By Pilar Lagos
For UNICEF, academic partnerships bring shared value with universities through the exchange of ideas, capacity building, and opportunities for applied research. There are opportunities to work with universities, from very small, time-bound events, such as being a guest critic in a class, to activities that are more intensive, such as co-teaching a semester-long course, to partnerships that are happening at institutional scale, such as an Innovation Lab. We’ve discovered that these relationships are about building up a community of practice and practitioners and connecting with a future generation of problem solvers and young innovators.
I had the privilege of interviewing a few of the young innovators that are part of the UNICEF network. I discovered what motivates them to think outside the box and other great characteristics of true innovators.
Some of these innovators participated in the design thinking class taught by UNICEF at the University of Nairobi, others have won UNICEF’s Global Design Challenge. The common factor among these brilliant minds is that they all are making their local communities a better place to live.
Let’s get started…
Name: Ali Dennis Chivatsi
Occupation: Computer Science student at the University of Nairobi, S.E.O & Social Branding Expert at Sisitech Enterprises, and Director at Changamka Afrika Entertainment
Twitter handle: @sisitech
Link to website: http://sisitech.com/
Ali Dennis Chivatsi has always been surrounded by music. Growing up, his parents played Rhumba, Benga, and Jazz at home. His older brother listened to international and Kenyan hip-hop. In high school, Ali discovered that he wanted to make and produce music to share it with other people.
A self-started by nature, Ali began playing with computers and enrolled at the University of Nairobi in 2012 to study Computer Science. He considers himself privileged. His parents and brother have always supported his music career and studies.
At 22, Ali is one of the founders of Sisitech Entreprises, a web services company. He has also taken part in the design thinking class taught by UNICEF, which made him rethink his approach to business and life.
Tell me about Sisitech…
Ali Chivatsi (AC): Sisitech is a company that offers a wide range of web services. My friends from high school and I founded the company. I remember speaking with my friends about combining our talents and energy to try and build a common thing together. We discussed our interests and strengths and each of one of us began to focus on a particular area. For example, I like design. As a web and graphic designer, I decided to take the lead in marketing.
How did become involved with the C4D Lab?
AC: We manage their social media platforms and perform digital marketing as well. As a student, I encouraged my team to apply for the design thinking course and yeeee! we got selected. My friend Valentino pushed hard to get the incubation space as a company at C4D. The credit goes to him on that one.
What inspired you to come up with your innovation/youth?
AC: About three years ago, a friend was looking for a job. My friend is a very talented musician and wanted to pursue music as a career. I encouraged him to produce an album, and I was part of the team working on the branding for his album. As a DJ, I know people, but I didn’t have enough connections to link him up. We had spent our savings helping our friend. In Kenya, it’s hard to make earnings as a budding musician.
I asked myself: “As Sisitech, what can we do to make it easier for artists, comedians, and young people who are clearly talented but have limited resources?”
We developed a product called Request (http://www.rquest.co/) which focuses on helping artists between 20-35, that are struggling in the music industry. The platform focuses on two things: 1) artists’ discovery and 2) royalty collection
In Kenya, monitoring the royalty collection points is a big issue. Collective Management Organizations (CMOs) handle the money for the artists. We are going to provide a common platform that will allow CMOs and artists to monitor the number of times the music of a particular artist has been played on the radio. This way, we can monitor the royalty collection points for artists.
In addition, we are building a small device that uses Internet of Things. The device listens to streams from different radio stations and analyzes the data and sends the information to a smartphone. We also want to partner with CMOs to put the devices in public places like bars, restaurants, shops, and public service transportation, to make account for what the artists are earning through airplay.
What were the biggest challenges for setting up Sisitech?
AC: First of all, acquiring all the legal paperwork to set up our company took some time. We also didn’t have any structure or mentors. Getting new customers was also a challenge.
Between 2014-2015, we took a pause to analyze if this is what we wanted to do. In 2015, we regrouped, landed a few jobs, worked with Dr. Tonny Omwansa, Coordinator at the C4D Lab, and we were able to get incubation at the startup level.
Now, we are taking a design thinking approach for our business. We really want to understand why we want to make a solution a certain way. It’s not just about doing business and getting paid, it’s about how we can help our customers achieve their goals from their interactions with our company. Design thinking takes a lot of work, but I would recommend all companies take this approach in their businesses. In Computer Science, we always think about tech, but we don’t think about the end user. However, design thinking changes the way you interact with people.
What’s the best advice that you’ve received?
AC: “It’s not ‘us versus them’ or even ‘us on behalf of them.’ For a design thinker it has to be ‘us with them’” – Tim Brown, CEO and President of IDEO
I really like this quote. It’s influenced me in the way I talk with people. Many times, people are more eager to speak than to listen. People like to receive and not give. I want us to feel like we are helping each other.
I also like Eric Thomas, he is a motivational speaker on YouTube, He says: “If not now when, if not you, who?” That quote also gives me strength. If I am not doing it, who will do it? And if I don’t do it now, when will I do it?
I write these quotes on walls and it gets me going.