Tuesday, June 12, 2018

How youth can bring positive change through tech

Innovation Week 2018 at the Commission for

Innovation Week 2018 at the Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH), where young people had a forum to display their creativity in innovation. PHOTO I ELIZABETH TUNGARAZA 

By Elizabeth Tungaraza @TheCitizenTz etungaraza@tz.nationmedia.com

Every day the world welcomes new technology, in almost every sphere of life, be it in business, health, manufacturing and the likes.

In efforts to create innovative minds, schools have now started to incorporate in their curricula such subjects so as to help prepare children for the future. One good thing is that even students themselves seem to be ready for it.

A Form Six student from Feza Boys Secondary School, Seif Mhata, 19, and a University Student Khalfan Kikwete, are frontrunners in the field of innovation, researching on how they can encourage this generation to pick interest in innovation for a brighter future.

The two are the brains behind VCARDIN App, an e-business card application. Seif says the idea behind their innovation came when he was at his teacher’s office.

“One day I noticed that my teacher had many files that contained all business cards he had received from people he met. He was in need of contacts of a technician for AC maintenance as well as a dry cleaner. The business cards were not arranged in such a way that it would be easy to find one’s contact when needed,” Seif says.

“This incident gave us the idea to create a mobile application that would allow people to exchange business cards simply by a swipe of a finger. These people would automatically become partners on our website that would act as their trading platform,” Seif adds.

According to Seif and Khalfan, the original idea of the VCARDIN App was to help solve the problem of littering the environment as experience shows most business cards that people exchange daily end up being thrown away after they either save the contacts on their mobile phones or wrote them down in a diary.

“Although many versions of electronic business cards have been developed, ours was a bit different. We took our original idea and did something slightly similar from what has been developed already. However, in essence, ours is a bit different,” explains Seif.

Statistics show that for every 200 business cards a person distributes to people, his/her company’s sales are bound to increase by 2.5 per cent.

In this way, Seif and his colleague Khalfan are very much delighted that their innovation will in turn help more people in making their business known and flourish.

Seif and Khalfan’s innovation shows the potential of technology and just how students can impact society through innovation. However, such progress can only be possible if such young people and students get good supervision from science and technology stakeholders.

“Technology and innovation have a huge role to play in improving lives, transforming the economy, stimulating growth and ultimately ending poverty in Tanzania,” acknowledges Jane Miller, the deputy head of UK Department for International Development (DFID) in the country at a recently held Innovation Week 2018 at the Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH), where young people had a forum to display their creativity in innovation.

The Innovation Week 2018 was organised for young innovators where other stakeholders such as UNICEF, Ubongo kids, D-Tree International, Dorcas Aids International Tanzania, and HakiElimu, just to mention a few, participated to explore innovation in research development, entrepreneurship, technology and design.

Organised by COSTECH in partnership with the Human Development Innovation Fund (HDIF) , a UK Aid investment in innovation in the country, the week-long event provides a platform that seeks to address the challenges facing Tanzania in three sectors; education, health, water, sanitation and hygiene.

Among the activities during the week-long exhibition, was a competition among Digi Learners challenge teams, in which students learned how to adopt technology to improve learning. Another competition coordinated by “She Codes for Change” challenge, involved girls and young women who were tasked to use coding to create animated stories for digital media.

Innovation challenge also included children between the age of six and ten years who designed practical inventions of water filter and solar powered ovens through the Designerthon challenge with ‘Jenga Hub’. A team of secondary school girls won the ‘Fun Hack’ award run by ‘Apps and Girls’ for the design, programming and assembling of a robotic wheelchair.

During different panel discussions, stakeholders debated on how to make children be creative and innovative. The discussion by UNICEF was under the theme; “How to Involve Youths in Innovation, drew much attention from stakeholders.

Held consecutively for the fourth year, the Innovation Week has proved to be a potential platform that can ensure that technology and innovation positively impact the lives of many Tanzanians. As the HDIF team leader David McGinty put it, technology and innovations can bring fresh solutions to important areas of human development in Tanzania by aspiring youth to stand up and take risks and catalyzing great ideas through funding and mentoring.

Recent data shows that Tanzania’s Global Innovation Index rating was 96 out of 127 countries in 2017, rising from 123 out of 142 countries when HDIF was launched in September 2013.

The head of Computer Science and Engineering department at the University of Dar es Salaam, Dr. Honest Kimaro, expresses his optimism that allowing youth to join innovation hubs can bring positive change in the world of technology.

“Through such hubs, youth can meet with different students, teachers and share different ideas,” says Dr Kimaro.

“Today’s children have a room to broaden their talents through innovation and they should know that they have responsibilities to change the world by creating opportunities to other people through innovation,” he observes.

“It is high time now for youth to think of employing themselves, as employment space to absorb all graduates in public and private sectors is limited. Youth can create jobs through innovation and support each other. At the hub they will be able to come up with solutions which have financial benefits,” urges Dr Kimaro.

As observed by COSTECH acting Director of Innovation Dr Georges Shemdoe, Tanzania is part of the global science community and the innovation week showcased “the virtual reality technology, robotics, mobile applications for learning, children coding and designing among many other exciting projects as a number of youth were keen to discover the use of technology as a vehicle for inclusive growth and development”.

From his observation, youth involvement in technology and innovation is crucial for sustaining Tanzania to be an active part of the global science community in the future.

However, some stakeholders have spotted a missing link. Youth Development Officer from Prime Minister’s Office Godfrey Nyaisa, was quick to acknowledge that lack of cooperation between parents and their children is one of the big challenges which our society faces.

“Poor parenting is the area that we have failed as society, forcing children to abandon their home and live in streets. Also poverty has forced these young ones into city streets while others who are lucky enough to be at their parent’s homes misuse available technology by learning bad things from internet and social media,” observes Nyaisa.

He further says the government is working hard to address those challenges by putting in place mechanisms for youth involvement in technology and innovation. “We need to promote creative thinking through Information Communications Technology (ICT),” he says