These young Ugandans; David Lwangwa Mwesigwa 22 – Graphics Designer and Team Lead, Mubiru Joel 22– In charge, Research, Chemyolei Paul 22– Business Development Guy and Moris Atwine 21 – Software Development Lead have come together to develop a mobile phone app that seeks to help the blind people use their mobile phone without any assistance. David’s brother became blind when he was 10. This unfortunate incident turned into questions that David sought to solve. He felt bad that even as his brother grew older and owned a mobile phone, there are those basics that his brother could not enjoy. He met amazing friends at Makerere university that he has worked with to create Visual+. Visual+ is a gesture based interaction and voice commands mobile application that helps a visually impaired person to manage the frequently used applications on phones as making calls and accessing music files.
What in the world is Visual+?
Many times, human rights are echoed in our ears about how it’s our right to have freedom of speech, right to life and more often we hear that major right, a right to education.
Visual+ is simply an easy to use gesture based interaction and voice commands mobile application that manages the most frequently used applications on a mobile device.
How does doe this awesome app work?
Visual+ works in such way that, a user (visually impaired person) is required to be putting on headsets at the time of initiation to clearly listen to the voice prompts and to enhance your interaction with the app as it uses voice.
To initiate, the user shuffles the mobile device which activates the application.
There are four features on the home screen which include phone, music, notes and personal.
- By swiping to the right, the gesture helps the user to access prerecorded audio notes that are stored on the mobile device as audio books, quotes and many more.
- A user swiping down, this gesture brings a lot of personalization tools that can be used by the user such as recording their own notes or speeches. A user is then prompted to swipe the screen to a given direction for app to register their choice for example swiping screen to the right to make a recording of their own.
- By swiping to the left, the gesture helps the user access his or her music, reading material. A list of all these choices is displayed on screen, also echoed in user’s ear piece. The user will then swipe to the left in order to listen to the music list, or swipe to the right to play the stored music.
- By swiping up, this gesture displays the phone menu where a user can add a phone number and be able to make a call of his/her choice using voice prompts. For example call Moris, once it’s saved, it processes the call automatically.
- For a user to go back to a previous screen as well exit the application, he / she simply double taps the screen.
What problems does it seek to solve?
World health Organization (1997) estimated the number of visually impaired people worldwide to be 135 million.
Focusing on Uganda as a country, the number of visually impaired people has gone up to 1 million from 700,000 people (National Union of Disabled Persons, 2008). This group of people also has the required facilities that are not readily accessible in various parts of the country. More to this, the students with these facilities also have a challenge in accessing reading material for the blind, printing notes in brail or even playing educative games. Visual impairment is a great challenge worldwide.
What other opportunities do you think this app is likely to create?
Yes, Partnerships with telecom companies as well as phone companies!
Where do you draw your inspiration?
One of our team members, David has a brother who is blind, he has seen him fail to achieve most of the things and so thought he would really change such pressing problem through innovation. He then teamed up with Joel, Paul and Moris and that was the birth of Visual+.
What is your greatest achievements so far?
We were able to pitch it at the Humanitarian Innovation Exhibition Last Month, the feedback was promising, basically how it would be of great help to people in refugee camps and disaster affected areas.
Mainly, we haven’t really achieved much with this mobile app, we are still testing it with different groups to clearly understand how the blind or people with low vision can interface with these smart phones.
Does tech have a future in Uganda?
Technology in Uganda is like a child, ambitious and inquisitive. That’s why it’s really growing very fast
Are there times you have wanted to give up?
Not on the Visual+ app because passion is all we have for technology and there is a lot to be solved really. All in all, We are not about to give up.
What keeps you going during tough times?
We have the best solutions to most of these social problems affecting us, this may not necessarily be through technology, innovation as a process can have a considerable effort in changing most of problems we face, and in the end become our businesses.
What other projects have you worked on?
As a group, we haven’t worked on other mobile applications but some of the members Moris and David are among the brains behind the timely response and early diagnosis breast cancer management app called “BreastIT”. More info to this app is available on the project’s blog site www.thehyphengloveproject.wordpress.com
Any last words to the reader?
We have never set out to become founder or co-founders of a great innovation, we always seek to tackle most of these pressing problems in and around our community” – Moris Atwine, Co-Founder and Software Development Lead, Visual+.
Kalule is using visual art to link Ugandan youth with their role models
Meet Emmanuel Sekitto Kalule, one of the founders and Team Leader of Faces Up Uganda – a youth led organization that is linking young people with role models for inspiration and support.
Emmanuel who holds a bachelor’s degree in Industrial and Fine Art from Makerere University, practices art as an activist platform and most of his works act as a voice to the voiceless within various communities.
Speaking about his journey to This Is Uganda team, he says “I Initiated Faces Up Uganda in 2015, during my second year at the art school at Makerere university. The organization fully and publicly got started on January 27th 2016 as I launched our first project called Faces up art campaign.” Emmanuel remembers. “Having studied art at the university, I came to realize how powerful art is as a tool to transform other people’s lives because I learned what true art is and how it can be applied.” He says.
On coming up with the Faces Up Uganda idea
When we are growing up we look to our role models for inspiration and use this as a blueprint for how we should behave when we’re older. This is likely a survival function designed to help us to mimic the traits of those successful members of our society and thereby help us to be successful too. This is what Emanuel is doing.
“I started up Faces Up Uganda to create a proper platform for mentorship for the young people and also link them to proper role models. Having grown up with a single mother after their separation when I was in primary two, I faced quite a lot of challenges especially lacked the parental guidance from my father and this was a challenge for me to find my true self as I grew up.Like most of young people be, I was a jack of all trades since I lacked a role model and a mentor who could guide me.” He remembers.
According to Emmanuel, majority of the multitalented young people in Uganda lack opportunities that recognize and support their talents and above all help support their development. This is evident that many multitalented young people here in uganda don’t reach to their full potentials due to lack of mentorship and Creating a platform to help identify and develop talents.
It’s such challenges encountered he encountered at an early age and in his quest to find proper individuals who could help guide him, he landed on a few good ones and a lot of wrong ones who drained his energies as a young person to satisfy their needs and also as a source of free labor.
On how he overcame some of those challenges
“Research and reading was one of the ways I dealt with the unique technical challenges. Being a fresh graduate from university, I had no resources and capacities to continue with the great cause I had started. Therefore I had to educate myself so that to be in a better position in this competitive world.” Emmanuel says.
Understanding the dynamics within the art market also helped him come up with relevant art. This has made Faces Up Uganda remain creative so as to be on top of the game.
“You always need to stand out in whatever you do and that has always been on back of our minds as an organization.” He emphasizes
But of of course team work comes first.
Team work, like the saying goes…”no man is an island” to be successful it is not a one man story. Faces Up Uganda has a team of multi-talented young people that are passionately committed to the mission and vision of the organization. This has helped the organization a lot in overcoming various technical problems and also leverage opportunity.
The role models that have been featured by Faces Up Uganda
By the time of writing this article, 50 portrait art works of public figures whom the young people look up to as role models have been featured. These include Hon.Rt. Hon Rebecca kadaga, Owekitiibwa. Charles Peter Mayiga, Miya Farouk , Onyango Denis, Angella Katatumba , Sylvia Owori , Hon.Bobi wine , Nabimanya Humphrey, Robert Kabushenga , D.j Shiru , Jamal Salim , Isaiah Katumwa among others. These art works were executed by a collective of five artist I.e Saekitto kalule Emmanuel , Byaruhanga Raymond, Kamanyire Osca , Arion Bonaface ,and Kalyemenya Douglas bush and exhibited at the prestigious award Makerere art gallery.
Sustaining the idea
As a fundraising strategy, Faces Up sells customized organization items such as jumpers, T-shirts, bags, caps and art works to fund the various activities toward realizing its mission.
The team constantly gets offers from people. These offers turn up depending on the economic situation. Fortunately, the public is rapidly appreciating Faces Up Uanda items such as jumpers , T-shirts, bags and above all art works and they are learning to buy them and we believe they numbers are going to increase in the near future.
His advice to emerging Ugandan artists
“Artists need to first appreciate and value their own works before they put them to the public. How will someone else learn to appreciate your work if you yourself handle it as trash?” Emmanuel says.
Feel like you need some art?
Get in touch with Faces Up Uganda team in Lugala , Luya parish along Sentema road as you head to Masanafu or contact them on +256705859110 / +256773367093. If you’re on social media, find them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or visit their website www.facesup.org
How Lucia Bakulumpagi- Wamala is transforming access to renewable energy one community at a time
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.
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.
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.
How The Medical Concierge Group is using social media to transform access to healthcare in Uganda
A problem further beyond Uganda’s low doctor-to-patient ratio, is the distribution of those doctors. Most, particularly specialists, congregate in Kampala while some decide to go seek greener pastures abroad in hope for making a breakthrough in their medical career growth.
In Uganda, the Doctor to Patient ratio stands at 1 Doctor for every 24,725 people in 2013 and 1 nurse for every 11,000 people. The recommended ratio by Ministry of Health is at 0.117 physicians per 1,000 people.
To add to this are Uganda’s rising costs of healthcare and the limited engagement of patients on their health outside the confines of the hospital.
One doctor and his team are however trying to change this status quo.
Dr. Davis Musinguzi, having qualified as a medical doctor from Makerere University, sought to address the issue of Uganda’s appalling the doctor to patient ratio.
“We were seeking to address the challenges with accessibility, affordability and quality of health care service delivery in Uganda not forgetting the poor accessibility to health professionals particularly in rural areas to access basic medical consultation.” says Dr. Davis Musinguzi.
He founded The Medical Concierge Group (TMCG), and immediately started an entrepreneurial journey to provide much needed solutions to the challenges at hand.
The Medical Concierge Group is an innovative healthcare service delivery and communication channel. It leverages a freemium model, a 24/7 call centre reachable at routine tariffs, a Doctors-on-Call service through voice calls, SMS, social media and whatsapp to improve accessibility to affordable and quality health care in Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria.
“We are trying to address the rising cost of private health care considering up to 80% of health care expenditure is out-of-pocket in the region. More so, many suburban health care primary healthcare facilities are of low quality and run by low skill personnel.” Dr. Davis says
TMCG is also trying to address the low patient engagement and information gaps about their ailments, prescription medicines, disease prevention and wellness. The issue of social stigma attached to cases has caused people not to access medical services because of insufficient privacy.
Why TMCG decided to use the internet/technology is simple. According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, there are approximately 13,023,114 Internet users in Uganda translating into 31.3% of the population as of March 2017. Using internet makes TMCG a pioneer in the delivering of mobile health services in Uganda.
The group has dedicated WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter accounts. At the everyday phone tariffs, mobile phone users by voice/SMS/email/IM/social media from anywhere 24/7 can access a Doctor’s consultation. The users only have to listen to or read a health related advert/infomercial embedded in the call/text/Email/IM/Social Media.
TMCG as of today, records an average of 50,000 online interactions, which is proof of how valued the platform has become to its users.
Through partnerships, TMCG is able to meet the set up and running costs as well as scale geographically to reach beneficiaries both in Uganda and beyond.
The group is now looking to complement the tele-consultation with its Doctors with cloud-based remote diagnostic monitoring, mobile money payments for recommended health services and post-care follow up. This will especially be valuable to chronic patients such as hypertensives and diabetics.
The group also looks further than Uganda. With other African countries like Kenya and Nigeria facing similar health care challenges, TMCG has already scaled up the innovative and impactful services in these markets.
The vision is to cost-effectively impact the health outcomes of Africans through innovative and patient-centered digital health services.
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