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Uganda Innovates

How Lucia Bakulumpagi- Wamala is transforming access to renewable energy one community at a time

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Seven years ago, while visiting her family in the town of Gayaza, in central Uganda, Lucia Bakulumpagi-Wamala couldn’t help but notice the garbage on the streets. Having grown up in Canada, this was an unfamiliar sight for her. She began to wonder if the trash could be used for something productive.

Who is Lucia Wamala?

I’m a dreamer, a do-er and a believer. I see endless possibilities and love to see people live out their dreams. It’s actually what motivates me. People very close to me call me a “stage mom” because I love to push people to amaze themselves. You can normally find me with my 7 year mini-me, sometimes she even sits in on meetings.  She has a wonderful aesthetic and advises me on some marketing pieces. I pay her in toys!

Let’s talk about Bakulu Power. What does it do?

We invest in the renewable energy sector. We design, implement, own and operate energy infrastructure. We are a young team with bold visionary ideas. Our engineers and researchers are some the brightest in the country. Uganda is a young country; about 77% of its population is under 30. By providing access to and hands-on involvement in the emerging renewable energy industry, we help power our tomorrow.

What Inspired you to start Bakulu Power?

I was staying with one of my cousins and her family in Gayaza when the idea first came to me. As we drove to and from town I would look at the garbage on the street and wonder how to get rid of it. I grew up in Canada so seeing garbage on the streets wasn’t normal to me. What I found interesting was that the waste was primarily agricultural. I thought about making fertilizer then quickly scrapped that idea. I started to read everything I could about waste management, informal workers, deforestation and waste to energy. I joined associations around those themes and talked to a lot of people. I gained a theoretical understanding of how to convert waste to energy and wanted to support women. Everything else has really been a series of miracles.

Why renewable energy?

Energy is the precursor to development. In order to industrialize, solve unemployment and move to a middle income nation we need more electricity. My initial spark was waste to energy which falls under biomass. Our equatorial placement makes solar a no-brainer. Agriculture is our biggest industry so we know potential for biogas is huge. The renewable resources are there and there are some great policies to support its development. Africa has contributed the least of any continent to climate change, but unfortunately we will face the greatest risks. I think investing in renewable energy is the responsible thing to do.

What communities does Bakulu Power engage with?

Our office is in Kampala but our team spends most of their time out in the field. You can often find us crossing Lake Victoria to beautiful Buvuma district. We also have projects in Kamwenge, Butambala and Gulu to name a few. It’s amazing to travel around country and meet different communities while enjoying the natural environment. One of my favorite communities at the moment is in Mpigi district – Kamengo. We’ve had the pleasure of working with the Agnes Zabali Boys and Girls Club (please use hyperlink: www.azboysandgirlsclub.ca) a wonderful organization addressing health, education and social needs for 100+ youth in Kamengo. We wired and installed solar at the guest on top of a hill. The view is incredible! Remember, I’ve dealt with winter for nearly my entire life so sometimes I got lost in the greenery of communities that are new to me.

Bakulu Power’s core purpose is to power local communities by providing residential and commercial clients with clean, affordable renewable energy systems tailored to their specific needs. For example what needs?

We do a lot of outreach in agricultural communities to educate on the benefits of solar water pumps. We feel strongly about supporting agribusinesses. In other situations clean cooking fuel is the need so we step away from electrification and design biomass systems. Some larger industry clients are looking to reduce their diesel consumption so we design solar systems with larger battery components. We take all of our clients seriously no matter how big or small. We range from a solar water heater for a family home to mini-grids that electrify hundreds of homes.

With the Right Honourable Ruhukana Rugunda, my Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Richard Sseruwagi and Evace Kabahukya (OPM staff).

Bakulu Power’s goal is to design and build integrated, highly efficient systems that increase electrification for our end users and reduce utility costs. How exactly do you do this?

We do it one community at a time. One client at a time. We work hard to earn the trust of our project stakeholders. We celebrate our successes, learn from our lessons and continually improve. We’ve been blessed to work with amazing partners. It’s really about people. It takes a lot of people to develop energy infrastructure.

In March this year, Forbes Magazine named you one of the 30 most promising entrepreneurs on the continent, how did you feel?

I felt really emotional. I knew it was a rare sliding door moment that would change my life. I immediately called one of my dearest friends in New York and we literally screamed for 30 minutes. Meanwhile my daughter kept repeating, “let’s go and buy it!” I taught her about Forbes last year and we taped a picture of ourselves on the cover of The Forbes 400. She was a little confused because the article isn’t in print and more so because her picture isn’t online! Though slightly disappointed, she printed the article and took it to her teacher. As a mother it’s great to see that your child is proud of you.

Where do you see Bakulu Power 6-10 years from now?

I see offices across the continent. I see a huge research and development department. I see university endowments to support even greater research on the continent. I see empowered communities, improved health services, thriving industry. My goal is simple, to create jobs – internally and externally.

Lucia Bakulumpagi- Wamala is transforming communities through access to renewable energy.

Let’s talk about personal inspiration. Which people inspire you in everything you do?

My parents and my siblings are at the top of the list. I’m lucky to be part of an intelligent, educated and ambitious family. As the youngest of the bunch I’ve had the pleasure of watching my sisters and brother attain their own successes. Because of them I have the nerve to create. I’m inspired by people who create. It isn’t easy (or comfortable) to turn an idea into something tangible. I’m very inspired by Kanye West. I often joke that we should include his discography in the new hire package. I make so many references to his work that if you don’t know it I won’t make much sense.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be like you?

Be willing to learn. To learn you have to be willing to be wrong, to be vulnerable and to be embarrassed. You have to continually learn and DO. Thing is, you have to do while you’re learning. It’s absolutely terrifying. And most of the work is not fun or glamourous. But once you start the process (oh ya, you have to learn to love the process because there is no final destination) you will amaze yourself. I would also say to be kind, curious and open. Business is really just a series of relationships and you know never know who you are talking to.

Like this story or have something to share? Email us on info@thisisuganda.org or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

Uganda Innovates

Makerere University Students Build Computer from Scratch

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BY MARVIN MUTYABA & ISAIAH NGABIRANO

Computers today have become part of our lives that basically most of the things we need are in these machines. With so many benefits like quick information and communication, entertainment, entrepreneurship, activism and so much more, the computer use has become an extension of the human fabric.

The growing movement of digital migration in the world has opened a worldwidedemandfor innovation and inventionwhich has given rise to the exceptional programmers and inventors who have created appliances and tools that have revolutionized the way we do everything. This picture features Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Nikola Tesla among other inventors.

In Uganda, a group of youths have added their names to this list by building an organic computer, using their knowledge from school and exposure to computers.

The group is spear headed by Ivan Karugaba Junior, a student of mechanical engineering at Makerere University who gained inspiration to develop a computer through personal experiences

One evening at campus my computer was stolen and this got me asking myself why couldn’t I develop my own computer since that’s what we learn in class,” he narrates “Developing the first prototype of the computer was not an easy one and it involved a lot of research and commitment from the team. There were so many lows but we worked as a team and persisted until we came up with a functioning computer, it was a huge achievement to us.

The mother board of the microfuse computer

Having done his internship in Shenzhen,the high-tech hub of China, Ivan gained a lot of experience in developing computers and established some connections as well. This has helped in steering the development of their computer.

When he returned from the one month internship, Ivan decided to start acompany with some colleagues from school, Ochieng Elvis a computer engineer, Etwalu Emmanuel a mechanical engineer, AineamaniTwesigye a software engineer and Nyakoojo Oscar an industrial artist which they called Microfuse, after their computer.

Microfuse is a multipurpose device that can function as a computer at the same time as a media box with the capability to use a low power consumption of a rate of 5w connected to any display, projector, monitor or TV and a computing functionality as Microsoft office. It can also turn any TV into a smart TV, enable access to online connection, live TV and radio channels. All these marvelous features are to come at a simple price of UGX 350,000 (USD 96) with all the necessary accessories attached.

Microfuse basically means joining small parts together to come up with one strong and reliable equipment.” He says. “Microfuse’s aim is to make affordable computers to the normal Ugandan. I believe that every Ugandan deserves to own a computer. It’s absurd to find that someone studies computer in their A-level and the only time they get to use a computer is when they are doing their final papers which is not pleasing and this is majorly because the current devices are expensive and most Ugandans live below the poverty line you cannot expect them to afford these devices.

Ivan however states that the microfuse will be ready for distribution after the team embarks on batch production, which they haven’t been able to do due to the lack of funding and support for their project. He however,believes that the funding will eventually come in the near future since people have started appreciating their motive and the products they intend to produce through the numerous exhibitions that they have participated in.

Ivan (left) at one of the exhibitions

The team has also started a training program to help young Ugandans who are ready to learn and attain some skills in mechanical and computer engineering.In this way, the group is able to transfer knowledge to these youths which they can use in their innovations.

The microfuse team on one of the trainings

Microfuse is located in Wandegeya, Maricha Centrum Building, Ground Floor, office number A3. Tel: +256772292171Email: microfuseug@gmail.comWebsite: www.microfusetechug.com

 

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Profiles

How This Group of Young Men is Creating Employment Through Art and Craft

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BY MARVIN MUTYABA

A group of 6 youths in Makindye has embarked on a life changing journey, turning their passions and skills into a profitable business.

After attending a crafts exhibition at the National Theatre in 2015, these friends were inspired by the attractive crafts on display to start their own workshop making and selling crafts.

“We talked to Mr. Muwembo, the craftsman who was showcasing his work. He offered to give us training as we worked for him. His workshop was in Kanyanya so we used to come from Makindye every day to Kanyanya. It took us over a year to master how wood craft is done,” said Mark.

While at this apprenticeship, these young men started making their own pieces which they sold, using the profit to purchase their own equipment.

“We had a strategy. Every month we had to buy equipment. After a year, we had developed skills and were able to start our own workshop,” said Malakai, one of the proprietors of the workshop. “To start any business, it needs commitment, passion, and ready to take risks, consistency and involvement.”

In 2016, these committed youth started their workshop on a small piece of land given to them by Malakai’s father at Lukuli, Nanganda.

“After two months, KCCA came and demolished our workshop saying that they wanted only built up structures on the main road. Even all our equipment and materials were taken. We went back to zero and all our savings had been used to buy these things,” narrates Mark. “We visited KCCA offices several times trying to see if we could recover the materials. We had lost wood, vanish, paints and tools like small axes, carving tools, pry bars, clamps, hammers and marking tools. We never got any back so we gave up on them”

As a result, their work was put on a standstill for some time. This was a very big set back to their dream of building a very big craft shop. Their next challenge was getting another location.

“Towards the end of 2016, KCCA advertised a funding opportunity for the youths who had business ideas and also those that had running businesses. We wrote a proposal but this took a while and we never not get any feedback.”

Desperate for capital to start over, they sought loans from their parents to no luck. Only Abdul’s parents supported them with a small loan that wasn’t sufficient to cover the cost of materials and new equipment.

“During that time, there was a road construction project. we asked for jobs and worked there for 6 months. We saved all our money and rented a small piece of land where we put up a workshop. This time it was not on the main road.  We started working again and lucky enough, we had market from our time at Muwembo”s workshop,” narrates Mark.

Malakai working on one of the pieces in the workshop

Due to their hard work, these six young men have managed to create jobs and employ more eleven young people who distribute and take on other tasks like filing, shaping, chiseling, painting among others. The group is constructing a workshop and a showroom on the main road in Lukuli. By next year, they believe, the workshop will be done.

“Basing on the current situation in the country, we are able to earn a living and also employ other people,” says Abdul.

When asked about their goals, this inseparable team wants to have at least 100 employees by the end of next year and also start exporting their craft. They encourage their fellow Ugandans to follow their passion and find a way of earning from it.

*This is a guest post by MARVIN MUTYABA, a student at Makerere University Business School, currently pursuing a Business Administration in his second year. He is passionate about entrepreneurship, skills development and fitness. 

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Profiles

Turning Rubbish into Money In The Fight Against Unemployment

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BY: MARVIN MUTYABA

Meet Calvin Matovu, a twenty-five-year old graduate from Makerere University who recycles wastes and rubbish into charcoal.

After attaining a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental science in 2013, Calvin searched for a job in vain. His life started becoming difficult as he had no source of income and he found it senseless to finish university and sit at idly at home.

In the struggle to fight unemployment, Calvin harnessed the idea of collecting wastes and rubbish from the community with his friends, to make some money.

“I asked myself, all this waste we collect and KCCA burns, can’t we reproduce a product out of it?’ Basing on my knowledge from campus, I came up with the idea of recycling wastes into charcoal.” Says Calvin at his factory in Erisa zone, Kyebando.

He set his plan in motion by gathering jobless youths in his community to create employment for themselves. Calvin and his team of seven started reusing wastes, especially organic wastes from agricultural products for example peelings from matooke. These are mixed with ash, clay, carbon and water to make a final product.

“At first we did not have market because people were already using charcoal from firewood with no clue about charcoal from wastes.” He says.

The idea of reusing garbage to make charcoal seems so unrealistic until he breaks down the process through which waste can be made useful and environment friendly.

“The raw materials include banana peelings, paper, clay, cow dung, cassava flour basing on your income level for example one can use clay or cow dung or cassava flour. The machines used are: a charring drum, crushing machine and a stick briquette machine. Peelings are collected and dried then sorted and grinded. Then they are burnt and put into the charring drum. The binder, which can be either  cassava porridge, clay or cow dung is added to the wastes mix and the mixture is then poured into the briquette machine. the last step is to dry the briquettes to produce charcoal. This is done in the drying rack.”

Calvin’s workmate sieving the raw material in the workshop

Calvin and his team have faced a number of challenges but this has not stopped them from going further.

“In the beginning, we used our hands to mould the charcoal which was very tiresome and it left our hands spoilt with dead skin in the palms. Our quality also wasn’t that good. The market too was very low but we never gave up.”

“Use what surrounds you” is a common saying that we often do not give attention too, but instead, we keep asking our leaders for help yet what’s surrounds us can be very useful in our daily life.

Basic principles of Physics state that “Effort + Load  = Work done.” Calvin’s hard work and desire to see his brilliant idea boom led him to overcome all the challenges that he and his team met. After months of several dynamics, critics and mental exhaustion, the season ended and he harvested fruits from his tree. Schools and some small companies started making orders for his charcoal. He has since received support from KCCA in form of a a manual machine that ended the hands era.

The briquettes are laid out to dry in the drying rack

Calvin Matovu now he employs twenty young people from his own community in Kyebando. The charcoal briquettes they manufacture cost UGX 1500 and last for over seven hours, which minimizes the daily costs also reducing demand for firewood.

“Anyone can do this anywhere at any time.” He says in conclusion. “Every person should base on talent at least 50% of their daily economic activities.”

The finished products. Briquettes ready to be sold.

This is a guest post by MARVIN MUTYABA, a student at Makerere University Business School, currently pursuing a Business Administration in his second year. He is passionate about entrepreneurship, skills development and fitness. 

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