UCU student uses innovation to challenge youth leadership stereotypes

 

By Alex Taremwa

When I first met Solomon Odongo in 2017 at the Uganda Christian University (UCU) Honour’s College, he was working on an innovation that would transform the lives of rural Ugandans using a bicycle dynamo technology to charge their mobile phones. At that time, Odongo was working with a team of three to design a functional prototype that would pass for mass production, if approved. 

Three years later, not only has the final-year UCU Information Technology student successfully engineered a working prototype for his game-changing bicycle technology for which he has won several awards. Odongo also has championed youth innovation at a national and global level. 

While at UCU, Odongo – a bespectacled natural charmer always in jacket and tie – was elected president of a global youth-led development club, AIESEC

“AIESEC gave me the opportunity to create change in my community by providing the right networks and partnerships to grow both as a person and an entrepreneur,” he said.  “I gained invaluable leadership experience and skills that have been the benchmark of my career growth.”

From UCU, Odongo – the young man not known for settling for less – decided it was time to go big. He threw himself in the race to become AIESEC’s country director. The position was never held by someone still a student. He lost the first try. On the second attempt, Odongo made headlines as the first-ever AIESEC university club president to successfully transition to the position of Country Director. 

 

In his time at the helm, Odongo has forged numerous partnerships with multilateral organisations to bring voices and innovations of young Ugandans to the table and opened up conversations with stakeholders on investment opportunities in the youth sector. The consideration of young entrepreneurs is significant because most youth don’t have funds to elevate their innovations. 

From UCU, Odongo – the young man not known for settling for less – decided it was time to go big. He threw himself in the race to become AIESEC’s country director. The position was never held by someone still a student. He lost the first try. On the second attempt, Odongo made headlines as the first-ever AIESEC university club president to successfully transition to the position of Country Director. 

In his time at the helm, Odongo has forged numerous partnerships with multilateral organisations to bring voices and innovations of young Ugandans to the table and opened up conversations with stakeholders on investment opportunities in the youth sector. The consideration of young entrepreneurs is significant because most youth don’t have funds to elevate their innovations. 

One million solutions for SDGs
Odongo is part of a team of young leaders spearheading the United Nations One Million Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Solutions Challenge to accelerate scalable innovations to help in the achievement of the SDGs by 2030.  

The initiative, which is run on www.ugandayouthsolutions.com, is aimed at identifying and mobilizing Ugandan youth to present one million solutions. In  2021, the challenge will be televised. Of the 50 innovations submitted, 40 Innovations were selected to receive support from UN agencies and partners in Uganda.

One of the solutions is a solar-powered oxygen machine. Another is a local mosquito repellent diffuser that uses solar energy to emit human friendly gases from locally sourced herbs. 

In January 2021, Odongo was part of a youth delegation under the Youth Coalition for SDGs umbrella slated to meet Uganda’s President, Yoweri Museveni to discuss the youth’s contribution in achieving the SDGs and government’s support towards their innovations.

He planned to use the opportunity to garner attention for innovations from young people and call for a youth-inclusive government that would bridge the youth divide that often creates a mismatch in prioritization of resources at implementation level. 

Odongo also was nominated by Uganda’s government-owned daily newspaper, the New Vision, as one of the Top 40 under age 40 in the category of youth leadership and entrepreneurship in 2020. 

“AIESEC gave me the opportunity to create change in my community by providing the right networks and partnerships to grow both as a person and an entrepreneur,” he said.  “I gained invaluable leadership experience and skills that have been the benchmark of my career growth.”

A UCU ‘Silicon Valley’?
Odongo believes that UCU has the right talent mix among students, staff and partnerships to run a successful innovation and entrepreneurship center that can incubate new solutions and have the potential to employ hundreds of the university’s graduates. 

“I know the Faculty of Business has an incubation hub of sorts but I would love for the new Vice Chancellor to expand it into a university innovation center where not just business students but lawyers, journalists, programmers, agriculturalists and artisans can put ideas together, incubate them and come up with scalable solutions,” he said. “Imagine graduating 3,000 students and at the same time, launching 50 new products to the Ugandan market. One product alone can even employ half the number graduating.”

Odongo said he had presented the idea to the former Vice Chancellor, Rev. Canon. Dr. John Senyonyi, and now hopes that new leadership can bring the idea to life.

 

“A university in today’s world of technology must invest heavily in research and development in order to create local solutions for the community in which it operates,” he noted. 

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