Young Tanzanian techie seizes opportunity with language app
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Young Tanzanian techie seizes opportunity with language app

Posted THE CITIZEN

on  Thursday, October 24   2013 at  09:52

While living in Swaziland as a foreign student, Harvey Kadyanji experienced communication challenges in the outreach programmes that he was participating in. Such challenges were worsened by his lack of understanding of Swazi cultural values.

Swaziland has a lot of foreign volunteers and migrant workers who come to assist the nation in combating the HIV/Aids scourge. But cultural bottlenecks frustrate most volunteers, like Harvey.

It is for this reason that the young Tanzanian teamed up with Timothy McDermott, his colleague with Australian and Swaziland origin, to create SiSwApp, an application to bridge the language gap.

This is the tool that has earned the two young innovators a $5,000 grant and a chance to travel to Thailand.

The two were recently announced winners of the 2013 International Telecommunications Union (ITU) World Young Innovators Competition.

They entered the contest early this year, after seeing it advertised in a Swazi newspaper.

“The judges were looking for talented young social entrepreneurs aged between 18 and 26 who could provide ICT-based solutions to developmental challenges,” says the 20 year old Tanzanian.

Over 600 applicants from 88 countries applied for the competition, including Harvey and Timothy.

In July 2013, Harvey says they were told that they had made it into the list of the top 15 semi-finalists. They then had to submit a 5,000-word business proposal and emerged among the top 10 winners.

“This was good news to us. It gave us the urge to work even harder to come up with the application,” he says.

Harvey describes the SiSwApp as a smartphone app, which is aimed primarily at iOS and Android mobile platforms.

According to him, it promises to help users by offering contemporary features such as translation (English to SiSwati and vice versa) with an integrated audio database.

First software at 15

Other features include a comprehensive learning tool with topics and themes specific to Swazi culture; links to tourist hot spots in Swaziland and an advertisement platform for local entrepreneurs.

Interestingly, the young Tanzanian innovator has never received any kind of formal education with regards to programming or computer science.

But it is his curiosity and passion that drove him to the world of computers.

“By reading articles and following online tutorials I was able to create my first software at the age of 15, and my first App at 19,” he says.

Harvey finished his O-level studies in 2010. In 2011 he was one of the four candidates nominated by the Tanzania United World College (UWC) for a full study scholarship at any one of the UWC schools in the world.

Last year, he left the country for Swaziland where he enrolled for an international baccalaureate diploma at the Waterford Kamhlaba UWC of Southern Africa.

The college, which started in the sixties was the brainchild of an enterprising Englishman named Michael Stern. Revolted by neighbouring South Africa’s apartheid regime, Stern decided to set up a school to which all races would be admitted as equals.

“I look forward to graduating from the college this year,” says Harvey.

The course he is studying is similar to the Tanzanian A-level qualification, except that Harvey gets to do seven subjects, including sports, creative arts and community service.

He describes Timothy as his dorm mate. The two share interests in soccer, squash, physics and outreach programmes.

No silver spoon

The last born in a family of four, Harvey was not brought up with a silver spoon in his mouth.

“I had a modest upbringing,” he says. “But my parents were very supportive of my educational dreams. So, they only provided me with all the basic items they thought could help me in school.”

His parents also ensured that young Harvey gets exposed to computers. That helped him understand and appreciate the power of computers in changing communities.

Growing up, Harvey has drawn his inspiration from Sir Jonathan Ive, the designer of the iPhone, iPad, iPod and was the lead designer of iOS 7.

“What intrigues me about him is the way he pays attention to details and how he tries to provide a very simplistic way of doing things. He is among the first people to reveal the secret of designing consumer goods,” he says.

While still in Swaziland, Harvey is also involved in a number of student-led projects, such as 30 Seconds of Change, an initiative, which aims to improving the lives of disadvantaged youths, like those living in refugee camps.

But far away from home, Harvey still has big plans for his country. One of the things he is currently doing is exploring the importance of Kiswahili and culture.

“I have joined hands with several partners to work on an application that not only will present content on any given topic, but one that also supports local enterprises whose existence revolves around the Swahili language and culture,” he says.

But back home, the young man feels a lot more still needs to be done to support creativity in a world that has increasingly become technology-driven.

“I am of the opinion that the government needs to expose people to computers at a very tender age when their imagination is still running wild,” he says.

Live your dreams

Harvey’s advice to young Tanzanians is simple: “Live your dreams and be patient. All I did was give myself one reason why this would work, and in the process ignoring a million reasons why my dreams won’t work.”

Harvey’s first successful app was the Waterford Kamhlaba UWC app for Android and iPhone, which is found in the Google Play and iTunes Store, respectively. The project aimed at helping fellow students and visitors to explore the school.

“It helped me meet the head of corporate banking at Barclays Africa in South Africa,” he says.

Harvey was the founder of Young Coders Tanzania www.youngcoders.co.nf. Last year he conducted a web designing workshop for small children at his former primary school.

Next month, Harvey and Timothy will travel to Bangkok, Thailand, where they will showcase their idea and engage with mentors, leaders in the technology field and other young innovators.

They will also collect their prize money, which will be used to develop their project.

Harvey and Tim hope to progress from concept to a start-up soon and launch the application in February 2014.

Email: eqorro@tz.nationmedia.com