A mobile phone-controlled tea maker, a mobile phone car tracking system, a hydro pedal boat… all made by Kenyans.
Morris Mbetsa Mwero
Morris Mbetsa is an Innovator and Entrepreneur working within the Eastern Africa region. He focuses on producing social uplifting and economic sustaining technology products for Africa. He is the kid who developed the first vehicle GPRS IMMOBILISER. He has developed a tablet to be used by students and a device to tap kinetic energy to power them at Tafaria Foundation. Morris is a self-taught Electronic and Technology engineer since the age of eight. He is constantly expanding his portfolio of simple, inexpensive technologies because his country’s population continues to expand, creating new problems and deepening old ones. Morris Mbetsa is the Chairman and Founder for Innovators Society of Kenya. He is the current CEO and Founder or Mbetsa Innovations Ltd, a society which assists young innovators to turn ideas into products and services. As a Washington Fellow Morris Mbetsa seeks to use the knowledge and connections he shall obtain from the fellowship to further his entrepreneurial ventures into Techpreneur by setting up innovation and entrepreneurship centers in technical colleges and universities that will offer both software and hardware training. With the help of his other follows across the country and continent, he hopes to transform the youth and empower them into self-sustaining individuals that can make a difference in the lives of their families. Source: http://yali.nd.edu/
Morris Mbetsa Mwero:Big dreams for humble local inventions
A mobile phone-controlled tea maker, a mobile phone car tracking system, a hydro pedal boat… all made by Kenyans. These are some of the innovations that the National Council for Science and Technology is placing a bet on to push Kenya closer to Vision 2030.
They are among eight innovations currently being funded by the council, with the hope that they will spur Kenya’s industrialisation to the level of the Asian tigers in the next two decades.
The country has chosen to follow in the footsteps of countries like Singapore and Malaysia, which were at par with Kenya at independence 50 years ago, but now are more technologically advanced thanks to focus on science and technology innovations.
Complete with an economic blueprint dubbed Vision 2030, science and technology innovation has been touted as the vehicle that will propel Kenya to a middle-income country by 2030.
However, the NCST, formed in 1977, has few innovations to show for its 34-year existence. Initially, the science and technology body funded research at universities, but it now also funds innovators in a move to increase the number of homegrown solutions to local challenges.
The council was allocated Sh300 million to fund research and innovation projects around the country.
Since the inception of the science and technology innovation grants two years ago, eight innovators have received funding. Each innovator is awarded Sh1 million to develop their idea into a prototype that can be tested by an independent body.
So far, Morris Mbetsa is fronted as the council’s best example in a funded innovation gone big. Morris, 20, has been fine-tuning his idea of a mobile phone-controlled car-tracking system for the past three years at a cost of Sh3.4 million from NCST. His was one of the products that was showcased during a recent exhibition of the NCST-funded innovations and research projects.
However, the NCST head, Prof Shaukat Abdulrazak, says that funding was still inadequate when it comes to churning out more local innovations to tackle local socio-economic challenges.
“The council was allocated an equivalent of 0.3 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to fund research projects, but we need at least one per cent of the GDP set aside for research and innovation if we are to achieve Vision 2030,” says Prof Abdulrazak.
This year, out of the 99 applicants for the fund, 14 applicants will receive funding. But the question of whether the innovations are good enough to push Kenya towards its economic goals lingers.
However, Prof Abdulrazak says that though the current products may be viewed as jua kali innovations when viewed under the lens of international standards, they are actually filling the innovation gap in the country.
“If you want Kenyans to have a Concorde aeroplane right now, that is too much. You might look at our innovations as jua kali but if it solves our challenges then it is a great achievement,” says Prof Abdulrazak citing a mobile phone charger powered by a bicycle dynamo as one of the local innovations that solves local challenges.
“We cannot compare ourselves to Japan and other technologically advanced nations. In our context we do not want to kill ideas because they could develop into the next big thing.”
However, he agrees that NCST still has a long way to go to get people to invest in the innovations.
“Kenya does not have well developed venture capitalists who would be willing to put money into the innovations,” he says.
“The current situation is that we would rather borrow technology from abroad than develop our own technology for our challenges, but we hope that will change.”
Morris is still working on a deal with mobile phone operators to market his product since his car tracking system works through mobile phone activation.
The senior science secretary in charge of research and innovation at the NCST, Peter Ngigi, agrees that there is still a problem with commercialisation of the funded products. He cites the body’s mandate that is restricted to promoting and coordinating science, research and technology.
“Even universities produce good research every year, but the problem has been linking research findings with industries and commercialising them,” he says.
The Science Technology and Innovation Fund was transferred from the Commission of Higher Education to NCST in 2008. Previously it was disbursed for university research.
“We received Sh300 million this year to fund research, science and innovation projects in the current financial year,” says Mr Ngigi.
The proposals for funding are judged by a team of experts, who choose the ideas that are likely to have an impact as well as those with a potential for commercialisation.
However, Mr Ngigi says that women participation in developing innovations and applying for the funds is still low.
Prof Abdulrazak, on the other hand, would like to see more Kenyan scientists focusing on practical research to solve perennial problems like drought and flooding that recur regularly in the country.
“Why do we face drought, famine and floods yet we have scientists in the country?” he poses.
Professor Abdulrazak believes that government rewards for commendable Kenyan scientists will encourage more research and innovation that will see the country achieve its developmental goals.
“Unless we embrace innovations in science and technology, Vision 2030 will be just another pipe dream,” Prof Abdulrazak says.