Formed and run by the enthusiasm of a professor and a group of students from Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology (DIT), the STICLab forms an unique and enabling environment to experiment and develop innovative solutions to the prevailing issues in Tanzania and beyond. The enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit of these people has resulted in a number of businesses in various fields, water being one of the examples.
It was almost three years ago, when we first met people working at the STICLab and at the time, they were participating World Bank’s Negawatt Challenge in Dar es Salaam. The team had built a prototype of a coin-based water vending machine, Maji Pesa, to ease the collection and transparency of water payments at water distribution points. Since, the team has developed Maji Pesa further, and a mobile payment option is included together with a range of other improvements in the technology and business model.
Over 30 of these water ATMs have been sold across Tanzania, and Mr. Njau is one of STICLab’s customers who is now running his water business with the Maji Pesa water ATMs. In the past Mr. Njau would have needed staff to collect the payments, but now the ATMs take care of this automatically, together with tracking the collected revenues and amount of water sold. To this water distribution point Mr. Njau has also established office and retail spaces, which he is renting to other entrepreneurs – these water distribution points often serve as natural meeting points and attract people as they might be the only source of water in the community. Thus, besides providing a source of income for the entrepreneurs of STICLab, the Maji Pesa is enabling its customers to set up transparent water businesses and create hot spots for other businesses to be established around the Maji Pesa water ATMs.
This example of STICLab and Maji Pesa, highlights the importance of supporting young entrepreneurs and building their capacity and networks through e.g. provision of working spaces and laboratories, such as STICLab, as well as programmes, such as the Negawatt Challenge, to build business and technological skills and meet stakeholders, collaboration partners, mentors and funders.
SticLab is a technology innovation centre that provides a futuristic technology development environment for scientists, makers and innovators. The center offers its users full access to lab and Workshop equipments that help them easily do their tasks, starting from idea conception to product and/or service development. More information: http://sticlab.co.tz/.
Negawatt Challenge was a global innovation competition and accelerator programme by The World Bank and other partners. More information: http://www.negawattchallenge.com/.
New Global’s Doctoral Researcher Anne Hyvärinen is spending this fall in Kenya, immersing herself into the local environment and gathering insights for her research on water sector innovations and innovation enabling organisations. Currently, the tangled situation with the elections is creating some extra twists and turns to the daily life.
Uncertainty describes the current atmosphere in Nairobi. As the August 8th elections were nullified, the re-run is now scheduled for the 26th of October – already once postponed from the original re-run date of October 17. Since the August vote, demonstrations have been frequent as the Supreme Court annulled the results due to ambiguity in compliance with constitutions and laws. Since, the opposition has been demanding reforms from the electoral commission (IEBC), which has lead into demonstrations around the country. As a further hurdle, the opposition’s candidate pulled out, causing further uncertainty on what will happen. Next Thursday, the latest, we see whether the elections will take place or not.
These hurdles and controversies around the elections are of course influencing the life of Kenyans and others living in Kenya, as well as the economy. During my stay here in Kenya, I am affiliated to the C4DLab at University of Nairobi. At the C4DLab, I have the opportunity to see enthusiastic starting entrepreneurs in the supportive environment created by the Lab, hear about the challenges they face and experience how they can supported to thrive in the future. For the past few weeks, rest of the campus has been almost deserted – as the students have been sent home indefinitely due to unrest. Hopefully, quickly after the elections the campus is back to its bubbly life with all the students around.
Although the situation might seem confusing and mixed messages are heard on the streets, things still roll as usual here, at least mainly. I have been able to collect a good amount of data through interviews at several organizations, such as UNICEF, Water Sector Trust Fund (WSTF), Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) and Kenya Innovative Finance Facility for Water (KIFFWA). The current situation of course brings in an extra twist, and a further topic of discussion with people you meet. As a positive side note, the daily traffic jams have not been quite as terrible– as it seems that some have decided to stay home in the fear of demonstrations. All in all, Nairobi is a vibrant city with lots of things to do and learn, when you just keep out of the places where, for instance, demonstrations might take place.
To meet entrepreneur number 4 we had to make again a five-hour drive to Rajkot. In a village 17 km away from Rajkot, we met with Sanjay Tilwa who has developed the Groundnut Digger. It is a machine that eases the harvesting of groundnuts.
In the beginning, the groundnut digger did not reach commercial success and therefore Sanjay decided to develop a plowing machine. He purchased a plowing machine from a large manufacturer and reverse engineered a cheaper version. Now this machine is selling well in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh – despite the competition from established organizations. With these sales, he can fund the company.
When we discussed the future, Sanjay told he had bold plans to grow and believed that the groundnut digger will be the machine that will help him achieve the goals. Sanjay explained that there is no standard measurement but that he has to make customizations for each region’s groundnut farmers. Currently he is making tailored solutions according to a farmer’s wishes but in order to grow, he said, he has to develop one model that fits all.
Related to the future, we also discussed financial matters. Sanjay had been approached by his bank two years back because his financial records had been stable for a while and the bank wanted to offer him a loan. I wanted to know why he had not gone to the bank earlier and his answer was short – he was not aware of the financial services a bank could have offered. It was a surprising answer and a good reminder of how the world looks to a grassroots entrepreneur. Formal institutions such as banks and patent registers do not feel relevant to them.
|Groundnut diggers ready to be shipped to clientswhere the will be assembled.
The most exciting moment of the field visit is always when the entrepreneur shows his factory. The factory of Sanjay was relatively small and he hopes to buy the factory neighboring his factory to facilitate future growth. Sanjay had though how to make the production faster and made frames, which he had attached to the workshop floor. Utilizing these, the workers know the size of the machine and the manufacturing process is much faster. Sanjay also told that the raw materials come from the nearby ship breaking industry. He sends his drawings and the measurements and they deliver the parts. The availability of raw materials providers played a role also when selecting the location for his factory.
For the first field visited we went to the town of Wakaner, where we met with Mansukhbhai Prajapati and heard the story of Mitticool. When we arrived at the Mitticool premises, we first met the son of Mansukhbhai, Raja, who has been working for Mitticool for two years now. He showed us the showroom of the 130 Mitticool products. While Raja was explaining us something, Mansukhbhai himself entered the showroom and he showed us his innovations. The first innovation was an automated manufacturing process of tava plates, which was followed by the development of a water filter. In 2001, Gujarat was hit by a big earthquake, which affected Mansukh Bhai’s business because everything got broken and he made a huge financial loss in this period. However, a local newspaper published a story with a picture of the water filter developed by Mansukhbhai but the caption wrongly stated: “the poor man’s fridge got broken.” From that, he got the idea to develop the famous Mitticool fridge. His fourth innovation is a low pressure cooker, for which he got the idea from a student of IIMA.
After this introduction, we explained the purpose of the visit and the research and started with the interview. Mansukhbhai started telling about the harshness during his childhood, his family, moving from Morbi to Wakaner to find work, not finishing education, starting a shop with a friend, his work experience since childhood and finally about starting with the clay business.
Mansukhbhai Prajapati explaining the production
process in his factory.
Mansukhbhai worked in a factory but he had a strong desire to work for himself. One day in 1988 he met a moneylender, who was willing to give him a loan of Rs. 30.000 (350 EUR) with interest. With this initial investment, Mansukhbhai started the tava manufacturing company in his hometown Wakaner. His parents were also working in the pottery industry so he saw from close the suffering of people in the industry. Initially his parents were not very happy with his career choice, but he was convinced of his idea and the calculations he had made for the moneylender.
After the many clay innovations he developed, Mansukhbhai received an award for grassroots innovators from the president of India in 2009 and after that the success expanded. He got venture capital through an Indian governmental agency and knowledge support from a local grassroots incubation organization. This helped him a lot in developing and scaling the business. He also got international recognition and media outlets such as TIMES, Forbes and Discovery have shared his story – and Mansukhbhai is very proud of this.
Today, Mitticool is an enterprise that employs 80 people from the locality in manufacturing, has five people working on marketing and sales and is shipping products abroad, mostly to the Gulf States. The two sons of Mansukhbhai are also working for the enterprise – Raja for sales and Ravi for manufacturing. The path has not been easy until now, and both father and son know they need a lot of help also in the future –I assured them that I am willing to provide them help in any way possible I can.
My imaginary research field trips
When I became a Research assistant, I took the new responsibility a bit too lightly, especially since about two thirds of my responsibilities are in and about East Africa. I told myself “I am from East Africa, this shouldn’t be too challenging”.
Imagine your mind jumping from Zanzibar to Iringa and then to Dar es Salaam, and all this time, being blanketed under a lot of unrelated data from 3 different fields i.e. Housing, Forestry and Water. The outcome of this journey was a good understanding of the data collection process and everything around it. Yes, you can still understand and analyze data even if I you are not in the field during data collection.
Post field trip data review/analysis is what I have been doing. I did this through working with different materials from the field trips. I have had to interpret photos, combine with other data to find meaning behind specific information, reading between the lines from the cultural point of view etc.
Working with data has been by far the most rewarding and motivational work in this research world. I have had to swim through it, dive deep down to pick out and understand the tiniest issues. Through the process, I learnt new things and I developed some skills within me. I have had to do a lot of thinking and at times my brain was tested a whole lot. I thought being a native Swahili speaker is enough, but to my surprise, it is not.
What can I say? It takes more than the language. It feels good to be able to find data out of data. I came to realize that I could still squeeze out a lot of important information out of data that has been collected directly by someone else. I found myself drawn into data and understanding it in a very special way. Trying to make sense of some issues by using audios, photos and maps, is not an easy task. It takes a lot of time, but in the end, it is all worth it.
When I started with my PhD, I knew that at some point I would have to do a field visit. Had I studied European social entrepreneurs, which is also a very interesting phenomenon, a field visit would have been closer to home and easier to organize. But I didn’t choose my research topic based on easiness but based on my passion – and that brought me kilometers away from home to India.
Entrepreneurs need in general financial capital (a loan from the bank or from previous entrepreneurial activities), human capital (education, skills, experiences) and social capital (the network around the entrepreneur) to develop innovations. In my research I focus on grassroots entrepreneurs, who basically have none or very little of these essential resources. Nevertheless, they managed to develop products that are bought by people living outside the village of the entrepreneurs. I want to understand the innovation process – how the entrepreneurs went from having an idea to developing a product and selling it accross India.
While it is a difficult process for any entrepreneur to convince retailers to take a product on the selves, it is even more complicated to do so for a grassroots entrepreneur. These entrepreneurs do not have the business processes (procuring, production, marketing, accounting and so on) as organized as for example entrepreneurs who have been trained at business schools. Grassroots entrepreneurship in India is also particularly interesting because it is a very hierarchical society. This is an additional complexity for grassroots entrepreneurs, who are based in a rural setting far away from the formal structures.
The cases I am looking at, are very famous cases and various local and international newspapers have covered the stories about these grassroots entrepreneurs. I have read every newspaper article written and watched every video clip about those grassroots entrepreneurs I want to cover in my study. So, I have a good understanding of what happened in the innovation process. However, I have not heard the story told by the actors themselves – the grassroots entrepreneurs – and that is the reason I came to India. I want to meet the persons behind the famous innovations and let them tell their stories.
And why I am interested in this particular topic? These are very inspiring individuals and there are many lessons these grassroots entrepreneurs can teach anyone. My curious mind cannot stop seeking for answers to all my questions – the how’s and why’s of the process. I also think that these entrepreneurs have not gotten the attention they deserve from researchers, policy makers or the general public. I want to do my share and have the grassroots entrepreneurs at the core of my research.
In the main hospital in Balasore, Odisha, India the facility conducts 30 births/day out of which approximately half are cesarean deliveries. After a normal birth the mother stays only 48 hours in the hospital, but after a cesarean section she is supposed to stay for a week. There are beds for only 70 women. The facility has 3 nurses / shift and one cleaner. There are major challenges with hygiene and infection control.
We are trying to find design and architectural solutions that can be produced in a frugal way, but that could benefit also other facilities with similar challenges both in India and elsewhere. New Global researcher Helena Sandman is involved in this project through M4ID.
Pictures Helena Sandman.
New Global organized a panel discussion and a solutions workshop at Innofrugal 2016. The panel concentrated on cocreating water related frugal innovations. This is what we heard at the panel led by Sara Lindeman:
How does co-creation happen?
Prof. Minna Halme: Give the project time, students a bit of money and believe in your partners.
Prof. Olli Varis: In frugal innovation we are all colearning.
Jari Koikkalainen, Ahlstrom: It’s always cool to be working with young students with new thinking.
Jari Koikkalainen, Ahlstrom: It’s much easier to shoot down projects than to start them. Start-ups have let’s solve it attitude.
Riikka Timonen, Kemira: When we are talking about water, we should always talk about water cycle. Not just water supply.
Prof. Minna Halme: In multidisciplinary projects you should always speak out also your basic knowledge. It’s news for the others.
The three panel discussion groups brought up the following:
The panel emphasized the role of water in nearly all activities of the world; not only as a drink but as part of industrial processes and food production. Water and sanitation related problems are big, and the solutions needed, particularly in emerging markets. It doesn’t really matter who produces solutions as long as they work and serve local needs. Water challenges also affect the development of other areas like health and livelihoods as well.
1) Co-operation between large companies, start-ups and universities requires development and continuous innovation platform maintenance. In most cases, the correct approach is case and situation specific and therefore compliance with good practices works only partially.
2) The fruits of the new type of co-operation are not realized only as new as ideas and products, but they can also change the work culture in the participating organizations.
3) Individuals working in large companies often feel that the organization is too rigid to use agile and innovative ideas. Co-operation with new partners may ease taking new ideas into use and thus agility is not only the cooperation, but takes place also as a side product of the cooperation.
Discussion about ecosystem orchestration listed challenges and solutions related to the theme.