Evelyn Namara is bomb-ass in just about every way. When she’s not breaking ground in tech innovation in Uganda, she’s helping women start successful businesses. We totally get why she was called a “fearless influencer of society”.
Evelyn is the founder of !nnovate Uganda but before that she worked for Beyonic Limited and Solar Sister. She is an Acumen East Africa fellow and also an IDEX fellow (January 2015 class) where she spent six months in India as part of the fellowship program working for Wings Learning Centres.
Here, Evelyn shares her passion for tech and entrepreneurship with SLA and lets us know her top five tips for start-ups.
What is one thing about Evelyn Namara that the world should know?
I keep a counsel of close advisers who I go to when I need advice and guidance on anything.
It is important for everyone to have a counsel of trusted friends who can genuinely give you guidance and also truthfully rebuke you when make terrible decisions. I have found that these people have helped me stay focused on my goals and have encouraged me when I have felt like giving up.
Tell us about !nnovate Uganda
I co-founded !nnovate Uganda as a means to respond to the technology needs from a social and humanitarian sector point of view. We work on different technology interventions for organizations and companies that are mostly serving the under-served.
Our flagship product is the electronic voucher system that uses simple feature mobile phones and Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) system to help small holder farmers redeem seed crops, fertilizers and pesticides.
With our integrated management information system we track a lot of data collected through the USSD system and help organizations understand the impact of their programs. Our pilot project served fifteen thousand small holder farmers under the USAID Growth, Health and Governance program.
What needs to be done to increase the number of women in IT?
STEM studies should be encouraged from the grassroots. Girls as well as boys should know that the choice exists for them to take up technology as a career from an early age.
I believe that once we introduce STEM studies early on and put gadgets in the hands of girls as they grow up, there will be no need to “increase women in IT”.
We have a problem now because some outdated education systems allow girls to believe that some courses are not meant for them. That there are some simpler and feminine courses that girls should take up and unfortunately technology is not one of them.
Let’s focus on building capacity for the younger generation and open up opportunities for girls to live up to their full potential.
Besides from that, we need to encourage more forums that are building capacity for women in IT. One of such forums is AfCHIX which continues to impart skills development in young women in ICT.
AfCHIX gives girls an opportunity to be better at their skills and thus compete favourably for jobs. It also links them to opportunities to attend conferences such as the Grace Hopper Conference which is one of the biggest women in technology conference that brings together thousands of women from all walks of life in the technology sector.
As someone who helps women start businesses, what are your top five tips for start-ups?
I draw my lessons from my start-up and I will share those with other start-ups.
- Research the field you want to serve adequately. Carry out your baseline studies and understand your field. Know the other players in the field and find a way to make your start-up stand out in terms of product offering. It’s your uniqueness that will give you an edge.
- Don’t wait until you have the perfect product for you to hit the market. Prototype early, test your prototype with potential customers and iterate. You learn a lot when your product is in the hands of customers and this allows you to work on early modifications before bringing out your final product.
- Have a target market and work closely with them. Most start-ups are not very clear on who their target market is and this creates ambiguity in building your solution. Work on knowing who your target customers are so that you build specifically for them.
- Build a pull of partnerships, these are key in giving you longevity. With the right partners you can scale your start-up easily. Find those that complement your vision and work together to push your product or service.
- Build the right structures. This is key if you are looking to build your start-up to scale.
You were an IGF Internet Society Ambassador in 2015, tell us about that.
Internet Society invests in Next Generation of Internet leaders. Through it’s Next Generation Leaders (NGL) programme, Internet Society helps Internet professionals between the ages of 20 and 40 develop their leadership potential in technology, business, policy, and education.
NGL participants gain a unique opportunity to advance their professional growth and build the experience and confidence they need to drive development in their own local communities and the larger Internet ecosystem.
The Internet Governance Forum Ambassadorship Programme lies under the NGL curriculum and gives an opportunity to Internet professionals to attend the IGF and participate in the dialogue that shapes the Internet ecosystem.
I applied and was accepted as a 2015 ambassador and the experience was enriching. Stand out topics for the 2015 IGF were Connecting the next billion, Net Neutrality and Zero Rating, topics that are relevant to the African continent. My interest as a member of civil society was on following and contributing to the discussions on connecting the next billion because we still face a challenge of connectivity which is hindering Innovation.
What is the best compliment you’ve received?
I was once called a “fearless influencer of society”. That’s the best compliment I can ever think of.
Service for society means a lot to me.
We want to know about women in your communities doing amazing things! Tell us about them here.