Without the tireless efforts of IEEE volunteers, EPICS in IEEE wouldn’t be possible. This program, around since 2009, has been matching volunteers and IEEE student members with high school students. Together, they work in collaboration with local community-based organizations on engineering-related projects in their communities.
One of those volunteers is Member Ezabo Baron, who belongs to the IEEE Uganda Subsection, in East Africa, and serves as its publicity secretary. He is also the moderator for IEEE Collabratec’s Uganda Community and is a member of the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society. Baron is the founder of Digital Exposure Projects, a not-for-profit organization based in Kampala. Its mission is to partner with advanced economies to help bring in science, engineering, trade, and technology services to emerging communities.
I caught up with Baron after he and members of the subsection completed their EPICS in IEEE project called the Science, Technology, and Innovation Web-based management platform, or STI for short. He says this central innovation hub is the first of its kind in the country. It was developed in collaboration with Makerere University, Kyambogo University, and one of the country’s top secondary schools, Entebbe Secondary School. Its community partner is the Humanitarian Innovation Technical Institute, one of the country’s first private not-for profit technology transfer organizations established to stimulate, encourage, and assist emerging innovators, inventors, and entrepreneurs in the development and commercialization of new products or processes to benefit underserved populations.
“The STI platform solution we are developing will be used for generating ideas for innovative community projects for further development and for providing services for those with commercial potential. The platform will help evaluate new technologies, develop prototypes and products, and incubate companies,” he says. STI will also offer assistance with incorporating companies, negotiating licenses, protecting intellectual property, branding, securing financing for new ventures, and professional mentoring.
The inspiration for STI came to Baron last December after he attended the first-of-its-kind training workshop, Entrepreneurship for Scientists and Engineers in East Africa, held last December at the Kenya School of Monetary Studies, in Nairobi. It was sponsored by IEEE and the Institute of Physics, the Optical Society of America, the American Physical Society, and the International Center for Theoretical Physics. The Chandaria Foundation facilitated it. Leading experts from Italy, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States addressed topics such as intellectual property rights, technology readiness levels, and moving from invention to product.
“The workshop provided us with group projects focused on societal challenges, such as improving health care, electricity, and irrigation systems and utilizing solar cell and mobile phone technologies,” he says. “Having gained these remarkable skills that would be hard to attain through our ordinary education system, I quickly moved to work with our local community to create a platform for our country’s innovations arising from research and development.”
He came up with the idea for STI because “the application of science and technology affects virtually everyone. The influence of science and technology on people’s lives is growing and its benefits to humanity are unparalleled in the history of mankind.”
He adds that the current trend of privatization and globalization in many countries is influencing the focus and practice of science and technology.
“Growing technology demand from emerging economies, world recognition of the interconnectedness of the planet’s systems, and improved communications are boosting cross-border scientific cooperation and information exchange,” he explains. “However, much of the expansion is occurring in just a handful of scientifically advanced economies. For science and technology to be truly global, more effort is needed to ensure all economies emerging and advanced are included in collaborative research and technology transfer.”
He notes the STI platform also supports the Uganda National Science, Technology, and Innovation development plans of 2010/11, 2014/15, and 2017/18, which was designed to help generate, identify, define, and select innovative community projects for further development as a way forward for uplifting the population from absolute poverty.
BUILDING THE PLATFORM
The technical meeting was held from 8 to 12 September at Makerere University and Kyambogo University. IEEE Member Roseline Akol, senior lecturer at Makerere University’s College of Engineering, Design, Art, and Technology, was the guest of honor at the launch “to inspire our participating students to maintain their engineering careers,” Baron says.
The meeting was broadcast by Uganda’s leading television station, Bukkedde TV, and was covered by both local newspapers, the Daily Monitor and New Vision. The team also launched a Facebook page on 9 September and received nearly 800 likes in its first week.
“STI has been the most successful project we have had in the IEEE Uganda Subsection,” he notes. “Each day we get a number of messages of appreciation via email and social media, and from within the local Ugandan communities,” he adds. “Our participants are grateful for the skills they attained during this intensive technical meeting.”
Some of the participating students from Kyambogo and Makerere universities are expected to take part in the upcoming “Capacity Building of Youth on Mobile Application Development training, to be held from 25 to 30 October, in Nairobi, Kenya. It is being organized by the Kenya National Commission for UNESCO.
He says the team continues to perfect the platform’s design. “We have identified 11 modern Web programming languages. The system is a state-of-the-art hybrid multi-user platform built to function on desktop and mobile device technology with full accessibility features to aid people with disabilities. It’s our commitment to create a system that is accessible by all people, including women with innovative projects.” The platform will be ready sometime this month.
The IEEE Foundation’s grant of US $5,670 was used for acquiring basic platform development kits like laptops, communication services, stationary, publications, domain name acquisition, hosting services, and transportation costs. Money well spent.