Stepping inside Uganda’s Innovation Lab is like walking into a room of possibilities.
It’s noisy and bustling, there is tinkering and soldering and chatter about new and existing projects. Engineers repurpose oil drums into computer stations and technologists test the Digital School in a Box, otherwise known as the MobiStation.
The Lab is a physical prototyping workshop, development hub, an electronics workshop, a video production set and a place for hosting workshops and meetings. The Lab in Uganda which is a part of UNICEF’s global Innovation center, is led by Stefan Bock, Technology for Development Unit Coordinator.
On any given day, UNICEF experts, students from different academic institutions, designers, and the hardware and software teams work together to create technology and programming that will help shape the country’s future. This place, as UNICEF’s Roving Lab Lead Stuart Campo says, “is where innovation begins.”
Campo has been a part of the UNICEF team for just under four years and is passionate about innovation in the developing world. He was drawn to Uganda because of the country’s drive to make things happen—and because of its complexity.
“You have the super rural and cut off areas and then Kampala, which is actually a bustling city,” he says. “There’s a range of poverty and wealth and a range of climates. There are the semi-arid plains where you have pastoral communities and a hip up and coming college population in Kampala.”
Most importantly, he says, Uganda is a “place for opportunity.”
He and Panwar, the IT chief in the UNICEF Uganda office, have their hands in each of the projects, including the MobiStation along with the rest of the UNICEF Innovation Lab team.
“The idea is through the Digital School in a Box [MobiStation], where there is not a teacher and where there is no classroom, you can still be a student. You can still learn,” says Campo.
Each lightweight and portable MobiStation is fully equipped with a laptop computer pre-loaded with educational software, a wireless document reader, a projector, speakers, and a USB hub.
The video lessons on each laptop are taught by the best teachers from across Uganda and recorded in colorful, vibrant model classrooms at the Innovation Lab.
In addition to being used for education, the invention is now working as a training system and a support tool for frontline health workers. “We have put a few in health centers in remote areas where they don’t have very good facilities,” says Panwar. “Middle level doctors and nurses can now contact health centers or hospitals in Kampala and have a tele-consultation through the MobiStation.”
What the Innovation Lab is doing with the MobiStation is promising and both Panwar and Campo and the whole team can’t wait to see the level of impact it will have on kids across Uganda.
This tool is “game-changing,” says Panwar and he and Campo are both deeply grateful to have been able to work on it and be a part of UNICEF Innovation team.
Campo adds: “I’m really humbled to spend everyday thinking outside of the box and working with populations that we are trying to serve to come up with solutions that they have been grappling with for decades.”
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