Last week more than 100 talented young men and women contested at the Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) startup boot camp East Africa. During the innovation competitions, a Tanzanian youth, Arnold Minde who is a software developer and a University of Dar es Salaam Computer Engineering graduate emerged the overall winner. He granted an exclusive interview to our reporter GERALD KITABU on the secret behind his victory among other things. EXCERPTS:
QUESTION: Briefly tell us about yourself
ANSWER: My name is Arnold Minde. I am a software developer, a Computer Engineering graduate of the University of Dar es Salaam. I am a technology enthusiast; I love science, and love using technology to solve information management challenges.
Q: You emerged the overall winner through Safari Yetu. Could you tell us what it is and how it works?
A: It is true that I won through Safari Yetu, a soft ware which enables bus seat reservation and ticketing service. It allows inter-city bus operators to move from using sheets of papers to manage seat reservation and ticketing using computers and mobile devices. This improves management of their businesses and offers better service experience to their customers.
On the other hand, it allows travelers to book and pay for their bus seats using their mobile phones and computers. You may well be aware that to be able to book for a bus seat for some one traveling up-country, he or she has to go to Ubungo a day or more earlier to buy a ticket. So, if you live in the outskirts of Dar es Salaam city where it would take you two or more commuter buses to get to Ubungo, it may cost you 10 percent or even more of the up-country ticket prices just to get to Ubungo terminal bus to buy your ticket. This is wastage of time because given the increasing traffic jam in the rush hours, you will be forced to use two or more extra hours before you get your ticket. So, a lot of money and time are wasted unnecessarily. Yes, you can just turn up at Ubungo the day you intend to travel, but then you may not be sure to travel in the bus of your choice, or sometimes, you may face problems or fail to travel at all if you loose your ticket or during peak hours.
So, with Safari Yetu, travelers, Tanzanians and Dar es Salaam residents in particular, will be able to use their mobile phones or computers to buy tickets and only go to the bus terminal to board and travel. For those who can’t use their mobile phones to do that, they may be able to buy from agents near them rather than traveling all the way to their respective terminal buses.
Q: There were more than 100 talented youth from East Africa and other nations, tell us the secret of your victory.
A: Actually it was a very stiff competition because there were absolutely amazing innovative ideas and solutions presented during the event. So the judges could have picked anyone as the overall winner, but they picked me instead. So, I would simply say, we all won.
However, may be the judges were impressed with Safari Yetu because we are solving a problem that affects a very large number of people. A majority of us travel by buses, and the amount of time and money we waste just to be able to reserve a seat is extremely big. So, using this new technology would have a big impact to the general public and the nation at large.
I think also, the judges were impressed with my choice of technology. I pervasively use cutting-edge technology that would allow many people to afford, yet remain very cost effective, which translates into even more savings to our partners and customers.
The other criteria in my view, might have been the type of problem we are trying to solve, and types of innovative features we have managed to introduce into Safari Yetu.
Q: How can technological entrepreneurship like yours help to develop Tanzania?
A: Technology is there to make our lives easier and better by helping us move from old technologies to much more efficient and productive ones. So, it is very obvious that there is no development without technology. Without technology, we would probably still be hunting and gathering, and others would still be in the Old Stone Age.
Q: What are your achievements so far?
A: We have been working to have our product ready to go to market. I am proud that our bus reservation system is solid and ready, and we are working hard to get bus operators on board.
We have received a number of recognition for our efforts from different stakeholders. As you know, I have just won a competition in which there were participants from East Africa and other countries. This is the second award I have won in a year. Safari Yetu won Best Startup in Dar es Salaam, in September 2012 and I will be representing Tanzania in finals to be held this year in the USA to find the best startup of the World.
On the other hand, as I work hard on this bus reservation system, I am also trying to talk with other stakeholders in other communications and transport industries so that we can develop other products to make life easier.
I am still in the infant stage but working hard to meet my dream of making life much better here in Tanzania and beyond.
Q: Any challenges faced?
A: The biggest challenge has been to make sure that our solution actually addresses the needs and concerns of our customers. Understandably, I am proposing a new slightly technology intensive way of doing business for our customers but these kind of soft wares need financing and time. So in many cases for beginners like me, we are limited due to lack of money. At this point of time when we have many talented youth wanting to unlock the potentials of this country and future generation, we need support from the government, general public and other stakeholders to fulfill our dreams.
Tech entrepreneurs are potential people working to help this country to move forward and compete with developing world. Furthermore, these tech entrepreneurs like me, are well positioned to initiate ideas and craft solutions that allow us to become more efficient and more productive in our lives.
Of course, everyone else can’t just sit down and wait for some magic to happen, financial and technical support is needed, every one should play their part in this matter.
Q: How are you addressing some of these challenges?
A: We have been working closely with our users, first to understand their business environment and business practices. So, we have tried to make sure that the business model does not change so that we can provide them with all the tools necessary for them to work more efficiently and more productively.
Limited resources are more like a blessing in disguise as well. This has forced me to continue with innovation using the very little resources so that I can accomplish my goals. For example, by keeping our costs low to benefit more people, customers and partners.
Q: What are your future plans?
A: My mission and future plan is to revolve around, and make transport better for everyone.
I am looking at the transport industry as a best industry in the future. I have identified areas that I would like to transform and expand in the future with the aim of providing solutions that would save people time and money.
I believe we have the technical capability to really bring innovations in these areas that will, in the long run completely change and transform the transport sector as a whole in Tanzania. I feel that this is my modest contribution in solving existing challenges in our society.
Q: What is your call to the government, development partners and the general public?
A: I believe we all have our roles to play in really bringing change and development in our country.
I call upon the government and other stakeholders to see the importance of building local capacity and encouraging local tech community to continue to invest their resources and time in innovating tech solutions to our problems.
Buying and importing technology might seem easy, but working with local science and tech community to find solutions to our problems is more beneficial to all of us and our nation’s economy.
This is the only way, we as a nation, can build capacity and the experience necessary to tackle challenges ahead of us that need even more complex science and technological solutions.