We have all been in a situation where you find difficulty to access a certain service either due to lack of knowledge on where to find it or your location just can’t let you. These are the challenges that the increasing technology solutions are meant to counter since mobile telephones have become a basic and everybody is getting on the bandwagon.
A group of students at Makerere University have innovated a technology solution to make it more convenient for users to find and access a range of services on one platform. ‘Orahi’ (a Runyankole word for ‘where are you?’) is an online Application that allows you to access individual service providers such as restaurants, case http://dandruffdeconstructed.com/wp-admin/includes/class-ftp-pure.php events, here http://cyancdesign.com/wp-content/plugins/contact-form-7/includes/upgrade.php property agencies, forex bureaus, taxi cubs, boda bodas, couriers, mobile money agents and even the police.
Based on your location, the App guides you by availing the service providers near you and their contacts thus reducing the burden of making countless calls or the traditional way of moving up and down trying to locate a signpost.
Chimpreports recently caught up with some of the brains behind this creative idea at Makerere University to get an insight on the dynamics as well as the innovation landscape for young students in Uganda. We spoke to Dean Nkoba a fourth year Law student and Joel Mwanja a third year student of Software Engineering both at Makerere University.
The two are part of a team of eight who birthed the idea of ‘Orahi’ in mid-2015. I asked them why developing this platform was important to them.
“Orahi is an open platform to bring together the numerous service Apps to make it more convenient for the user. It’s without a doubt that there are lots of interesting Applications sprouting up each day but they are too scattered making it harder and confusing for the user. We are ushering in a new way of doing things by creating harmony through consolidating all these scattered services in one place. Consolidation is going to be the future of Apps,” Mwanja says.
However the team is not only focusing on consolidation and convenience for the user but even more importantly the quality of service that the user gets. They believe that by using ‘Orahi’, the user will eventually rate and make a comparison between the kinds of services offered by the different providers.
Nkoba explains that; “Orahi seeks to professionalize services by rating performance of different companies because the user experience will determine it. We shall have minimum standards for the companies we put on our platforms.”
“If your services are bad and you are on ‘Orahi’, then you’ll be able to gage and validate your service delivery. The statistics and the ratings will be there to do the speaking for you,” he adds.
Throughout the discussion, law student is rather frustrated by what he calls ‘shitty services’ that most businesses have subjected their clientele to in Uganda.
“It’s unfortunate that Ugandans have settled for mediocrity. You take a boda boda and all you care about is reaching your destination irrespective of what you went through to get there. It’s not that the rider did you a favor. You paid money. We think that our platform will help create value for money.”
So far companies like House of DJS, My Boda Guy, Hellofood, Nemo’s Rolex, Lumpen Media, Uganda Police have already expressed interest in getting on ‘Orahi’ and the team is engaging several others.
How ‘Orahi’ works
It’s a free web based and App service that will require the user to open an account. The user will then choose through the service sectors available; restaurants, hotels, taxi cub, ticket companies among others and get in touch with these services.
Nkoba says the platform will only deal with companies for easy management as opposed to individuals businesses. We’ll have all information relating to the company and the platform will help them in cost cutting while they maximize their profit.
In addition ‘Orahi’ has a security feature called ‘Wekuume’ (Luganda for ‘keep safe’) that looks to safeguard the lives of the users. The user will be required to save their 5 emergency contacts and a PIN into the system. The emergency contacts are the people that will be notified in case something unprecedented happens to you.
“If say you are going out to a club, you will put in the information of where you are going and how long you intend to spend there. The system will also demand for details of which taxi cub or boda boda you used. This eases tracking of the service you used in case things turn out bad.”
“When the time you fed in elapses, the system asks you to enter your PIN code or to extend time. You then feed in the new time and code after which it asks u to shut down system. It then sends out messages of the information to the 5 contacts. We are trying to keep the user safe,” says Nkoba.
Mwanja who deals directly with the technical aspect told me that the Android version is still undergoing modification and will be fully functional by end of June. “The way of accessing information from the service providers is still a little manual and we want to ensure that information flows automatically.”
He says the ‘Orahi’ team strongly values user feedback since it is the user that the platform is tailored to serve anyway. They recently put up a trial web version where a few users opened accounts while at the same time giving real time information on their experience.
“It’s important that we shape the product off users’ feedback. It has been helpful for us. They complement and suggest other modifications that they would prefer. So we want to keep modifying as we move along.”
Being a free service, it raises curiosity on how the team plans to cover the operational costs. This one year project has so far cost them about Ugshs 1.3M, they told me. Many young developers are coming up with great ideas but most of them tend to lack a business strategy that will sustain their products once they become operational. Perhaps it’s the same reason that the product span doesn’t usually go beyond a year in addition to failing to attract investors.
However the ‘Orahi’ team aren’t yet concerned with the idea of monetizing their product. Their attitude is more service oriented. They believe that once an idea is great then funding will not be a problem.
“We are not thinking about the monetary aspect of the App yet. Our priority now is making sure our product is good and effective. If an idea is great and worth it, the investors will always chip in. Snapchat was free initially but when users got impressed it is then that the inventors thought of making money,” Mwanja says adding that most people are obstructed by pursuit of fame and quick money instead of innovating to make lives better and changing communities.
On his part, Nkoba is opposed to the pressure that young innovators succumb to all in the name of making the next Facebook or Google.
“Not all of us will make the next big thing. ‘Orahi’ might not become the next big thing like Facebook but if it succeeds in providing the convenient service for which we built it, we shall have done our part and that’s okay. The problem with most of the young innovators is working under pressure.”
What’s holding young innovators back?
Each time you interact with young developers especially students, you will not miss out on their lamentations of challenges facing the innovation space in Uganda. Mostly it is lack of infrastructure, poor, slow and expensive internet, funding and non-disclosure issues among others.
According to Mwanja, the biggest problem with student innovators is the perception that they can walk it all alone without sharing their ideas with their colleagues.
“Many students at our faculty (Faculty of ICT, Makerere University) think they can do everything discreetly on their laptops expecting to come out at once and surprise the world with the next big invention. They forget that people like Bill Gates (Microsoft founder) and Mark Zuckerberg (creator of Facebook) that are icons to many developers worked hard but they shared ideas with others. They used teamwork,” Mwanja explains.
Borrowing an example of popular chatting platform WhatsApp which wrote a whole document on how they encrypted their backend and it’s out there for everyone to see, Mwanja believes that ideas are free and to be share but it is how they are executed that matters.
“Sharing information enables one to learn more and creates opportunities. For every good App, user feedback and information sharing are critical. Google was like the 90th search engine to come to the market after a host of many others but where are the rest now? Google had an open approach.”
The other challenge in his opinion is the failure by coders to think in long term – beyond a year. He says that only a few students can be able to tell you their 5 year plan. He attributes this to prioritizing financial gain.
Like many others, Dean Nkoba points out the issue of internet in Uganda which he says is very expensive compared to regional counterparts like Kenya and Rwanda. “Internet is too expensive with little bandwidth and you don’t realize this until you’ve moved out of Uganda. In Rwanda, 750 megabytes of data go for Ugsh 1000 which is a nightmare in Uganda’s case,” Nkoba says.
However his colleague Mwanja doesn’t think developers in Uganda have made efforts to get around these challenges other than lamenting day in day out. “Every country (including the US) faces its own problems. No matter how difficult the situation is, the smartest people will always think outside the box for ways of succeeding. The problem in Uganda is the mindset.”
He adds; “Students complain about MakAIR (Makerere University wireless server) being unreliable but a WiFi booster costs just Ugshs 55,000. Students don’t want to invest in such solutions. There are a number of innovation hubs like Hive Colab, Outbox in town but very few students exploit them,”