Which way is best to celebrate Youth Month in South Africa? The 4IR AquaTechHack

The year 2021 marks the 45th commemoration of one of the events that cannot be forgotten in the history of South Africa, the 1976 Soweto uprising. To honour this year’s youth month, The Business Clinic together in partnership with EWSETA, Eastern Cape Office of the Premier and Geekulcha hosted a 36 hour hackathon in search of 4IR-enabled solutions for water-energy-food nexus challenges in the Eastern Cape Province.

The event commenced on Saturday 26 June 2021 and went on until the evening of the following day, Sunday 27 June. Despite the event being hosted virtually due to Covid-19 regulations, over 130 young innovators from all around the country came together in groups to exchange innovative ideas and strategies in finding top solutions that can address the key problem statement.

Socio-technical debate: 24 June 2021

As part of a build up to the Hackathon, a three-hour virtual socio-technical debate was hosted on Thursday 24th June 2021. A number of key public and private sector stakeholders came together to engage and develop a stakeholder-qualified problem statement which was to be used at the Hackathon. In his opening address during the socio technical debate, Director-General for the Eastern Cape, Mr. Mbulelo Sogoni, stated: “With the scarcity of water in the province, it is difficult to produce food. Livestock is dying and farmers are not able to till their lands”.

A group of young entrepreneurs and innovators formed part of this debate, deliberating on solutions aimed at addressing Eastern Cape from water, energy and food crises. The idea behind the debate was to map out and unpack a number of challenges around water, energy and food as well as working on solutions that will address these challenges.

The socio-technical debate was facilitated by Mr. Ashton Mpofu, National chairperson of South African Young Water Professionals (YWP-ZA) and was also premiered Live on Youtube, see here. Looking at the success level of the debate, the collaboration between these stakeholders indeed proved to be of much value. Local innovators like Mr. Ben Mfazwe formed part of the debate. Mr. Mfazwe has been working on his innovation for over 12 years now. His innovation includes a portable toilet made out of an enamel box where the incineration process takes place.  A toilet seat lid that triggers the “flushing” process when closed, a chimney and a three-metre-long perforated pipe that is dug into the ground to channel fluids.

In her welcome address, the CEO of EWSETA Mpho Mookapele said: “This is only the start of coming up with solutions. We are not going out of the country to find solutions, there is talent right here in the Eastern Cape, there is creativity in the province and there are skilled people willing to help develop these solutions. As Energy and Water SETA, we are happy to partner with the community to help move the province forward”.

The 4IRAquaTechHack: 26-27 June

Saturday 26 June 2021, marked the official opening of the 2021 4IR Aquatech Hackathon. “We’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a very long time. I am very delighted to finally see the hackathon come to reality. The spirit of the Hackathon is really about bringing together cross-sector partners to come and explore solutions to issues which are pressing in our time.” said Lucky Litelu, CEO of ICRD Group in his opening.

The first day of the hackathon included mainly team and mentor matchmaking, as participants found like-minded peers to work with and were allocated expert mentors to help them model their solutions effectively. After the morning session, followed the afternoon session which was really centred around how to create a Business Model Canvas and a compelling presentation to help set up the participants for successful pitches the next day.

Finally on Sunday 27 June, participants got to showcase solutions which they managed to come up with in the last 19 hours. From 14h30, the innovators got to meet and pitch to their judges, competing for the cash prizes. Amongst the panel of judges were Mr. McKevin Ayaba, CEO of Setup a Startup, Prof. Diane Hildbrandt, Director at Institute for the Development of Energy for African Sustainability (IDEAS); Nape Mothiba, Deputy Director of Research and Development, Centre for Public Service Innovation (CPSI); and Akhona Tinta, Director of Strategic Planning and Management, Amathole District Municipality.

Winners

  1. First Place:  Randolph Meth and Senzo Dlamini – R10 000

Project: The Mitha Solar Power Generator uses solar energy to convert it into electricity that can be used to power up appliances through solar PV panels and batteries

  • Second Place:  Faith Mokhatji – R7 500

Project: Creating a platform that allows farmers to sell a portion of their next harvest in exchange for financing their farm. Specifically tailored for water saving/green farmers. By utilizing algorithms for weather and yield forecasts

  • Third Place:  Kutlwano Tshatiwa – R5 000

Project: PlantDoc – A chatbot. Farmers can make use of this chatbot to diagnose their plants and make use of a machine learning algorithm to diagnose the plant based on its image. The chatbot also empowers farmers, they can chat to it to get more information about farming or plants.

In addition to cash prizes and certificates for the three highest-scoring teams, the rest of the top seven will have the opportunity to pitch to the 4IR AquaTech Accelerator, a 6-month mentorship driven programme. 

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