19 February 2019

Rwanda: Could $11 Million Tech Investment in Rwanda Define Future of Solutions Design?

Photo: Emannuel Kwizera/New Times
Rwanda’s Minister for ICT and Innovation, Paula Ingabire (2nd left) with Techprenuer Bosun Tijani (L) and other officials pose after the official opening of CcHUB Design Lab.

Nigerian innovation hub, Co-Creation Hub (CcHUB), last week extended its physical presence beyond its home country for the first time in its eight-year history to launch Africa's first 'Design Lab' in Rwanda.

CcHUB officially unveiled its Design Lab in Kigali last week at a moderately small gathering that brought together public officials and tech-enthusiasts among others.

Probably as proof of innovation, unlike the traditional ribbon cutting to mark official launches, Rwanda's Minister for ICT and Innovation, Paula Ingabire, declared the design lab officially open with a tweet.

That, they said, was to prove how technology can bring efficiency in terms of doing any business.

Youth during the launch of CcHUB Design Lab.

That is just what their new design lab seeks to do in different sectors, including in healthcare, education and governance.

"The design lab is about bringing design into the way public agencies and large corporations think about the implementation and use of technology to solve significant problems in the society," Bosun Tijani, the hub's Founder and Chief Executive, said.

They said they plan to invest $11 million (nearly Rwf10 billion).

Unlike the popular hubs that can host anyone anytime, the design lab is a space exclusively for collaborations between designers and engineers together with scientists and stakeholders.

CcHUB is doing is hiring both local and foreign product developers who will collaborate with public and private institutions to create solutions for some of the existing complex problems.

They said their decision to establish in Rwanda was based on the country's progress, particularly the ability to build systems that enable innovation and creativity.

"We are not here [in Rwanda] because we think there is a lot of money to make but because we believe there is something about this country that allows creativity and can inspire change across Africa," Bosun said.

Already, the lab announced a partnership with Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) as its first local partner.

Without revealing specific details on the nature of the partnership, officials said that they are keen on building digital solutions for public health.

Bosun told to Business Timesthat under the deal with RBC they particularly will work on solutions for non-communicable diseases.

"We will generally be spending more of our resources in adherence to treatment and focus on systems that can help us efficiently collect data," he noted.

Other areas of focus

The new design lab will focus on other sectors including education and governance. They believe the same concept can contribute to better outcomes particularly related to demand-side challenges and behavior change outcomes.

They have plans to innovate for education with an aim to use technology to widen STEM education, improve interest and learning outcomes and introduce smart applications in schools.

The firm also has plans to bridge the gap between government and citizens and improve the technology delivery of public services.

The new design lab seeks to ensure better outcomes, improve processes, expand capabilities and increase equity in the education sector, public health and governance.

Experts believe that when design principles are applied to strategy and innovation the success rate for impact improves.

An assessment conducted by the Design Management Institute indicated that design-led companies such as Apple, Coca-Cola, IBM, Nike, Procter & Gamble and Whirlpool had outperformed their peers over the past 10 years by about 211 per cent.

Though the design concept seems to be in its initial phases, its fast gaining popularity in developing countries but has been useful on developed economies for years.

In 2003, while explaining the invention of iPod - what was then a small, sleek- digital music player that weighed a few ounces and had the capacity to hold more songs than any other music player, Steve Jobs hinted on what design meant in the making of such a powerful tool.

"Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it's this veneer - that the designers are handed this box and told, 'Make it look good!' That's not what we think design is. It's not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works," Apple's then Chief Executive had told The New York Times.

Weighing in on design thinking

Patrick Buchana, the Chief executive of AC Group, a local technology company behind the popular smart cards for public transport, weighed in on why design thinking should be a widely adopted concept.

"We spent more [time] trying to listen to what is needed. The innovation is not Tap-and-Go; the innovation is what the Tap and Go system can do for the context in which you are launching it. It is important to understand the challenges you are solving," he said, unpacking their process of how they designed the Tap&Go system which is now widely used across public city transport.

On the other hand, Kampeta Sayinzoga, the Director General of National Industrial Research and Development Agency (NIRDA), highlighted that Rwanda had already started applying design thinking to promote the industry.

"The first mindset we need to create is to build the link between research and product development. Through the Ministry of Trade and Industry, we research ways to enable design thinking to revolutionalize the industrial space to create solutions," she said.

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