Zim grows appetite for tech innovations

Africa Moyo —
ZIMBABWE is slowly morphing into a country that churns out technologically-savvy innovators willing to create life-changing start ups, moving away from being one that merely produces workers for the job market.

Though having one of the highest literacy rates in Africa at 90 percent, Zimbabwe has lagged behind in science and technology. But this is changing.
Mr Tawanda Chikosi (32), who graduated with a Diploma in Business Management from the University of Zimbabwe and another in Entrepreneurship from the University of North Carolina in the United States, is in the process of launching a mobile application called Road Rules.

His company, Road Rules Solutions, has three other youthful partners: Mr Chengetai Chikwanha, certified by Microsoft by the Aden School of Computing at the UZ; Miss Chido Chikosi, a holder of a Higher National Diploma in IT; and Miss Rudo Mandibva, who has a Degree in Information Systems from Midlands State University.

The application was developed to help young people to prepare for writing the provisional driver’s licence (PDL) tests, a prerequisite of getting a certificate of competency from the Vehicle Inspection Department (VID).

The cost of failing a PDL test is quite high as the VID charges US$20 per sitting. Ministry of Transport statistics show that of the 243 000 people who registered to sit for the PDL tests in 2014, over 60 percent failed.

It is precisely for this reason that the application was developed.

“We developed this application called Road Rules after realising that the rate of failure by people trying to obtain a PDL is too high. Our observation was that the yellow books sold on street corners are almost invisible due to poor print quality.

“Reading those poorly printed books is also strenuous and people end up going for the test before they are ready. That is part of the problem, and we said since there are high literacy rates, why not come up with an application that can help the prospective drivers to pass their tests at minimal cost,” said Mr Chikosi.

People that fail the test for the first time often resort to private tutors for preparatory oral lessons. It usually entails an extra cost.In essence, the Road Rules application is designed in the form of a game.

“Gamification” is seen by the developers as a major coup given that the bulk of people who write PDLs are youths, who are considered digital natives.
The application has four sections: practice, test, notes and a progress report. The practice session is divided into two parts — diagrams and theory.

Mr Chikosi said the application gave immediate feedback in an interactive way while another section carried all the specific notes for questions that could be asked in the PDL test.

“On the other hand, the test session has a countdown timer which pressurises you for time. Time is of importance and we feel that some people fail because they cannot manage their time since the yellow books don’t have a mechanism for time management.

“Our test section also gives responses after you have finished the test,” he added.

In addition, the application, which currently has more than 20 000 downloads and is available on the Android operating system, costs US$2 for three months. However, before subscriptions, 15 minutes are available for free.

It uses all the mobile payment platforms available from the country mobile telecoms companies, and has received Government endorsement.
Upgrade Road Rules is currently upgrading its application to include a schedule of all traffic fines. Contacts for emergency service providers such as mechanics will also be included.

Similarly, once one obtains a PDL, they would be able to select a driving school with which to undertake driving lessons. Going forward, there are also plans to ensure that prospective drivers just pay for PDL tests through mobile money instead of physically travelling to VID offices.

Mr Chikosi said once such services are available on the application “we will feel that we have come up with a comprehensive driving application”.
Challenges

As with most start-ups, the company is running on internally-generated funds. An estimated US$25 000 has since been ploughed into the business, of which US$7 000 was injected by fuel giant, Total Africa through its 2016 Start-Up Challenge.

The resource envelop provide by Total Africa for the Start-Up Challenge was US$35 000. Winners got US$18 000, US$10 000 and the third runner-up US$7 000.

The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe is spearheading a US$25 million Zimbabwe ICT Innovation Fund through the ICT and Courier Services Ministry to help young ICT innovators.

Road Rules Solutions has been selected for the 2016 World Summit Awards. The judging criteria started on October 31 and 178 countries will be participating, with 46 winners expected to emerge from 386 innovative solutions.

Mr Chikosi has won the Zimbabwe Top Young ICT Innovator of the year (2013); Zimbabwe Top Young ICT Innovator First runner up (2011); DEMO Africa (2015) Zimbabwe finalist and the US Department of State Professional Fellow Impact Award winner 2015.

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