling through digital tools. She creates fun educational mobile apps that teach kids using Africa’s native languages. Elizabeth startup has been evaluated as the second best project among all the applications received and the best proposal for childhood, so she wins the category dedicated to the use of ICT for children.

 

 

The winners will be officially awarded during the Open Days of Innovation, scheduled in Milan, on November 6th and 7th 2017.

 

 

Shiriki Hub: smart solar kiosk, powering and connecting Africa

Henri Nyakarundi is the winner of the first edition of “ICT for Social Good” Grant, organised by Ong2.0 within the Innovation for Development Programme.

He developed and commercialised a mobile solar kiosk, which offers customers a convenient low-cost solution to charge their phones, to browse the web and to have free offline access to digital content on board, such as music, news and information on health and education. It works on a franchise model, giving people the opportunity to run their income-generating micro business.

By Viviana Brun

 

Everything started with electricity supply

Growing economies need accessible electricity in order to improve life quality, to connect with people and to develop new kind of business and activities. This is not always easy. Even in Rwanda -where solar and other renewable energy sources play a big role in government’s policy to connect 45 percent of the population by June 2018- in some areas people are still cut off, with no facilities. They rely on mobile phones in order to connect to the outside world, but charging devices can be a struggle. In areas with limited access to electricity, people have to make the journey into the nearest town for a single mobile charge.

This lack of available and stable power is a big problem, but it could also represent an opportunity for business and social development. This was exactly the vision of Henri Nyakarundi, who tried to transform this challenge into a good idea. In 2013, he founded Ared -African Renewable Energy Distributor- a hardware, technology and service company who developed a “business in a box” solar kiosk to empower communities using a micro-franchise business model.

This solar kiosk, called Shiriki Hub (the Swahili word for “sharing” Hub) is a kind of shop on wheels, where people could recharge their phone or other small electronic devices, paying a small fee. It can charge over 30 mobile phones at once and it could be locked to offer better security while charging. The kiosk can also be towed using a bicycle or a motorbike and the lithium battery bank allows the operator to work even at night or during rainy or cloudy days.

 

Beyond charging station

The second version of Shiriki Hub came after the first prototype. Two are the greatest novelties. The new solar kiosk incorporates connectivity solutions such as the Internet and the intranet access via wifi and a backend software system to better monitor performances and sales.

Since the first kiosk was operational, customers were constantly requesting access to the Internet or to digital content. In fact, the available Internet services were quite expensive for the majority of the people. That’s why Nyakarundi decided to develop a low-cost Internet access and to broadcast education content, health information, videos and music in the local language for free, thanks to an offline mobile application. That’s a good and simple way to give everybody the opportunity to be part of the digital revolution. And for those who do not have a smartphone, he added a speaker system that will allow operators to distribute audio content.

The other novelty introduced at this stage is a software system that allows monitoring almost everything that is happening on the kiosk, from the sales to the location and much more. So, Ared can potentially manage and monitor thousands of kiosks with just a handful of people. This is a great advantage for scaling Shriki hub business and approaching other countries.

 

A win-win sustainable business model

Unemployment is a general problem in Africa. According to the recent “World Employment Social Outlook – Trends 2017” published by the International Labour Organization, “the unemployment rate for the African continent as a whole is likely to remain unchanged from its 2016 rate of 8.0 percent going into 2017, which, when applied to a rapidly growing labour force, corresponds to an increase in total unemployment of 1.2 million”. Entrepreneurship has often been viewed as a good way to solve this issue. However, entrepreneurship requires knowledge, access to capital, training and support.

In order to address the unemployment problem in the region, Nyakarundi had the idea of creating a network of micro-entrepreneurs thanks to a low-cost franchise business. In short, he offers franchising opportunities to people that demonstrate high business potential, allowing them to earn a living. “Many people want to be in business for themselves, but they don’t want to be in business by themselves”, said Nyakarundi, so the micro-franchise seems to represent a winning approach.

For buying into the franchise business people have to pay 50 dollars for man, 25 for women and 10 dollars for people with disabilities and then they get the kiosk and the possibility of selling a wide range of services as phone charges, bus ticketing, prepaid services and electronic vouchers such as airtime, government services, Internet and intranet access etc. The micro-entrepreneurs have also access to a specific training program on marketing and taxes, to maximize income on the kiosk. Kiosk operators make a commission on every transaction made on the kiosk.

Demand is substantial in Rwanda, both for new jobs and for access to electricity and the Internet, which means that Shriki hub has a huge market potential.

Moreover, the Ared solar kiosk represents a win-win system for:

  • clients who have access to green electricity and digital content at a low cost,
  • kiosk operators that can develop their own business and
  • Ared company that is expanding his social business in other countries.

Shiriki hub demonstrates a positive social, economic and environmental impact on local communities.

To keep costs for users as low as possible, Ared aims to generate a significant portion of its profit from advertising on the mobile interface that people use to access the Internet or by providing the possibility for businesses to collect data by conducting surveys.

The charging station could be useful not only for the private sector but also for government entities and non-profit sector. For example, charging stations were used at Rwanda Red Cross refugee camps housing Burundi immigrants fleeing their country’s violent political crisis. Refugees were trained and worked as operators, earning income from the kiosk.

Ared developed also a specific program for people with disabilities to give them an alternative into micro-entrepreneurship. The company discounted the micro-franchise fee to 10 dollars, which includes training, support, access to a solar kiosk and a start-up capital for the business. The target for the future is to reserve at least 10% of franchisees to people with disabilities.

 

 

Get to know Henri better. Read the interview.

Photocredits: Ared

 

 

 

Meet Elizabeth Kperrun, the winner of the “ICT for Children” Grant

Elizabeth Kperrun is the winner of the “ICT for Children” Grant, a special recognition offered by Fondazione Mission Bambini within the framework of “ICT for Social Good” Grant. The Grant was created to reward the project that better represents the usage of innovation for childhood. In Nigeria, Elizabeth developed some fun educational mobile apps that teach kids using Africa’s native languages.

We asked Elizabeth some questions to get to know her better and here is what we discovered.

By Viviana Brun

 

Let’s start from the very beginning, where are you from and what’s your family and education background?

I am from Benue, a state in Nigeria and I am the first of 5 children. I have a diploma in Mass Communication and I am currently in the process of obtaining a B.Sc in Entrepreneurial and Business Management.

 

What is Lizzie’s Creations, a startup, a social enterprise…? How did you start your business as Lizzie’s Creations?

Lizzie’s Creations is a start-up company that is preserving and promoting African culture using modern day technology. Our business started in September of 2016 but we built our very first app (AfroTalez) in 2013. Back then though, we were trying out our idea of promoting an aspect of African culture to see if it was something the world will be interested in.

 

Who had the biggest impact on your career?

My husband and co-founder. 100%. When I met him, all I had was an idea. I had no IT background. He helped me develop my idea, build my first app and has been my partner ever since.

 

You are a young woman in tech, what are the biggest challenges you have faced in your career?

Female entrepreneurs in Africa find it harder to break through in business than their male counterparts. A young woman in the tech space is even doubly harder because technology in Africa is still not as advanced and recognised as it is in the more developed world.

Some of the biggest challenges I have faced would be recognition and encouragement by my country’s government. There are no grants available, no provision in the budget to fund tech start-ups. So we have to rely on foreign organisations and investors to raise funding to enable us to grow our businesses. Add this to other factors like epileptic power supply, unstable internet infrastructure and a volatile economy and one really has to be resilient and believe in what they are doing so that they can keep going.

 

Why did you decide to focus on the use of ICT for Education? According to you, what are the main advantages and issues in the use of technology for learning and education?

I decided to use ICT for education because the world has gone digital. It is the fastest means of reaching an audience today and as smartphones get cheaper, they become more easily accessible to even the low-income earners. In Africa, a smartphone is cheaper than a TV set and like everywhere else in the world, people are spending more time on their smartphones than on anything else, even to keep children entertained.

 

What is the learning model/approach behind your apps?

Children learn best while they are having fun. And this is why we have focused on using well designed and brightly coloured apps to educate children. We believe that learning doesn’t have to feel like a boring classroom lesson. It should be fun.

 

Are your apps designed for being used by children alone or as a tool to support teaching at school or in the family?

Depending on the age of the child, our apps can be used alone or with the supervision of an adult; be it a teacher, parent or guardian.

 

What’s the aspect of your job that keeps you awake at night?

How to ensure we have enough money so that we can keep doing what we do. Because with funds, every challenge is surmountable.

 

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?

Start small, fail small. When launching a new product, build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and test it. Observe consumer reaction and ask for feedback before you proceed. Sometimes, what we set our mind on building is not what the audience wants. It is only by hearing from them that we can build and roll out a product that will be utilised and enjoyed.

 

According to you, what role the ICTs could play in strengthening the local development and the business ecosystem in Africa?

ICT’s are very important to the technological and overall development of Africa. A lot of innovative work by a number of companies targeted at various areas of development, including governance, health, education (such as ours) and more is currently ongoing and already creating impact.
The combined effect of all these will result in better standards of living, improved opportunities, better educational outcomes and general improvements to Africa’s development. In our field we are making relevant education more accessible to children at in the lower rungs of society.

 

How can Lizzie’s Creations be considered an inclusive business?

Lizzie’s Creations is certainly inclusive, our focus in whatever we do is to impact women and children mostly are less privileged. This is one of the reasons why we transitioned our apps to an ad-revenue model which allows access for even those who cannot pay for the in-app purchases.

 

In terms of revenues, what is the core business of Lizzie’s Creations?

We primarily monetise through unobtrusive in-app advertising and in-app purchases.

 

How many apps have you developed? How did you choose the app team? I saw, for example, that the last app that you have launched in July 2017 is dedicated to African fashion.

We have developed 3 main apps. In all our apps, the over-riding theme is always the promotion of some aspect of African culture while promoting education. We aim to keep teaching the younger generation about the African way of life.

Our latest app, Shakara, is a dress-up game for girls who like fashion. We built it with African fabrics and African fashion styles because we believe African fabrics are vibrant and beautiful and our style is unique. So it is our aim that our young girls should learn about these fabrics and styles and take pride in them.

 

There is any collaboration with parents and teachers in the development of the app themes?

We do some collaboration. Before we start working on our apps, we conduct a poll and ask parents and teachers what they think of our idea and how they feel their children/wards will most benefit. Then we use their feedback to build a beta version which we use for further testing. It is after these tests that we finally release an app into the store for children to download and use.

 

Is the government supporting somehow the social entrepreneurs in Nigeria? What could it be done better?

To some extent, they try to be supportive. But as with most systems that don’t work properly, sometimes finances disbursed or budgeted for SME’s do not necessarily get to the SME’s. This can be mitigated by building a more transparent system.

 

What is your message to social entrepreneurs?

Social entrepreneurship most often seems like an uphill battle. Because investors want to invest in money-making businesses and social ventures are mostly about making the world a better place first and profit-making comes second. But more and more, we are getting a new breed of investors who are primarily looking for social entrepreneurs to invest in.

So I would say to new and aspiring social entrepreneurs that they should follow their passion. Somewhere, somehow, if their idea is a good one they will always find somebody else who believes in them and their vision and will be willing to work with them to help them grow.

 

What is your message to women in tech?

Kudos to them and more grease to their elbows. Women are bright, resourceful and hardworking. We can do anything a man can do and we even do some things men can’t do.

 

What are your plans for the future?

My plans for the future are to keep growing and to keep teaching children about Africa: our culture, our languages, our way of life. I love what I do. I will not be leaving it anytime soon.

 

 

Read more:

AfroTalez: traditional folk stories come alive through ICT” 

 

AfroTalez: traditional folk stories come alive through ICT

Elizabeth Kperrun is the winner of the “ICT for Children” Grant, a special recognition offered by Fondazione Mission Bambini within the framework of “ICT for Social Good” Grant. The Grant was created to reward the project that better represents the usage of innovation for childhood. Elizabeth is the co-founder of Lizzie’s Creations, an initiative that aims to revive the African traditional culture and storytelling through digital tools. She creates fun educational mobile apps that teach kids using Africa’s native languages.

By Viviana Brun

 

Researchers have shown that many children in Africa do not speak their country’s lingua franca (typically English, French, Portuguese or Arabic) as a first language. However, these same children are expected to learn in these languages. This creates a unique problem, making the assimilation of what is being taught harder and generally extends the learning time. According to the UNESCO,  the best way to educate children is through their mother tongue. Fluency and literacy in the native language lay a cognitive and linguistic foundation for learning additional languages. Some people argue that producing learning materials in a variety of African languages is too costly in economic terms. Elizabeth and her team tried to face this issue, creating a suite of mobile applications which educate African children using their native languages.

Elizabeth noticed that there is a lack of culturally relevant educational material for African kids on the popular app stores. So, she started creating quality content that allows kids learning in their native languages, which has been proven to speed up their understanding. The direct beneficiaries are the children aged 1-10 who directly use the apps and learn the basics (Numbers, Letters, Object recognition) as well as important cultural values.

AfroTalez 

Afrotalez

Folk stories were a great part of my childhood. Apart from the obvious entertainment factor, I learnt a lot of life lessons and morals from folk stories and I do not think they are a culture that should be forgotten”, said Elizabeth. Afro Talez is an application that narrates traditional African folk stories, teaches morals and life lessons to children aged from 2 to 10 years old. It’s an app structured in episodes, the first story is already available and it’s titled “The Tortoise, Elephant and the Hippopotamus”. This story extols the intelligence of folk hero ‘Mr. Tortoise’, who usually faces and overcomes challenges in new and unexpected ways. If you are wondering about the advantages of going digital, in the app you will find some features as interactive games on standard classroom lessons such as counting, object recognition and more. Download the app and start exploring Lizzie’s Creations world.

Teseem, first words

Tesem

Teseem-First Words is the second app series developed by Lizzie’s Creations. This app teaches kids their first words in English as well as in some major African and Nigerian languages, including Hausa, Swahili, Igbo and Yoruba, by using locally relevant scenes and objects children are familiar with. For example, they could learn words related to colours, numbers, body parts and more just touching the screen and interacting with the nice animation.

A freemium business plan

The two apps are monetized using in-app purchases. Users can download the app and use it for free, but there is certain content that is available for a small fee or via rewarded video ads that allow users to unlock the premium content for a few hours by viewing a targeted relevant video.

 

Go to Elizabeth interview.

 

Photocredits: Lizzie’s Creations

 

Meet Henri Nyakarundi, the winner of the “ICT for Social Good” Grant

Henri Nyakarundi is the CEO/Founder of Ared company and the winner of the “ICT for Social Good” Grant, organised by Ong2.0 within the Innovation for Development Programme. In Rwanda, Nyakarundi developed Shiriki Hub, a mobile solar kiosk, which offers customers a convenient low-cost solution to charge their phones, to browse the web and to have free offline access to digital content such as news and information on health and education. The Scientific Committee of the Grant evaluated Nyakarundi’s project as the best one among the 233 applications received.

We asked him some questions to get to know him better and here is what we discovered.

By Viviana Brun

 

Let’s start from the very beginning, where are you from and what’s your family and education background?

I was born in Kenya but grew up in Burundi but we were refugees from Rwanda. When I graduated high school in 1996, my parents decided to send me and my sister to the USA to continue our studies because the region was unstable. Burundi was at war and Rwanda was recovering from a genocide. We got our Rwandan citizenship in 1995.

 

What did you study and where?

I did my high school at Ecole Française de Bujumbura and my university at Georgia State University in Computer Science. I graduated in 2003

 

Who had the biggest impact on your career?

My mother. My mother was the backbone of our family, she put us through college, had a full-time job and running businesses on the side to pay our tuition. Even though we were refugees in Burundi, we were able to get the best education, her work ethics and discipline was unmatched. She owns her home in a time where it was difficult for women to own properties. Every time I am down, or want to give up I just remind myself of the struggle she went through and I quickly move forward.

 

Why did you decide to turn back to Africa and why did you choose Rwanda as the country to live in?

In 2009, I started coming back to Africa on a regular basis, and I started seeing how the narrative of the continent was changing. Innovation was booming. In the US, I had reached a plateau and iI did not feel that I can have any positive impact there. Because Africa was and is facing so many challenges, I knew this is where I can best apply some of my skill set.
Rwanda had changed dramatically, it was easier to start a business, today you can register a business in 4 hours, they have good infrastructure, great place to pilot new technology and of course the fact that I was Rwandan also motivated me more to start there.

 

I read somewhere that you are “an entrepreneur at heart”, is this true and what does this mean for you?

It means at least to me, I was born to be an entrepreneur. I started my first business when I was 20, and I fell in love with it even those it took me 10 years to build my first successful business. I almost quitted school to pursue it full time even then but my mother let just say deter me from quitting. I love solving problems and I believe that is what an entrepreneur is all about.

 

How do you create Shiriki Hub? Where the idea comes from?

Initially, Shiriki Hub was supposed to be a simple charging kiosk. The idea came from my travel in Burundi and Rwanda and seeing people having their phones but always looking for a place to charge them. I was not planning to build my own product. In the beginning, I was looking for an existing product but could not find one. I was seeing charging solutions at the airport, and I thought it would be great to have that on the streets of Africa to help people. That is when it all started. I hired a designer and an engineer and then the journey started.

 

What is the biggest challenge when, as you said on Ared website, you do business at the “base of the pyramid”?

First, people mindset, bring innovative solutions and innovative business model it takes time for people to understand and adopt it, so you have to spend a lot of time educating the people.
Second, building a technology suitable for the terrain of rural and semi-urban Africa is extremely hard.
Finally, building a sustainable business at the base of the pyramid is extremely hard.

 

What’s the aspect of your job that keeps you awake at night?

Running out of money before we can scale, finish our technology and build a sustainable business. This is hard and it requires strong financial backing for us to be successful.

 

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?

Never give up no matter what, there is always a solution to a problem.

 

What role that ICT could play in strengthening the local development and the business ecosystem in Africa?

I believe ICT is the key that will bridge the information gap that exists with low-income people. Access to information is key to improve someone’s livelihood. However, it is still considered a luxury in a lot of communities. As we are facing global warming, and Africa will be most affected continent, accessing key information to minimize the effect of global warming will be a matter of life and death in the future.
Also ICT has open the door to a new generation of entrepreneurs, all you need now is human capital and an internet connection to build an app. I believe ICT has opened the door to a new set of creative mind and has given hope to a whole new generation of young Africans.

 

How can Shriki Hub be considered an inclusive business?

Shiriki Hub is specifically targeting low-income people, especially women and people with disabilities that have no other opportunities to make a living. We also focus on refugees that are, a lot of time, not included in any economic opportunities of the countries they live in. A lot of people are willing to work, want to work but because they do not have a college degree or come from poor families they lack option and this is why Ared was developed.

 

What’s the price for a phone charge? And for browsing the Internet?

In Rwanda is 10 cent, the internet is sold in increments of 5, 10, 30, 60 minutes and it is free for the 5 and 10. They pay 30 cent for 30 minutes and 50 cents for 60 minutes.

 

In terms of revenues, what is the core business of Shiriki Hub?

We have 3 revenue streams.
1. We share revenue with our micro franchisees on the sales of digital services like airtime, internet, gov services etc….
2. We offer advert on wifi network and we also can do survey or campaign for our clients and corporate partners or NGO’s
3. Finally, we starting to collect a lot of data, and we working on adding IOT technology then find buyers to some of the data we plan to collect like CO2 levels etc…

 

What is the average net revenue per month that Shiriki Hub provides to kiosk operators?

Micro franchisees generate on average 100$ a month on all services they provide on the kiosk. The goal is to add more services to increase both or our revenue.

 

What is the relationship between kiosk operators and Ared company during all the business phases?

We are partners, therefore we work closely together. The reason why we pick a micro-franchise model is that it’s a win-win situation. We provide the training, support and maintenance and the micro franchisees takes care of the end users. This is the key to being sure that the whole value chain is fluid enough so issues can be addressed quickly.

 

Where the kiosk components are made and why?

Battery and panels come from China, the wheel from Australia, the router system from the USA and the frame is made locally.

 

Is the government supporting somehow the social entrepreneurs in Rwanda? What could it be done better?

Not yet, we need tax law to better support social entrepreneurs by offering a tax credit, for example, NGOs are exempt from taxes, but because we are for profit we are taxed like a traditional business even those our focus in social impact first. We need our own tax categories, we need better access to funding, grants for R&D, we need an easier way to work with local government so we can reach to more communities on the ground. The government need to facilitate partnership so we can work together and speed up the impact. One of the biggest challenges in Rwanda, is that urbanization has banned a lot of the street vendor business and people are not given alternatives. The bottom line is we fighting the same fight, better the lives of people, if we do not work together we might fail on the fight against poverty.

 

How many kiosks are now operative and in which countries?

We have 25 solar kiosks in Rwanda, we just launch in Uganda in May, we just received most of our licensing so we plan to start our pilot project in November with 5 kiosks.

 

What is your message to social entrepreneurs?

If you do not have the passion to help others and solve huge problems do not become a social entrepreneur because it is harder than traditional business. Patience and extreme focus is the key.

 

What are your plans for the future?

Expansion, expansion, expansion. More than 400 million people live in poverty in Africa, so the need of solutions like ARED is in high demand, We want to be in 20 countries in the next 10 years, implement around 100000 solar kiosks. But first we need to finish our product development, we working on adding IOT technology on the kiosk to better monitor the kiosk on the ground and collect additional data.

 

Discover more details about the project

Photocredits: Ared