What is InterConnection Uganda?
The Motivation for Change:
In 2002 Honorable John Nsambu, the yougest Member of Parliament in Uganda at the time, was returning to the U.S. to visit his host parents in Spokane, Washington, from his student exchange visit in 1992. He had a vision of introducing PC technology in Uganda’s primary and secondary schools, so he sent a letter to 50 educators throughout Washington state and received a single reply from Dr. Janet Graeber, the Headmaster of the High School at Forest Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bellevue, WA. During his visit John and Janet met for the first time and the Computers for Uganda Project was born.
The First CFU Team above, Summer 2003.
Since the project’s first visit to Uganda in the summer of 2003, over 30 computer labs in primary and secondary Ugandan schools have been set up by high school students from Washington State; this totals to a little more than 400 PCs. And that number continues to rise each year.
However, several concerns were raised by members of the 2006 team last summer:
- The older computer labs were starting to wear out, and the schools were relying on us to come back and fix their computers or resolve networking issues every summer. With CFU expanding to new schools each year, we will not have enough time to go back to those schools and make repairs. Something needed to be done to make the schools more self-sustaining.
- The project’s funding has been coming from a Rotary International grant every year (always a tense time for the project’s coordinators). How much longer can we continue to obtain money (mainly to ship the computers) to fund the project? Every year the project has depended mainly on this one grant to get going, and if we aren’t approved one year then we’re stuck. The project also had to become self-sustaining.
- Not enough opportunities were provided for people to get involved in Information Technology. Uganda’s economy, still focused mainly in acgriculture, paid little or no attention to ITâ€”the force that’s driving the rest of the world. But a new Ugandan ministry was created just before we arrived in June, 2006: The Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, and Hon. John Nsambu was appointed its first minister. He was determined and we were determined to change IT in Uganda. We just needed a way transfer our skills to the Ugandan people and a potential positive business and economic impact through IT.
The Birth of an Idea:
After several meetings, brainstorming sessions, and talks back and forth between CFU leaders and Hon. Nsambu, we were able to address most of the concerns through the creation of InterConnection Uganda, Uganda’s first PC refurbishing business.
One of its goals is to source second hand computers in the US through a partnership with InterConnection USA/Seattle and then have them refurbished and sold in Kampala to businesses and individuals, and as a result, create a market for Information Technology and provide employment for Ugandans who have skills, or want to obtain skills through an internship, in IT. Initially, the goal is to make 4 shipments of 400 PCs for a total of 1,600 computers per year, where at a minimum 10% (160 PCs) will be donated to schools and other underserved organizations.
In addition to being a computer refurbishing business, InterConnection Uganda will also act as a community hub for information. We hope that sometime within the next year we can get a curriculum up and running, inviting university students from both the U.S. and in Uganda, to teach free computer science related seminars for the community, and also provide specific seminars targeted for the teachers in charge of computer labs–enabling them to troubleshoot their own problems and keep the lab up and running throughout the year.
Another idea (still in the works), which we hope to get off the ground this summer, is a vision of engineering, assembing, and installing highly energy efficient computing solutions especially fit for the Ugandan/East African market where electrical power supply comes at a premium. A California-based company, Inveneo, may prove a potential partner in this effort.