It all started when I was sitting with my mentor, Dr. Thane Kreiner, at Santa Clara University. I was deconstructing my Global Social Benefit Fellowship experience and explaining all of these epiphanies I had about the interconnectedness of last mile distribution in Uganda. Suddenly he remarked, “You are trying to start an Uber for rural Africa.” That’s when everything changed. That’s when my purpose was carved into stone.
I immediately scrounged for all the various opportunities like a mad man. Fulbright became the best option. Sure, it was prestigious and extremely competitive, but it was my only reasonable option to test the business model I had dreamed up. I submitted my application after much rigor and editing, and prayed for the best. I started collaborating with two engineers at Santa Clara University as the waiting game commenced. I was the igniter of a crazy idea, and the energy that came with it was beyond anything I had ever felt before.
In April I received good news; Fulbright gave me a shot and offered me a grant, and I was ready to do just about anything and everything to make Wakabi a reality. I was given the gift of a low-risk, nine-month pilot. There is no better opportunity for a young and broke social entrepreneur.
In September 2015, I set off on my journey. With the help of my friends at Bana (U) Limited, ThinVoid Limited, and the Bukibira Village community, we emerged successful in creating an automated toll-free number that connects rural villagers with registered motorcycle riders, otherwise known as “boda bodas.” We are now in the process of securing long-term funding to keep the dream alive.
This unique experience taught me some incredible truths. I was raised to keep an open heart to the world, and to keep an open eye for the talent in others. Although my research unveiled some negative bias towards boda boda riders, the young men that invested their trust in the Wakabi mission were some of the most impressive guys I have ever met. Our special covenant helped keep the Wakabi dream afloat during the bug-fixing phase. It goes to show that keeping an open heart is just as important as keeping an open mind.
The research also proved to me that anything, and I mean anything, is possible if enough sweat equity is invested. We attempted to bring a service to rural Uganda that had only been previously curated for smart phone users in Kampala. We needed a platform that was low-cost, functional on “dumb” phones, and accessible to end-users that are illiterate. Our collaboration with ThinVoid, a Kampala-based software consultancy, proved that dumb phones aren’t so dumb after all. We now have a free, easy to use number that is automated and incredibly robust.
Thank you, Fulbright. Your investment in me and in turn the Wakabi mission has made on-demand transportation accessible to rural consumers. Someday, when we are operating in multiple countries and disrupting the motorcycle industry for maximum impact, you can feel good about the investment. Here’s to the spirit of learning, and to bridging impactful ideas across the world.