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Uganda celebrates innovation in style

Wednesday, 21st May 2014

Saying that Friday, May 16, 2014 will go down as the date when ACIA became a signature of Uganda's innovation industry would be an understatement. However, the Awards gala of the 4th edition of the ACIA Awards 2014 that was held at Victoria Ball Room of the luxurious five-star Serena Conference Hotel lived to the billing.

The décor and organisation in general, entertainment, food and drinks, and list of invitees set the celebratory mood in high octave right from the word go as the who-is-who in Uganda's budding communications sector mingled and rubbed shoulders at this innovations award august event.

Is innovation hacking?
And, the guest speaker, Mr Ivan Lumala, a Kenyan-based Ugandan-born ICT guru, did not disappoint the 500 invitedguests with his arousing speech on the topic: "Are Innovators hackers?" Speaking off cuff (I counted three the times he consulted his pink notepad), Mr Lumala repeatedly asked: Are innovators hackers – be they black hats, white hats or grey hats? At the end of his 30-minute speech, nobody was left in the dark as to what innovators ought to do.
Mr Lumala, a Senior Product Manager in the Microsoft Learning group, responsible for emerging countries, is also the Director - Senior Technology, Microsoft 4Africa. He is also co-founder of Leadership Advancement International (LAI) whose mission is to bridge the leadership gap in developing countries by educating young men and women of high leadership potential, nurturing and mentoring them to realise their potential, and facilitating their successful repatriation to their home countries.

ICT Exhibition
The Awards gala was preceded by an ICT Exhibition that took place on the same day at the Serena Conference Parking Yard. The one-day event attracted at least 30 exhibitors and pulled a crowd of hundred. One would have expected the downpour that engulfed Kampala in the morning to dampen the spirits of the exhibition goers, but this weather motivated many any set the mood of what was to come later in the day.

Now the prizes and awards flowed!
Excuse the metaphor, prizes and awards metaphorically flowed, and the winners and first runners-up could hardly hide their excitement – mixed emotions might be preferred - when the sluice gate for prizes and accolades was opened. And, the winners were!

Beyonic Ltd won the Service Excellence Awardfor the Beyonic's Funds-to-Phones platform, which provides cloud-based bulk payment management. Beyonic is the only aggregator offering a bulk payments platform in multiple countries within East Africa. The solution allows organisations to quickly move their projects over while still meeting stakeholder quality requirements.

The Service Excellence Award aimsto recognise outstanding innovative approaches by licensed telecom providers to eliminate barriers to ICT inclusion in Uganda.

Next was Barefoot Law who won the ICT for Development Award– for their Barefoot Law application, which helps rural communities' access legal services. The Medical Concierge Call Centre were runners-up for ICT for Development Award for their This one-stop medical call and information centre which provides easy, timely and affordable access to doctors and pharmacists.

On the other hand DMA Field Tests got an honourable mention for their Drug Management Application (DMA) Field-Tests and Connectivity - a free and open-source software that enhances the drug inventory and orders of health facilities. DMA eases drug access in rural areas.

Similarly, Breast IT – which detects breast cancer, also got an honourable mention for their Hyphen application, which seeks to diagnose breast cancer by the help of a glove named "Hyphen Glove". The hyphen glove is cheaper than the other screening equipment available on the market and is much more portable and flexible.

The ICT for Development Award aimsto recognise the extraordinary use of ICTs to improve the livelihoods of communities by facilitating Uganda's achievement of any of the following Millennium Development Goals: eradication of poverty and hunger; universal primary education; promote gender equity and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, and; ensure environmental sustainability.Prizes

For the second year running, the name ThePearl Guide (U) Ltd was inscribed on the Digital Content Awardwhose aim isto recognise the outstanding compilation of text, images including video, or sound into an application or product that enhances the value and use.

The company was recognised for its Uganda Guide Mobile App - a new intuitive mobile guide to Uganda built for smart phones. This guide app takes all the traditional features of a guidebook and packs them into a small intuitive user-friendly guide application.

I You, I You, sorry I meant IUIU – an abbreviation for the Mbale-based Islamic University in Uganda (IUIU) - won the Business ExcellenceAward for their Academica ERP system. ERP is an integrated Information system for managing the main activities of the university in a centralised and automated way. The project eases access to information at universities (specifically, at IUIU).

On the other hand, St Mary's Boarding Secondary School, Kitende got an honourable mention for the Business ExcellenceAward for their innovation in using ICTs to automate the school core activities. These include SMASK SMS and E-Mailing Reminder System, results and report generation system, SMASK E-learning environment, Pocket money management system, Digital library system, and Library management system.

Then, the fertile young brains!
Yes, schools in Kampala and the Central region in general may be the academic giants, but students of Lira Town College demystified this notion when their College Rising Stars scooped the Rising Stars category of the Young ICT Innovators Award for their WalkTrack application which eases movements for the visually-impaired. Did I hear their teacher right? "We have managed to do what even the students at Makerere University find a tall order. And, he was not shy to emphasise challenged him to repeat the statement! And, for that, he walked away with a prize.

As for the Vuga Team, the Visionaries category of the Young ICT Innovators Award was theirs for taking. What with their Vuga Wheel innovation which seeks to foster and encourage creativity in local manufacturing and fabrication with the use of simple, smart technology while recycling electronic waste!

Two unique awards
There were two unique awards – one by the panel of judges and the other by all the invited guests. Best IT (in the ICT for Development Category) got the nod of most invited guests, thereby walking away with the People's Choice Award (voted for by electronic secret ballot). On the other hand, Barefoot Law scooped the Judges' ChoiceAward.

The speeches
Taking a leaf from Mr Lumala, all the speakers stuck to the speech definition of a mini-skirt – short enough to arouse interest and long enough to cover the important parts. Hon. John Nasasira, the Minister for ICT, applauded the innovations and stressed the need for localising (putting them in a home-grown framework) so they can have wider reach and usage. This was contained in a speech read for him by Hon. Nyombi Thembo, the Minister of State for ICT.

Earlier, the Executive Director of UCC, Mr Godfrey Mutabazi, had described ACIA as a milestone in Uganda's ICT sector. "Tonight, we celebrate our 4th running in promoting and recognising outstanding innovations in our country.

Mr Mutabazi commended Ugandans for embracing innovation. "There has been a noticeable growing positive response from both individuals and organisations participating in ACIA. This year we received 281 entries compared to 159 in 2013 and 54 the year before. At the same time, there is increased interest from our sponsors. For a fact, ACIA has become bigger, better and more competitive.

Social media go ballistic
Of course, many a guest took to their smart phones and other modern ICT gadgets to relay information to the outside world as well as comment on anything about ACIA 2014. Of course, popular local jazz artiste Maurice Kirya and his troupe did not disappoint the revelers as he belted one hit after another. I speak in the same vein about Eddy Kenzo, another popular local artiste of the sensational hit Sitya Loss.

Lest you forgot
Introduced in 2010, ACIA is a special initiative of UCC, which aims to promote greater local involvement in developing innovative products, services, content. The theme of ACIA 2014 was "ICT Innovation for National Development".

ACIA 2014 coincided with the World Telecommunications and Information Society Day (WTIS), which is commemorated on May 17 of every year. The theme for this year's WTIS is Broadband for Sustainable Development. The Commission received 281 entries, which were evaluated by a competent and independent panel of judges.

As the guests trekked out in the early hours of Saturday morning, I could not help but recall the saying: "A day well lived makes yesterday a day of happiness and tomorrow a vision of hope". One would, therefore, be excused to ask: ACIA 2015; where are you?