Monday, December 2, 2013

Why do you teach social media to village folks?

That is a question a friend of mine has been asking me for quite some time now. At Iringa Living lab, one of our key programs is social media training. We teach people in our community how to use these new technologies so they become part of the global village. But my friend was not convinced with my answer. So I have been thinking how to explain it better.

Then the following analogy came to mind. Imagine this big mansion, with all kinds of good things inside (even the bad of course), and every individual can access a key to enter and take advantage of whatever is inside the mansion. But for some reason, some individuals do not know where to get the key. Yet, if given the key, some may make use of the opportunity to enter the mansion and get whatever they want.

To me that’s the world of internet (the mansion). Every individual has the right to become a netizen.  And there are endless opportunities of being a netizen. Challenge is, there are many people who are not aware of how to become one.

As Iringa Living Lab, we empower our community to access the opportunities on internet. And we have learnt, through our friends from Rlabs Capetown, that when you teach social media to people who hitherto didn’t know how to use it, you have actually given them the key to the “mansion”.

Of course, as my friend rightly points out, we also have a role to show them around the mansion. Otherwise they will have the key but fail to move around the rooms of opportunity. And yes, at Iringa Living Lab, we have embraced that challenge. Social media is not the end in itself but a key to open the door to endless opportunities.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Last Saturday our Ujasiliamali (Entrepreneurship) Weekend program kicked off at the usual venue. Six participants were in attendance.
After check-in, we had a discussion on why we want to be entrepreneurs, what entrepreneurs bring on the market and a “think outside the box” exercise. Participants analysed the value they can add to maize straw (which is usually burnt since it is considered useless by most farmers).

After about ten minutes, participants had come up with seven unusual uses of maize straw.
The climax of the day was a practical exercise on mushroom production. And guess what we use to grow Mushroom? Maize straw!!
Participants discussing the potential uses of maize straw

We boiled maize straw to disinfect it before sowing spawn (mushroom “seed”). The sowing of spawn took place the following day.
Maize straw being prepared for boiling

The idea is to show potential entrepreneurs how we can add value even to objects/materials that might not appear useful initially. The mushroom project will go a long way in hammering home some key entrepreneurship principles: First: Entrepreneurs add value and create wealth out of seemingly not so useful resources.

As we embark on this journey of starting and growing enterprises, do not   hesitate to share with us any ideas that you think may add value to our Ujasiriamali weekend. Waiting to hear from you!!

Thursday, August 22, 2013


Mr. Alfred Mmasi is a humble, approachable man with a lot to share with the world. Born in Iringa many years ago, he went to Mwembetogwa Primary School and Highland High school were he completed form four. He did not continue with formal education after that.

His limited education however has not limited his creativity.
He once read a book about an American teacher who
started rearing chicken, from 50, to 300, 1000, to 2000, to 10,000 and 100000 birds. This story inspired him, so he decided to do the same. He started with 300 broilers, but later realised they are not profitable, so he branched into layers.
But the challenge was capital. After visiting and agricultural exhibition an idea was born: he saw incubators being displayed and thought...hmm, I can make this. And he did!!His incubator has two electric bulbs, a fun from a broken down fridge, and a water trough. It can hatch 1000 eggs at a time.
Mr.Mmasi showing infront of his locally made incubator

Yesterday we visited him at his Wilolesi home were he does the chicken business. Currently he has 900 birds, that produce 30trays per day. He also sells chicks at Tshs.3000@. They are Malawi chicken (Rhodesian....?)
"Young men and women, it's possible, you can do it, just think outside the box. You don't have to look for a job, you can create one where you are. You get whatever you want from a simple idea. Look, that Lexus you see there is from chicken" He concluded his talk.
Members of Iringa Living lab after the talk by Mr. Mmasi on 20th August 2013. Behind is the Lexus he bought recently thanks to the poultry project.

Sunday, August 18, 2013


The network of people empowering others has been growing in the past few weeks here at Iringa Living Lab. Last Friday we visited Kiwere village, 30 Kms from Iringa town towards Pawaga. The visit was a response to a request made to Iringa Living Lab by the Kalenga Division Officer, Mr. Adestino. The purpose of the visit was to share some of the latest local technologies in bee keeping. Not being a bee expert myself, I requested the new members of ILL from Mafinga who happen to have the expertise to go with me.

Visiting the field
It was a full day’s event and there was a lot to share, from technical aspects of keeping bees to environmental issues and other entrepreneurial activities that could be integrated with bee keeping.
During the discussions that ensued and the field visit, it was clear that the clay beehives technology had not yet reached at Kiwere village. All beehives here are made from miombo trees. Of recent however there has been a challenge: the miombo trees are finished, so beekeepers have to travel long distances to look for them.

Beehives from miombo tree. These trees have been completely depleted in this area. These logs were bought from villages far away. Clay beehives can be a good alternative.

The clay technology was therefore well received for a number of reasons. Apart from the fact that miombo trees have become scarce, farmers also noted that there’s clay in the neighbourhood so it will be easy to access the raw material. Secondly, the technology will be a way of increasing employment opportunities for those already engaged in pottery activities. Thirdly, one of the challenges they face is fires. Wooden beehives can completely burn in case of a fire, unlike clay beehives. 
Water is a big challenge in this village. This lady is collecting water from an open well, and she has to wait for longto fill her containers.

This bore hole was vandalized by metal scrap sellers. Can another technology help? We're going to pursue alternatives as Iringa Living Lab. Will you join us?
As seen in the pictures, water is a big problem in this area. However, the borehole that the village was depending on was vandalised by some young men in the village who sell metal as scrap. We plan to discuss their problem with another local innovator who has invented a water pump that does not use a metal rod in the middle but instead uses a string. Will this solve their problem? Let's wait and see.

Many other issues were discussed among them the role played by beekeeping in conserving the environment. It was observed that bees thrive best where there are trees like avocado, mangoes, paw paws etc. It is therefore prudent to engage in fruit tree planting activities as a way of generating more income from fruits, from tree seedlings and from increased honey harvests. Participants resolved to pursue tree planting as another economic activity to supplement bee keeping. 
Processing bee wax with solar energy

We offered to help them type their constitution for the association and arrange it as the law requires. They also requested to join Iringa Living Lab, and who would stop them? By us going there, they’re already members anyway. If you have any ideas to share with our new members, welcome  aboard!
Beehives for "smaller" bees are kept near home because their honey is so precious and sold at 30,000/= (about $19) per liter.

Happy farmers showing us their honey processing equipment. Right is Mr. Adestino, Kalenga Division Officer. The two farmers are father and son.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


By Yusuf Ssessanga

The Iringa Living lab members taking part in the Getsmarter Internet Super User course are now half done with the course, and are getting smarter, as one member Anold Luhwago always puts it. According to Anold, the course has been an eye opening experience for him. Just in the third week of study, people around his work place realised he has extra knowledge about internet and two of the neighbours asked him for help. He offered the help and was paid for it. He is now figuring out how to turn this knowledge into a real business opportunity.

Some of the Participants in the Internet Super user course sharing ideas. A young participant gives them company.

I have personally been shocked at what I did not know about the internet and computers. I now realise I have been taking online security lightly, but also not using the power of the internet to its fullest. And I am not alone. Participants attest to the same. 

The purpose of training six members of Iringa Living Lab is to start building capacity of the members who can train others competently. As Iringa Living Lab, we have a plan to start offering training to different groups of people on social media and entrepreneurship, in a more structured way than we are currently doing. This course is preparation for this. We shall recruit young people first, especially those who have not been lucky to continue with formal education after secondary school. 

We shall take them through intensive training for six months, after which they will graduate and those with passion and more competence will be recruited to train the next batch. The Internet Super user course therefore comes at the right time, because we believe we will have a competent team of trainers who will make these plans possible.

Another participant, Ambrose who is a community and church leader is very excited about the course and can’t wait to enrol some members from the community into the Grow Academy, our six months training program.

But the Internet Super User course has also been challenging to some participants, especially the fact that it is online and physical contact with the trainer is not possible. Hence the first weeks did not go well with a few of us. Now we are all getting used to this new methodology of learning, which is unavoidable in the 21st century. 

As we run the last half, I trust we shall all be able to graduate with a certificate from the Prestigious University of Cape Town.

A big thank you to Rlabs Cape town who are making this possible. A big up to TANZICT who play the role enabling role.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Acquire an Alternative Mindset - We Can All Become Entrepreneurs

By Yusuf Ssessanga

A couple of weeks ago Iringa Living Lab was a hive of activity. The long awaited training on entrepreneurship was finally done, by Mr. Craig Ross from RLabs Cape town. The training attracted more than 20 participants of Iringa Living Lab. And what a week it was!

Participants from Iringa and Mbeya Living Labs.

From the start, Craig emphasized that he was not going to teach, because he’s not a university professor. He was neither going to share new information, we all know what entrepreneurship is about. “So what is he going to do?”, some participants wondered. “I am going to share what has worked in my life, what I have seen work at Rlabs”, he said.

Craig Ross from RLabs shared his story and his experience on entrepreneurship with us. 

Well, true to his word, he shared his experience, in a simple but powerful way. His first challenge was to go against what most people think is a key aspect if one is to become an entrepreneur, having capital. Craig said to become an entrepreneur, one does not need capital. You need a powerful idea that can add value to your target clients.


VALUE!!!! Not that we had not heard about it, it’s a word we come across very often. But, many of us attending the training understood value differently. Many believed it’s about selling a high quality product or service. How wrong we were! Craig proved to us that Coca Cola is not in the business of selling coke, they sell happiness, refreshment! What? Yes, think about it, close your eyes, think of all the Coca Cola adverts, you see that they sell happiness?

Idea generation.

And how do you start a business without capital? It was our turn to prove what many of us didn’t believe was true. After taking us through the exercise of idea generation, now it was time to answer the question, how we go forward with our brilliant ideas. We looked at the enormous requirements for each idea. And then, we looked at what we already have. Many of us discovered we already have what it takes to start, and then capital in form of money can find us on the way. Really!!

Working on the business ideas.

And we all have something at our disposal. So what makes many people not to start? It’s the mindset. We need an alternative mindset, to begin to see the same things with different lenses! Now, this requires a paradigm shift. That is the task we have.

Craig Ross: "If you want to do good, there's no excuses anymore!"

Friday, December 14, 2012

Iringa Living Lab Workshop

Iringa Living Lab organised a workshop on the 26th - 27th November in order to enhance community networks in Iringa region. The objectives were to create partnerships between the different stakeholders and to create a platform for further cooperation, as well as come up with new social innovations which will benefit the Iringa community. We invited stakeholders from the government, the community,  universities and different organisations.

The workshop was facilitated by TANZICT. Jukka Siltanen and Kristiina Lähde provided us with participatory, interactive and inspiring activities throughout the workshop.

The Regional Commissioner Dr. Christine Ishengoma opened our workshop officially. She stated that Iringa Living Lab is a very welcome initiative in Iringa region. She pointed out that one strength of the developed societies "is their ability to work together and create synergy". She also emphasized the role of knowledge. Iringa Living Lab is a step in the right direction, said Dr. Ishengoma. She thinks the concept of Iringa Living Lab is exciting, because Iringa Living Lab encourages different stakeholders to work and come up with innovations, initiatives and solutions together instead of competing against each others. Dr. Ishengoma assured us that Iringa Living Lab has both her moral support and her active participation.

After Regional Commissioner Dr. Ishengoma opened the workshop officially, the concept of a living lab was introduced to the participants. They also got to know what Iringa Living Lab has been occupied with so far. Then all the stakeholders made an organisation poster and we had "an organisational fair" where the participants had the chance to get familiar with all the participating organisations and stakeholders. This was also the first opportunity to identify shared roles, actions and future goals with other stakeholders and the first step for creating partnerships.

Next the participants were given a task to individually define a key problem or issue in the Iringa community. Group members shared these key issues and discussed them with other groups. At the end of the first day the participants voted for those issues that need to be tackled right away. Four of them were selected for further discussion:

1) How to create more new businesses and help small businesses grow?
2) How to help people to find, access and create job opportunities?
3) How to make science and technology more appealing in society?
4) How to transform Iringa into a green city?

These key issues served as the starting point for the second day. The participants decided which issue they wanted to focus on and four groups were formed. In groups the participants did brainstorming on how to solve the issue in Iringa community.

Each group came up with a number of ideas. The groups selected one of them and the next stage was to write an action plan: a very concrete plan about what the next steps would be during the next three months.

Group number 1 decided to work on the idea of entrepreneurship clubs in schools. The goal is to help children become innovative and creative in a unique way, be proactive, find their own strengths, and understand the possibility to create their own work. Eventually the group wants to include entrepreneurial education in the curriculum as a part of all school subjects.

The second group decided to organise a participatory workshop on how to create job opportunities in Iringa region. The workshop will provide the forum for the discussion, but also help different stakeholders to meet each others and find true commitment. 

The science group decided to create a science and technology club for primary and secondary schools in Iringa municipality in order to make science and technology appealing and relevant in everyday life. They are also planning to organise a science week for schools. 

The goal of the environmental group is to increase environmental awareness and transform Iringa into a green city. They want to educate people, establish a plant nursery, plant trees around the municipality, and form environmental youth clubs. Transforming Iringa into a green city will also make Iringa a beautiful and interesting tourist attraction and in that way increase tourism in the region.

The workshop serves as an excellent starting point for expanding Iringa Living Lab. The facilitators collected feedback from the workshop participants and in overall it was very positive and encouraging. The coordinators are looking forward to hearing more from the groups, but also from all the other stakeholders in Iringa. As Dr. Ishengoma pointed out: it is important that we do not work in isolation, but together.

The workshop shows that there is need and interest for this kind of a platform in Iringa. We were very pleased to hear the views, thoughts and ideas of the participants and see how committed they worked through the workshop. 

Surely everyone remembers the stories about the successful living labs in Africa that we heard about in the workshop. Iringa Living Lab can become one of them, but we need to make it happen together!