Last weekend, 40 of Kenya’s most innovative and ambitious high school students gathered at the Maseno school just outside of Kisumu for the first-ever Innovate Kenya camp. Innovate Kenya is a nation-wide innovation challenge that empowers young Kenyans to identify and address pressing issues in their own communities. Over 100 teams from high schools across the country applied. The lucky 10 winners were invited to two Innovate Kenya camps for guidance and mentorship from more experienced innovators from Kenya and abroad (including access:energy’s own Peter Mbari). They also received funding of up to $US 1,500 to put towards prototyping and developing their project.
5 of the 10 student teams were addressing problems relating to energy, demonstrating how important energy issues are for Kenyan communities across the country. From the Maseno School team’s endeavor to create biogas from human waste in the school dormitories, to the Pumwani Secondary School’s project to power a community resource center with exercise equipment that produces electricity, these students are thinking creatively about how to improve access to energy in their communities.
The camp lasted only 36 hours, but Innovate Kenya packed a lot of learning, inspiration, networking and just plain old fun into a short time to help push the teams further in developing and executing their projects. Each team got the opportunity to present their ideas to the over 100 camp participants. Everyone participated in a Stanford D-School design thinking exercise to get into a creative mindset. Teams gave each other feedback and worked with mentors to refine their ideas. Each team left the camp with a budget and 5-week action plan to make a prototype.
On Saturday evening, Peter Mbari of access:energy shared with the camp his inspirational journey as an innovator. We learned that Peter began innovating when he was just 16 years old, living in a small rural village. He created a make-shift soldering iron out of a hanger and a coin. He then invented his way to becoming a National Science Congress winner and earned himself a scholarship at the University of Nairobi. Last April, in just 24 hours, he developed a prototype of a mobile enabled, micro-grid smart meter after access:energy set the challenge at the NASA SpaceApps competition in Nairobi. His invention won him the International People’s Choice award and landed him a job here. Now, not only is he working full time at access:energy to further develop the gadget we are now calling the bitHarvester, but he is also an active member of Lake Hub, Kisumu’s rapidly growing tech community, and working on a number of electronics projects on the side.
Throughout his speech, his passion for and dedication to designing ground-breaking electronics became obvious. He pushed the students in the audience to find the thing that they are passionate about and dedicate themselves to it. As he spoke of his late nights and early mornings spent working on his inventions, he assured the students that if they can make sacrifices for the things that they want to achieve, they can succeed as well. When he was done, the students, mentors, and access:energy team members in the audience filed out for dinner impressed and encouraged about what can be achieved with passion and dedication.
Though I will be back in the USA before the next Innovate Kenya Camp in August, I am excited to hear how the student teams progress after all of the support and encouragement they received last weekend. Peter and others from the access:energy team will surely stay involved and keep us all updated!