Sector:

Experiences and Lessons from our Third Design and Innovation Challenge

For six weeks leading up to World Water Day 2023, seven teams of 3 – 4 innovators worked on an intensive innovation journey to develop solutions to solve the water, sanitation, and energy crises in Africa. The judging ceremony to decide the winners was held on World Water Day 2023 to determine the winners who will also work with our partner Operation Water to implement the winning solution in their eight project sites across Sub-Saharan Africa.

Group 3 which comprised Diane Okong’o, Jojo Walugembe, Petua Mukimba, and Wuntia Gomda provided the winning solution and will get the opportunity to work with Operation Water to make their innovation a reality.  

The winning solution was a community waste treatment center that converts fecal waste, organic waste, and wastewater into resources like biogas and agri-inputs. The solution is flexible and can be modified to meet the unique needs of various communities while utilizing local knowledge and materials for construction and maintenance. The solution aims to tackle these challenges in a sustainable, cost-effective, and community-driven way. It involves the deployment of decentralized, modular water treatment, waste treatment, and renewable energy systems that can be easily integrated into the existing community infrastructure. These Design and Innovation Challenges are valuable to the network as they enable our members to become active participants in finding sustainable solutions for Africa’s infrastructure needs. Because of its iterative and interactive structure, young network members are encouraged to collaborate in innovative thinking. We asked the most recent winners for feedback on their experience, and this is what they shared. 

A sophomore at Columbia University, Petua Mukimba, is currently studying towards a degree in Civil Engineering with a specialization in Water Resources and Environmental management. She is passionate about sustainable development which pursues environmental and social justice in the Global South. She is currently working as a lab assistant at the Carleton Lab and will be spending the summer on Columbia’s campus researching the connection between aggregate phone data and water management policies in Sub-Saharan African cities. For her, the DIC experience was very eye-opening. She is eternally grateful to the African Leadership Academy, Operation Water, and Columbia University for organizing the challenge, and looks forward to working on the implementation of their solution with Operation Water. 

Jojo Walugembe is an ALA alum, originally from Uganda, currently pursuing studies in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Rochester. Jojo is particularly interested in the intersection between finance, technological advancement, and African development and hopes to become a pioneer in this field. With a passion for all things tech-related, Jojo loves finding hardware and software solutions to real-world problems and is particularly skilled in Python and C/C++. He expresses great pride in their team’s hard work and dedication to creating a positive impact and looks forward to continuing to explore new solutions to pressing environmental challenges.  

Fellow ALA alum, Wuntia Gomda is a data analyst at Safisana, a waste-to-energy firm in Ghana. He creates tools to track and enhance the company’s performance and empower internal teams to consistently provide outstanding results.  He enjoyed the Challenge and the opportunity to design a solution for an African community. He found it refreshing to have a blank canvas and be forced to think creatively and broadly. He also appreciated the creative freedom that came with the challenge. He was able to draw on the experience that he had gained from his current job and previous projects.  

The notable challenge in choosing which solution to develop further was ensuring that the solutions remained as realistic as possible, even though everything that they were doing was theoretical. Despite this, they approached the challenge with a sense of realism, knowing that these were ideas that might be implemented in the future. Overall, it was a great learning experience for Wuntia and his team and he enjoyed the opportunity to apply his skills to a new and exciting challenge. 

The final member to make up the team is Diane Okong’o. Diane is a Kenyan ALA alum from the Class of 2017, who is currently at Cornell University, College of Arts and Sciences, majoring in Chemistry. She is also an Undergraduate Research Assistant in the Milner Research Group, where she gets to acquire valuable research experience. 

We are very grateful to all the participating teams, mentors, judges, Operation Water, and Columbia Water Center for playing part in a successful challenge. We are aware that a successful Design and Innovation Challenge is only possible if all the participating parties contribute earnestly to its success. We will continue to create enabling opportunities for our network members and partners to band together towards innovative, sustainable solutions that will transform African infrastructure. 

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