Last week TANZICT organized training for the Tanzanian living labs, and I had the opportunity to interview one of the Living Lab champions, Karol Novat from Sengerema and share his story.
Karol Novat is young social entrepreneur from Sengerema a small town in Mwanza northern Tanzania. He is a graduate of Bachelor of Science in Geology from the University of Dar es Salaam. Karol did his high school and secondary education in Mwanza city at Sengerema Secondary School and Bwiru Boys High school respectively. During his days as a secondary school student he was anxious in coming up with something that can give a direct impact to the community and create chances for individuals who has not get the chance to get formal education system to attain education and knowledge, helping them to improve their lives.
Karol realized his dream in September 2012, when he started Sengerema living lab currently known as Elimu lab. Elimu lab is found at Sengerema township, Bomani Street near by AICT church in Mwanza town. He was motivated to start the living lab after attaining the training organized by TANZICT and Rlabs South Africa in July 2012. The training was about the living labs and how they can be used to help create productive communities.
Karol started the lab with one computer after renting a small space from his uncle’s poultry house to use it as a tuition centre. He was paying 7,000 per week to use that small space while taking care of chickens owned by his uncle. After the space being in operation for few months, he managed to secure 63 students from all over Sengerema town and raise 700,000 Tanzania shillings from them as their tuition fee. Karol used the money to pay his uncle to use the space for six months and to shift the chicken to another place. For the first few months he had to work so hard to get funds to keep the space going. He used his free college time in Dar es Salaam to do part time job to raise money for the lab in Sengerema. After he received money from the high education loans board of Tanzania (HSELB) for his college studies, he decided to spend the money to pay rent for the lab and cover some stuffs there.
The space started with one computer, he manage to secure some old PC’s from a friend owning internet cafe whom he helped to fix his computers. The friends gave him some parts of the computer and he managed to assemble five computers to be used at the lab. Three of them are still functioning until now. Usually they use the computers to teach locals on basic computer skills and visits remote villages to conduct fastrack training on computer usage. After TANZICT realized the lab’s effort they manage to give support to the lab by giving them internet access and projector for teaching purposes and expose the community managers to training.
Since the lab has started have trained more than 1,200 people from near by communities surrounding the lab with an average of 150 people accessing the lab services every day, mostly youth. Currently they are having entrepreneurship programme for women in surrounding communities with a long term plan of starting ICT for women initiative. The lab has been receiving people from Geita, Karagwe, Biharamulo and other nearby towns. Through sharing information about the lab people have been attracted to use the lab.
According to Karol some of the direct values that they are providing to the local communities include, give them access to information, employment opportunities through their entrepreneurship programmes, knowledge, education and skills development. The lab is embraced by the community and treated as part of the social reformation systems.
He was clear that, they haven’t received direct support from the government but now they are about to work with Institute of Adult Education to provide education for people who haven’t get the primary school education, currently they are about 991 people. The medium they will use to train in the programme is through Open Distance Learning (ODL). Their main partner so far has been TANZICT and Rlabs South Africa, through the TANZICT Project.
Karol added that, with all the success stories the lab still faces some challenges including, working on a proper sustainability plan, lacking of enough resources to meet the requirements, having enough man power, people with skills and operational knowledge, he said it is difficult to keep them if you are not paying them enough. Dealing with issue of having a sustainable source of income, the lab has started printing business, printing all range of materials from, clothes to mugs. They believe this in turn might be among their major sources of income some days to come.They are also planning to start audiovisual production centre.
They have a programme called “Early Brain Innovation Centre” which is nursery and primary school study centre, but it is run in a such a way that, they are discovering talents from these young kids and help them to grow their talents as they grow up and build new potential community members.
According to him to him the lab is a great opportunity to the people in Sengerema and their mission is to transform youth. He said “ We want to transform youth from being dependent to independent, create more jobs opportunities and build a stable society through knowledge sharing”. The long term plan of the hub is to grow and spread in other places in Mwanza and create more opportunities to the youths and the community in general. According to him the biggest success was to be able to transform the building from chicken shed to something that drives real impact to the community, the Elimu lab.