Back in October 2021 when the Dubai Expo 2020 officially opened, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, the United Arab Emirates Minister of Tolerance and Coexistence and the Commissioner-General of Expo 2020 Dubai said:
“As one of the fastest growing economies in East Africa and one of the country’s with the youngest population in the world, Uganda’s presence at Expo highlights a journey of growth and development.
“Under Vision 2040 Uganda is empowering its youth and putting them on the path to developing the country into an advance economy which provides excellent opportunities for trade in the region.”
His remarks captured the Uganda government’s stated intentions to develop business process outsourcing (BPO) and innovation sectors in Uganda as one of the key areas that they can exploit as a long-term solution to addressing issues of unemployment amongst educated youth.
Compared to several African countries, Uganda’s community of BPO firms and innovators is relatively small but growing rapidly.
In spite of the many challenges they face in this very competitive and capital intensive working environment, some have managed to carve out niches of deepening excellence.
To showcase this progress in the journey to make Uganda ‘Africa’s Innovation Powerhouse’, the ICT ministry named five innovators to accompany officials to Dubai during the last week of March 2022.
They were Martin Mukama (PRISMS); Hareesh Sahadevan, (Emvigo Technologies); Lydia Nakayenze, (Oncaplanta); Mohammed Muwonge (Badaye Technologies) and Francis Nkurunungi (Xente App).
Their stay in Dubai was busy, taken up by rounds of meetings, tours and in the interlude also a chance to present the value proposition of Uganda to drum up new investment, attract tourism and intensify trade links.
At the same time, the five innovators could pitch their ideas to like-minded people who could well be their business partners in the near future.
But perhaps the highlight of the visit was a sit-down with Dina Kahiel, the Director Mastercard Experience Centers for Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa, who was enthusiastic about Uganda’s potential.
The Mastercard Experience Centers are interactive and immersive spaces designed for both customers and partners to explore innovative solutions and unlock new growth opportunities.
Kahiel said Mastercard is ready to help the innovators and laid out an outline of how this will be done.
She said, “They will be able to access Mastercard market linkages, relationships and they will be attached to sponsors who will take them through the whole incubation life-cycle and access to funding.
They will understand how to market themselves, build sustainable businesses as well as be taken through how to build innovations that can last.”
The five representative ventures cut across a range of services including health and finance.
Protecting Infants Remotely by SMS (PRISMS) is a mobile platform designed to empower frontline health workers in making effective treatment and investigation decisions for sick newborns.
The vision is to reduce neonatal mortality in Uganda and across Africa as a whole.
African countries contribute 90% of the 2.5 million neonatal deaths that happen globally. In Uganda, the neonatal mortality rate remains unacceptably high at 27 deaths per 1000 live births.
An estimated 90% of sick newborn care management decisions are made by medical officers, nurses and or midwives who have inadequate training to make such decisions.
However the PRISMS technology enables these health workers to reduce the risk of making wrong decisions and manage sick newborns better.
Based on the size of the market in Uganda, the founders are targeting an estimated 1,188 Health Centre IIIs (HCIIIs), 193 Health Centre IVs (HCIVs), 133 district-level health facilities, 12 regional health facilities, and 3 national health facilities.
The market size of PRISMS is also composed of pre-service individuals that are; Year 3 and Year 5 medical students who have a component of newborn care in their curriculum.
Emvigo Technologies specializes in software development, call center solutions and BPO services. The company vision is to build value propositions with the ability to provide customized delivery solutions based on the relevant requirements and enabling process improvements using industry benchmarks and quality processes.
Emvigo is already helping companies create better working relationships with their customers through effective and efficient communication.
Through their call center, Emvigo gets to interact with the customers of different businesses and offer support that many of them may require which in the end improves the customer-business relationship that leads to business growth.
OncaPlanta is leveraging indigenous Ugandan knowledge to become the leading developer of natural cosmetic oils for the global market under the brand Moo me Gen (Oils of Hope).
The company produces shea butter, moringa seeds, desert dates, and marula nut oil in a state-of-the-art factory in Otuke, northern Uganda.
There are over 6000 shea nut collectors and moringa farmers who supply Oncaplanta with the raw materials. This has created income and employment opportunities along the value-chain.
Furthermore, Oncaplanta purchases most of its manufacturing inputs from Ugandan companies and also supports new companies venturing out into natural hair and skin care products.
Currently, they are working with six natural cosmetics companies in Uganda, Kenya, Germany, South Africa, and Canada.
OncaPlanta was started to transform lives and conserve nature through the creation of high-quality natural products for the world market.
Badaye Technologies produces a touch-less kit (TW20) to support access to water and handwashing with soap in public facilities while collecting and tracking real-time data concerning use of these facilities.
The founders envision leading in smart, safe, and data-driven preventive health in East Africa by 2025.
Studies have shown that over 40.9% of Uganda’s population with access to public washing facilities do not handwash.
Secondly, existing handwash stations permit contact and are potentially contagious but until now there has been no data for owners and authorities to track real-time traffic, compliance, or forecasts of public health risks. TW20 kit addresses all these points.
The kit uses renewable energy to support its functionality. Solar energy is a clean source with no greenhouse gas emissions thus contributing to environmental conservation.
The social benefits are numerous. Most publicly shared spaces including hospitals and markets are primarily government-owned.
These offer free or highly subsided services but lack enough capacity to ensure in-house diligent hand hygiene yet they are surrounded by and attract the majority population comprising of vulnerable low-income earners, living below the optimum standards of living.
The TW-20 kit enables the non-educated and informal population to unconsciously adhere to proper hand hygiene guidelines.
Xente is a Ugandan founded financial technology (fintech) company. They offer a digital account that businesses use to make/accept payments and automate finance operations – all in one.
Companies like Jumia, Mkopa, NSSF, and others use Xente to make and manage company payments and finance. A large percentage of small businesses in Uganda are unbanked or under-banked. That means they cannot participate in formal commerce or the new digital economy.
Xente enables all Ugandan businesses to have an account that they can use to make/accept payments from suppliers, teams, and other beneficiaries, locally and globally.
Today businesses waste time and money using old payment instruments like cash and cheques as well as getting bogged down in paperwork and manual work just to make basic payments.
When they then need financial services like credit, there are no records so they do more manual paperwork. This wastes valuable business time and money.
Xente as a fintech company also facilitates cross-border, cashless payments between businesses. This makes trade faster, cheaper, and more transparent.
Speaking at the Uganda pavilion, Godfrey Kabyanga, the state minister for ICT, said Uganda’s five visiting innovators had experienced breakthrough technologies and learned much more about disruptive innovations.
He was confident these lessons will come in very handy back at home.