The Sunday Mail
Tanaka Chingonzo Watson University —
In my lower sixth year of high school, a series of unexpected events were set in motion that would find my life change in the most remarkable ways the next couple of months.
I heard about Harare Start up Weekend from my brother, Takunda, a prominent entrepreneur in the Zimbabwe innovation space. He would be attending it and hearing him talk about it, I immediately decided to take advantage of his attending it to tag along and beat out a path for myself.
Attending it that weekend in May 2014 found me jointly founding a company with a talented group of individuals. Our team was known as Combicode and we were working around making commuter omnibuses safer for the average Zimbabwean.
In 54 hours, we came up with a working prototype of our solution, eventually winning the honorary third prize at the event. As a 16-year-old, interacting with distinguished industry and thought leaders- entrepreneurs, business professionals and software developers, marketers, and designers, I remember a distinct sense of awe at the innovation ecosystem that then and especially now, exists in Zimbabwe.
It was at that event that I resolved to myself that my future lay in harnessing technology to solve problems. Two years later, Combicode has re-branded to Quick Online Reference and helped organise last year’s Harare Start-up Weekend event- the same event that conceived it.
At 2015’s startup weekend event, I was part of the Rezident team that worked to build a mobile application to enable citizens to report infrastructure problems to Harare city council. I continued working on the Rezident platform, teaching myself web development and building the website at www.rezident.co.zw before evolving it into the Pamwe project.
Soon after leaving ZRP High school, I was invited to attend a semester at the world’s first, degree bearing incubator program in Boulder, Colorado USA.
My high school had been extremely supportive of students’ entrepreneurial activities and while there, I had been CEO of Verity Holdings ZRP High School Junior Achievement Zimbabwe company.
We had commercialised the process of converting waste plastic into floor polish and had been producing it for consumption by the school and the surrounding Hatcliffe community.
We received a fair amount of recognition for our project, winning prizes at various events. With such a foundation, I flourished at Watson. Watson University is a new model of higher education that enables remarkable young people from across the world to gain access to the resources they need to build start ups and solutions to the world’s problems, while earning a degree and skills very relevant and practical to the problems they are trying to solve.
The outcomes I walked away with from Watson including funding for my project, an invaluable network of mentors, peers and friends continue to prove indispensable even now.
As Watson begins accepting applications for its fall Spring 2017 semester now, I highly encourage 19-23-year old’s working on social impact projects or interested in developing such a global network of peers to apply at http://www.watsonuniversity.org/.
My four months at Watson saw me attend the Global Engagement Summit held at Northwestern University annually in April that welcomes young people from the world’s universities working on building and running ventures to solve the world’s problems.
Attending it, I could not help but think of the amazing Zimbabwean students in our Zimbabwean tertiary institutions and how much they could benefit from attending such a conference.
I left that conference with the “outcome” as they called it, of having been awarded consultative services with an organisation known as Joining Vision and Outcomes that works with organisations to increase their impact and scale their solutions.
The mentorship network as well as the global network of peers that the summit introduced me to have had the most lasting impact on my projects and work and I highly encourage students to consider applying to attend it at this link: http://theges.org/.
I was also able to attend The Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado-Boulder, Interning at Spark Boulder- a co-working space like our own B2C at Batanai Gardens here in Harare enabled me to interact with the Boulder community in a way I otherwise would never have been able to.
I met a Product manager at Google who later organised a tour of their small Boulder campus which truly opened my eyes to the possibilities that lie in technology.
It was an eye-opening experience to say the least and I left there after four months with a profound sense of wonder and loss at the world of opportunities available to Zimbabwean youth that go by every year without our taking advantage of them.
It is with this background that I decided to begin an initiative to make these opportunities much more accessible to the Zimbabwean students who need to take advantage of them in order to gain exposure, to build their enterprises and to gain access to resources and networks and communities they can leverage as they build ventures and solutions to Zimbabwean problems.
I was only able to attend Watson University because the Education Advisor at Education USA, who had been helping me as I applied to American colleges, recommended the opportunity to me. It changed my life. I urge every student to visit the Education Advising center nearest to them if they are interested in pursuing an education in the USA or cultural and entrepreneurial exchange programs that may exist there.
Apply.co.zw provides international and local opportunities to high school students and school leavers in Zimbabwe. It covers international opportunities like the Microsoft Student Partner of which I was a part for the year 2016-17, which gives students under it amazing perks like free access to all Microsoft Software and products and exclusive access to events and opportunities.
It also covers Hour of code events which enable anyone to obtain very basic instruction in coding and receive a certificate in just an hour. Essay writing, art and poetry competitions are also included on the site under the Essays page covering both local and international competitions and contests.
The Environment, Entrepreneurship and Technology pages all include opportunities that fall under each of those categories respectively. Any student who shares my passion for creative writing knows just how difficult it is to find opportunities like that online in good enough time to participate fully.
Most essay competition search results provided online either do not apply to Zimbabweans and those that do often already have past deadlines by the time we find them.
Additionally, there is a wealth of local opportunities that high school students can take advantage of. Free photography courses being offered here in Harare and events like the Techfest set to be hosted in Bulawayo a week from now are all showcased on apply.co.zw and I invite organizations and people who are aware of opportunities they would like publicised to high school students to submit them through the form at the bottom of the website.
I also urge high school students to sign up at the bottom of the website for updates on new competitions and events. They can also like the page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and get in touch with us on the same platforms.
Students, YOU CAN SEND YOUR ARTICLES THROUGH E-MAIL, FACEBOOK, WHATSAPP or TEXT Just app Charles Mushinga on 0772936678 or send your articles, pictures, poetry, art . . . to Charles Mushinga at [email protected] or [email protected] or follow Charles Mushinga on Facebook or @charlesmushinga on Twitter. You can also post articles to The Sunday Mail Bridge, PO Box 396, Harare or call 0772936678.