"Education is the most important investment any parent can give their children."
Hindu Nabulumba, a Ugandan Africa Prize and Frontiers of Engineering for Development entrepreneur, is co-founder of Yaaka Digital Network, a local educational platform and social network for teachers and learners of all levels. We asked her about her tips, lessons learned, and the inspiration behind the business.
What is Yaaka Digital Network?
Yaaka Digital Network (Yaaka DN) is a platform in Uganda consisting of a social network and educational tools for users to access and share locally relevant academic content, as well as share academic and extracurricular activities of interest.
Students and teachers at all levels, from pre-primary to tertiary, can use the site to learn, mentor and interact. It works online and offline, giving users access to all the educational tools they need, wherever they are.
What problem does Yaaka Digital Network tackle?
Education is the most important investment any parent can give their children, and indeed any country can give its citizens.
Growing up, my parents worked hard to ensure I could go to school, paying school fees, buying me books and trying to give me everything I needed to study. They encouraged us to use the internet to support our learning. In most cases, I couldn’t find material that matched my curriculum or topic, let alone materials that were well-organised and easily understandable to me and my friends.
At school, we had to print out and photocopy a lot of handwritten notes and pages from textbooks - over the year this cost a fortune, and meant we always had a lot of paper piling up.
How did Yaaka Digital Network start?
When my lecturer, Mr Gerald Businge, told us about his vision of a locally relevant education platform, where teachers could develop and input their own academic content, and learners could access materials and interact with their fellow students and teachers, I jumped at the idea. I wanted to be a part of the team because I knew it would benefit many people.
As co-founder / brand and promotions manager, I’ve been active in creating and developing the Yaaka DN platform, improving teaching and learning while making education more fun and less expensive.
What were the main lessons you learned through the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation training?
Three of my key learnings were:
Always stay focused on your business goal, though you can change the strategy you follow to reach it.
Talk to your customers to understand why they use your product over others – and take their feedback on board.
Review your business regularly. For us, this means looking at numbers like monthly users, paying customers and most visited courses, as well as customer surveys. We started doing monthly reviews, but found the time was was too short to review, implement new ideas and see how they worked out. Now we do quarterly and annual reviews.
What impact did the Africa Prize have on your business?
Through the training from Source Institute, we reflected and created better marketing and promotion strategies, which we still use today. For example, we ‘locked’ the most visited courses so that they have to be paid for from the start, and only made the first two topics available for free.
We saw increases in the signups for our web app, course downloads and online customer engagement.
The publicity we received from being part of the Africa Prize gave us more credibility. Two universities contacted us to learn about our education tools, and we have just finished training teachers on the benefits of using digital platforms, at the US Embassy in Uganda.
What is your greatest achievement since you participated in the Africa Prize?
We have installed the platform in computer labs at five primary and ten secondary schools, where it is being used as a key learning tool. The schools appreciate using the platform, and have given us valuable feedback on areas for improvement.
What stage are you at now?
We have developed a new product, the Yaaka android app. This is for learners in higher education institutions to access the platform on their phones, and allows us to reach more people with education tools in a format convenient for them.
Yaaka has also recently participated in some local innovation programmes, including LEAP2.
We are currently looking for more partnerships with embassies so that we can install Yaaka in refugee camps.
What tips would you give to your fellow innovators?
One piece of advice for my peers is that they should understand that innovations take longer than you expect to be accepted and used. In our case, we created a solution that allows many Ugandans and others to take advantage of digital learning beyond the internet, so we had to give ourselves time to work on the idea and get it right.
Another tip is to focus on building a business, not just a technology. Customers don't purchase technology, they purchase solutions, which are created by businesses.
Finally, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a new idea, but you should remain focused on your customers and the goal you want to achieve, and this will contribute to your success.
Find out more at yaaka.cc.