Change the world

16/09/2019

Two Eastern Cape entrepreneurs are shortlisted for the 2019 SAB Foundation Social Innovation Awards, which will see the winner receive R1.3m on October 9. Luleko Mkuzo and Nelson Mandela University’s Prof Jean Greyling are among 17 finalists named by SAB in the run-up to the October awards event.

Based in Bizana, Mkuzo designed the Rural Technology Park, a mobile technology park equipped with multiple laptops to give pupils and rural teachers access to technology, the internet and basic computer skills.

She and her two-man team move between schools from Xolobeni to Lusikisiki.

“The schools have no equipment and 80% of the pupils have never engaged with a computer so we get a time slot from the principal and then we teach them from scratch.”

The lack of technology training and computer skills increased inequity, making it harder for rural citizens to compete for opportunities with those in urban areas, she said.

Determined to tackle this problem, she piloted the prototype Rural Technology Park with pupils and teachers from grades 7 and 9.

“Our innovation is focused on community development, upliftment, and creating change in rural communities.”

She said her mother had inspired her when she was growing up.

“She was resilient and got an education and managed to send her siblings to school.

“She ensured that our rural community received a school and helped many community members get an education and find jobs to support their families.”

Mkuzo said she had always intended initiating a project in the rural areas. It was not successful at first but the experience taught me that as an entrepreneur you cannot work alone,” she said.

“Engaging the people who will be affected by your product is critical in the beginning.

“No matter how good an idea is, it won’t go anywhere without other people buying into your vision and seeing the value it will add for them too.”

Mkuzo said winning the SAB Foundation Social Innovation Awards would be a huge boost for her and her team.

“It would allow us to complete the first phase of our digital centre and we would also be able to acquire more equipment for our mobile unit.

“This would allow us to reach more communities and schools.”

Greyling was chosen as a finalist for his TANKS coding app, which he worked on with student Byron Batteson.

He explained that usually coding was done on a computer, but many schools did not have computers.

“The app is designed for disadvantaged schools and learners,” he said.

“It provides 35 challenges that use puzzle pieces and the animation of a tank to build code.

“Therefore, TANKS can be used on a pupil or teacher’s cellphone once the app is downloaded.”

A prototype TANKS had been developed that was fully functional on both Android and Apple devices, he said.

The TANKS enterprise – which on Tuesday also won NMU’s 2019 Innovation Excellence Award – now employs 25 people.

Greyling said his main business was attracting corporate sponsorships so that pupils who attended coding workshops received the coding challenges for free.

“Existing kids’ coding apps need computers or expensive equipment, whereas we make use of available smartphones and cheaper puzzle pieces.

“TANKS can work offline and only requires internet access for downloading the app.”

He said that for many years he had dreamt of commercialising a student project.

“TANKS created this opportunity for me as it is an excellent project and Byron, a determined student, developed it.

“It also addresses a social need – more software developers in the country – which is also my passion.”

He said winning the award would boost the business fundamentally.

“It will give me affirmation that we are busy with something worthwhile. It will enable us to expand our footprint into Africa as well as globally.”

This article appeared in The Herald (South Africa) on 16 September 2019

Contact information
Prof. Jean Greyling
Associate Professor
Tel: 27 41 504 2081
jean.greyling@mandela.ac.za