U.S. Fulbright

Dumb Phones and Boda Bodas: Proving the World Wrong One Call at a Time

October 20, 2016

Ty Van Herweg, 2015-2016, Uganda (right), and CEO & Founder of Wakabi, with Jagwe Rogers, COO, and Joseph Onguti, Wakabi’s official trainer

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.


Pictured is Joseph Onguti, the Officer in Command of Nabusanke and the Official Trainer for Wakabi

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 inaugural graduating class of Wakabi’s safety training program

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.

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  • Reply Fred Buluku October 26, 2016 at 8:56 pm

    I would like to invite you to Kenya to assist the youth with knowledge and skills to their behaviors,to train them to work hard for economy growth.even if you are learned you need to work so that you can change your life.The Boda Boda in my country they are rough and rude they to be educatated.

    Welcome in Kenya

  • Reply Fred Buluku October 26, 2016 at 9:12 pm

    Sorry the above posting has slight mistakes,ignore it,you are welcome to Kenya to assist youth to change behaviors especially Boda boda riders they are very rough and rude,they need to be educated for the change,we have also youth who are educated but they are lacking knowledge and skills to grow in life,they are jobless and others comes from poor families where they think that their life cannot change because their parents were poor.Lets join hand together to bring change to the world.

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