The Innovation Hub opens in Blantyre

Inside The Innovation Hub
Inside The Innovation Hub

Unicef Malawi, in partnership with the University of Malawi, Polytechnic, has officially launched The Innovation Hub (Mphika wa Luso) in Blantyre. The hub is based at Polytechnic’s Chichiri Campus opposite Civic Offices and is the country’s second tech hub after mHub which launched earlier this year. Two years in the making, the hub will provide a platform for young people, industry stakeholder and academia to interact and exchange ideas and collaborate on innovations that address local challenges and take those innovations to scale.

Mixon Faluweki
Mixon Faluweki

During the event, Mixon Faluweki, creator of the Padoko phone charger, urged the private sector and other partners to open more innovation centres in towns like Zomba and Mzuzu. The Padoko Charger won an Excellence Award at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Telecom World 2015 in Budapest, Hungary. The innovation was also the winner of the 2014 Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) competition finals in Marrakech Morocco organised by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and funded by the American department of state. The charger was developed while Mixon was a 3rd year physics student at Chancellor College and under the mentorship of Dr Chomora Mikeka, a senior physics lecturer at the college.

Mixon narrated how in his youth, he and his sister used to walk one and half hours to the nearest primary school. All of his other colleagues in the village dropped out because of the distance but Mixon’s uneducated father encouraged and supported his two children to not give up.

The mHub team setting up their station.
The mHub team setting up their station.

Speaking later, registrar of the University of Malawi, Benedicto Malunga, expressed his disappointment that Mixon Faluweki was decorated in Hungary before his home country took any notice of him. He was however inspired by Faluweki’s father’s determination to educate his children and called on the media to make efforts to recognise and honour local innovators.

Karen Chimkwita, founder of social enterprise Jubilee Enterprises, motivated the audience when she reminded them, especially the under 35’s, of the words in the Malawi national anthem — “O God bless our land of Malaŵi, … Put down each and every enemy, Hunger, disease, envy. Join together all our hearts as one, That we be free from fear. Bless our leader,…”. She said we can only bless our land if we work hard and use our skills to defeat our enemies. Karen went on to challenge everyone to join their hearts together and free themselves from fear — the fear that disables us from taking risks and being innovative. She also said that we are all leaders in our own right and we should bless ourselves.

Zack Mwale and his nsima cooker.
Zack Mwale and his nsima cooker.

Karen emphasised the need to not be intimidated but statistics of poverty but the stand up and make Malawi proud. Jubilee Enterprises provides platforms for investors and other parties to work with the youth and entrepreneurs.

In his remarks, UNICEF country representative Mahimbo Mdoe, said Africa and young people in particular, cannot continue with things are they are. He explained that as Africans, we are looked upon as a continent not cable of successfully producing or doing anything on its own yet we can. He challenged Malawian youth to push themselves and turn around the poverty statistics. But Mdoe said this can’t be done without the involvement of the youth.

Forum for Science in Action had a number of gadgets on display including a water level detector, mobile phone detector and a signal jammer.
Forum for Science in Action had a number of gadgets on display including a water level detector, mobile phone detector and a signal jammer.

Mdoe said innovation doesn’t have to be complex, citing the windmill invention by William Kamkwamba and an accounting package by Samson Fiado, both of which have won international recognition. He said that Unicef will continue to take the lead in innovation projects citing their own in house projects that include an SMS platform that allows hospitals to transmit lab results and a drone project aimed at speeding up transportation of blood samples from remote clinics to labs.

After the speeches and cutting of the ribbon to symbolise the opening of the hub, dignitaries toured an exhibition of local innovations. The innovations included a nsima cooker, a solar powered egg incubator, candles made from beef, pimple-removing soap made from vegetables, and a mobile phone detector and signal jammer. A few techies showcased software solutions that included a maternal health app and a social mobile app. One innovator developed a tricycle with trailer that he intended to add solar panels to to enable farmers either cool, heat or dry their produce of the way to market.

tricycle truck
Samson Kalombe has built a tricycle truck for farmers to transport their produce to market. He intends to build a covered van fitted with solar panels that power a cooling, heating or drying facility.

Earlier during the event, Andre Chivundula, a Polytechnic architecture student, gave a short presentation on a project his class is working on in Naocha, Chilobwe village. The project is aimed at finding a carbon neutral and green way to build a school structure and landscape the area. Unicef is sponsoring the project and will provide technology solutions including ipads to be used at the school. The students will document their work via a blog, book and video.