Nº 4 2013 > WSIS Forum 2013 - Success stories from partners
Innovating for a knowledge-based economy in Rwanda
kLab, an open technology hub enables young entrepreneurs to collaborate and innovate
With only a table and two laptops in a bare room inside a building known as “Telecom House” in Kacyiru, Kigali, Sylvie Umutesi and Stanley Mwizerwa are among the many young entrepreneurs in Rwanda with a strong belief to shape their country’s future economy through information and communication technologies (ICT).
Umutesi and Mwizerwa are software pioneers. In 2010, they founded their software company. Their first ideas and projects were a calendar for doctors’ visiting hours and software for providing advice to farmers. Using text messaging or the Internet, farmers could ask experts for help on how to improve their harvests and make informed choices when selling or buying products.
“Putting our ideas in writing and coding, or technically developing, software was not our main challenge,” says Stanley Mwizerwa. “The biggest challenge was how to overcome the scepticism we encountered among ordinary Rwandans regarding our products.”
Initially, Umutesi and Mwizerwa had to offer their software free of charge before they could gain the trust of potential clients among ordinary Rwandans and businesses. They hardly believed they could benefit from the time and energy they spent on designing software. “Patience pains, but it pays,” they now say.
As Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, Secretary-General of ITU and co-Vice-Chairman of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development said during the 7th Broadband Commission Meeting, held in Mexico City in March 2013, “the power of knowledge is based on one key ingredient: the human brain, which is equally distributed everywhere in the world. We must work for a world where every citizen can use information, create information and share information.” Rwanda has made this call a priority in its Vision 2020 by investing heavily in ICT infrastructure and services as it wants to become a knowledge-based economy.
To help young entrepreneurs like Umutesi and Mwizerwa, the Government of Rwanda, businesses and development aid organizations joined hands to fund a newly created Knowledge Lab (kLab) to support the young generation of ICT specialists.
At the kLab, young people are hard at work on their laptops on the sixth floor of Telecom House — the government building in Kacyiru. Software developers can use the premises free of charge, exchange ideas with colleagues and mentors and present their projects to an informed and interested audience.
“One of the ideas behind kLab was to create a space where students, fresh graduates, entrepreneurs and innovators come to work on their ideas and projects to turn them into viable business models,” explains Claude Kalisa Migisha, kLab’s General Manager since its founding in June 2012.
kLab has already attained remarkable achievements. Fresh graduates have become great programmers after benefiting from kLab’s rich online materials from the world’s top universities. Foreign investors, venture capitalists and angel investors, along with big companies such as Samsung, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Google have partnered with local ICT talents and have created jobs.
Innovations being developed by kLab tenants include “e-Nkunga”, a crowd funding mobile and web application; “unified school system”, a web application developed to connect parents to the schools of their children, allowing them to get regular performance updates to effectively monitor the education of their children; “farm in bytes application (FIBA)”, which helps experts such as veterinaries and agronomists to guide farmers in day-to-day farming activities throughout a farming cycle; “medical appointment SMS application”, which allows patients to book appointments at different health facilities, and “Sarura”, an application that enables farmers to easily access agricultural information and weather updates through their mobile phones.
kLab brings like-minded innovators together and gives them the resources they need to explore their ideas, learn from each other, and develop innovative solutions. It is also a technology space enabling ambitious entrepreneurs to come together to develop their trailblazing ideas into successful businesses.