Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Walter Wafula, 2010 Young Achievers Award winner

Walter Wafula after receiving his award

Walter Wafula, a Daily Monitor journalist, took many by surprise by winning the 2010 Young Achievers Award for innovative ICT solutions for Uganda. Wafula spoke to this blogger and talked about how no matter how much or little you earn, you can make a difference in your society.  

1.       Tell us, what inspired you to begin this initiative that has led to you being awarded the ICT Solutions Award at the 2010 Young Achievers Award? 

The birth of our ICT solution has three dimensions to it. First, it was a dream I set out to achieve about 5 years ago. But of course I didn’t have enough money to start the project until 2008.
But overtime, I have acquired a lot of knowledge about the ICT habits in Uganda and the world. For instance, there are over 30 million Ugandans but only 10 per cent know how to use computers and internet. Research shows that in the developed West, over 80 per cent of the population is computer literate. So the computer literacy gap in Uganda and my project dream were a perfect match. 

Initially, the project was designed to benefit one person and it was bound to fail. Right now, we want to make our contribution to society by increasing the number of computer literate Ugandans. People need to be exposed to e-opportunities and a digital life. We see numerous online and computer opportunities that can make a big difference in the lives of 20 million Ugandans and the economy. 

 The final dimension is leverage. As observed, I didn’t have enough capital, so I had to rely on my savings to start but to expand; I teamed up with friends; Osborn Wanjala and Edward Mayanja, who believed the project was worth undertaking. On top of this, there was space at Santa Lucia Basic School where the Lab would be. The Headmistress, requested us to equip and operate the lab if we had the resources. The condition was to equip it with computers, and hire trainers because the school was not ready to do it. Without this kind of leverage behind me, it would have been a tough job pulling off a $7,000 project, because I started with less than half of that. 

Who was it/is it designed to benefit?  

Our ICT Labs are targeting millions of Ugandans without ICT skills. We believe there are over 20 million of them and growing. The first Lab has been a pilot project to guide us in our future endeavours and decisions. So, Lab 1, was primarily targeted at school children. The earlier they know about computers, the sooner they will be inspired to accomplish computer aided dreams. We believe many of them will evolve into computer scientists or IT graduates because they have experienced relevant technology at an early age. If they create tech companies in Uganda, they will have a multiplier effect on the economy; jobs, more businesses and income. 

2.       What made you think you could make a difference? Many people think they need a lot of money to be able to help the less advantaged... 

It’s true that a lot of money is needed to accomplish certain things. No doubt. I knew that we could make a difference by tapping into our networks to bring an affordable ICT solution to Ugandans. We are living in a knowledge era and ICTs are the engine of knowledge creation, acquisition and growth. Uganda like the rest of the world is going digital in many ways. This means that those who don’t know how to use computers or mobile phones will soon find it very hard to fit in the world. They will either be cheated or fail to see numerous opportunities in the world. 
3.       You are a business financial journalist, are ICT solutions something you are interested in? How did you become interested in such a field? 

Journalism is more about seeking, analysing and disseminating relevant knowledge to people through stories.  Almost on a daily basis, I empower people with the knowledge that helps them to make wise decisions as regards, investment or purchases they intend to make. As a business journalist, I write about ICTs, stock markets, finance and trade news. Besides the journalism career, I have a life, and talents I nurture. One of them is the love for technology. I think spend about 14 hours a day interfacing with technology; it’s either a laptop connected to the internet, a phone an MP3 or TV doing something for me.  These things make my life easy and help me accomplish a lot. If they help me a great deal, I believe some   should be relevant to other Ugandans too. A computer just like a mobile phone is an important part of life. 

4.       What are your Ugandan ICT experiences that you can share with us? Are your experiences frustrating, or good? 

It’s a blend of good and bad. Under virtualization, I love the fact that one computer can be used to run 10 monitors without CPUs. For me, that’s just out of this world.  It’s a green solution that we have deployed in our Lab and it’s amazing. I was upset, when I spent Shs1.3 million on a computer that ended up not being so useful during the early days of the Lab last year. For a couple of days it would breakdown because it was not compatible with the virtualisation system. That was a pain.  But the experience was one of the lessons I learnt in virtualisation. So, my frustration was a knowledge-well. I also had a rough time with one of the new mobile internet services but I finally got a breakthrough.

5.       What was the reaction of your initiative among the people you were targeting? 

The pupils were very excited because they knew that they had “arrived.” Of course they had heard about computer games or watched them in movies. Some knew they were gonna hit those key boards harder than anything.  Although fun is part of the computer literacy programme, our Labs are more focused on training needs and less fun. But even then, we carried out an assessment that showed they were very happy with the lessons. But the happiest beneficiaries are their parents, who believe the school raised the education of their children. Some have actually confessed they are computer illiterate and are also in need of training to match their children’s skills. The school’s profile has also risen as one of the schools in the district that provides computer lessons to pupils. I would say it’s been a 4D win for all beneficiaries. 

6.       What would you say you have so far achieved with this initiative? 

It’s too early to use the word “achievement” in our project because we are eyeing millions of people and yet, we have only reached hundreds. However, we feel proud to have empowered about 270 young people/ children and youth, with ICT skills to date.  If we did that in less than two years, we believe we are going to make a difference in many people’s lives in the years ahead. My ICT Solutions Award at the YAAs is worth recognising as an achievement for us. I believe I was honoured for the initiative, the impact it has had so far, and what it will have in the years ahead. The award has become a new source of inspiration to move forward and live the dream. 

7.       Do you have any future plans for this initiative? Are you going to expand it, grow it to include more communities and schools? Where do you go from here? 

The first Lab was a pilot project. We are moving on to the second project and plan to roll out more. We have done the feasibility study and are finalising the budget for Lab II. It should be up and running in by February 1, 2011. Our expansion will be gradual, because we are relying on our career incomes to put up the labs. We believe Uganda will end up being our model market as we cross new borders sometime in future. Africans face similar challenges which require appropriate and affordable solutions like ours.

8.       What have you learned from helping in such an initiative? 

Networks and collaboration are a critical game in such projects because of the leverage it can give you. But you have to go slow on, and you should be inquisitive about every move you make. Secondly, young people can make a big difference in society by scaling back on the amount of time and cash they spend on fun. Partying is good, but less productive unless strategically done.

9.       Has there ever been a time in your life when you were helped by an initiative from a ‘kind stranger?’ Tell us about it. 

Not really. But I have encountered conmen along the path. 

1   Tell us a little bit more about you. When were you born, to whom, and how many are you in your family? 

I was born in 1982 to very supportive parents. I prefer to keep my family life a bit private. I went to Uganda Martyrs Senior Secondary School Namugongo, for my “O” and “A” –Levels. Then, I studied Mass Communication at Makerere University main campus. Right now I am pursuing a Masters in International Business at Makerere University Business School. 

 Who inspires you and why? 

My dad is a journalist by profession, so I looked up to him and he used to encourage me to write. As an entrepreneur, I’m inspired by Richard Branson because of his business acumen and interests. I believe it would be interesting to run my own “Virgin Group.”  Locally, Ashish Thakker of Mara Group has also become an inspiration. He is 29, just a year older than me but hey!

       Your favourite causes/charities/or personalities involved in trying to better their communities and why you admire them. 

I am not a fan of today’s charities or CSR activities because they are brand building programmes. But I think our ‘Golden’ athletes; Dorcas Inzikuru and Moses Kiprop are doing some great work by breeding a new cream of Ugandan athletes in their home areas. I believe CSR shouldn’t be about donating mosquito nets and used shoes for the record. People need to nurture talent or empower others to be able to buy those things.

1    5 things you would change in Uganda if you could. 

  • The Presidential term
  • Corrupt cabinet ministers
  • The Pay As You Earn threshold and requirement.
  • The quality our roads
  • Load shedding.

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