Three Youth Innovators Emerge as Winners in FUTURE-M Hackathon Innovation Challenge

Friday 24 February 2023

 Aubrey Kachinjika (runner-up), Believer Umuragwa (Winner), Innocencia Zuze (2nd runner-up) after being pronounced winners

Save the Children in collaboration with Mzuzu Ehub held the FuTURE-M Hackathon Innovation Challenge Final on 20th January 2023 at BICC in Lilongwe where 3 youth innovators emerged winners. Themed "Leveraging Technology for Development," the Hackathon set out to harness the potential of youthful technology enthusiasts in demonstrating the power of innovative thinking to develop tech-enabled solutions to challenges affecting children and youth in Malawi. 

Thirty youth innovators were shortlisted to participate in the Hackathon which kicked off with a 5-day Boot Camp filled with a series of activities including seminar workshops, ideation with support from technical experts and development of their first prototypes. On day 5, the young innovators presented their ideas and prototypes to a panel of judges and 11 of them made it to the final pitch where 3 of the innovators stood out the most.

Believer, who came in 1st place shared on the thrilling experience of participating in the hackathon. “I have learned a lot from experts in the ICT industry in Malawi. I also had the opportunity to meet other innovators who are using technology to address various issues.” He went on to say, “Winning the hackathon is an honor for me and I am thrilled about the possibilities and what this means for my future. It has motivated me to work even harder on my project and strive for greater success.” His digital innovation is called eForest, a device with sensors that uses IT and machine learning to analyze sounds when people are doing different activities such as cutting down trees. It is expected to help decrease the rate of deforestation and wild fires thereby leading to reduced carbon emissions.

With this innovation, children’s livelihoods would be made better more especially in the areas that would otherwise be affected by the severe consequences of climate change that results from environmental degradation. This happens to align with the Generation Hope Campaign championed by Save the Children which aims at empowering children and the youth to become climate change actors at home, in their communities, national and internationally to facilitate positive change.

Commenting on the innovations, Save the Children Snr Project Manager for Green Climate Fund Clement Ndiwo-Banda had this to say, “The innovations are really exciting and they can go a long way to transform the lives of people and protect our natural resources. E-forest will save trees and wildlife, which are at risk of deforestation and poaching respectively. This technology has potential to even protect other resources including property.” 

Speaking at the event, Save the Children Director of Operations Frank Mwafulirwa highlighted the organization's commitment to making sure that children drive and inform all programming that is implemented and that the youth are well supported to have better livelihoods. "As an organization, together with Mzuzu Ehub, we are committed to work with and support the improvement and perfection of the prototypes that will presented here.”

The runner up Aubrey, developed and showcased Early Flood detection technology called Moyo Early Flood Detector.  A simple and cheap IoT technology that helps to detect floods earlier in areas that are prone to floods and help to avoid dangers of unwarned floods. Innocencia, the second runner up developed and showcased the Tanthwe Youth Mental Health Chatbot, a WhatsApp Chatbot that acts as a mental health center to help the youth express how they feel or what is causing their depression in order to help prevent suicide cases. The conversation will also be linked to help lines where the youth can be able to access mental health support.

When asked about how platforms such as the Hackathon are likely to contribute to problem solving in Malawi, Mzuzu Ehub Founder and Executive Director Wangiwe Kambuzi had this to say, “There is a lot of engagement amongst stakeholders that provides a great landscape to understand Malawi’s societal challenges, potential solutions and available opportunities especially for emerging innovators and entrepreneurs.” She also expressed her delight over the fact that the youth now demonstrate new skills and knowledge in innovation. She went on to say, “They have increased access to information and network linkages. For those that won, they have capacity to further develop their products and services through the investment support.” She said.

Having emerged as winners, the 3 innovators were awarded 3 Million Kwacha, 2.5 Million Kwacha and 1.5 Million Kwacha in form of seed grants from 1st place to 3rd place respectively. They shall get the seed fund to further perfect their prototypes, which shall then be implemented as individual projects or be integrated into existing projects for Save the Children.  Mzuzu Ehub will provide after-pitch support including business development services to the innovators. The innovators will have access to mentoring and coaching opportunities and be linked to stakeholders who can be able to access, support and use their products.

 Believer (21) completed his studies in ICT at Daeyang University last year. Innocencia (20) is a fourth year student at DMI University and Aubrey (17) sat for his MSCE examinations last year.