Most stories of recent innovators share a common thread — humble beginnings. Facebook, a social site that has swept across the world, was founded by Harvard University students in their hostel.
Google, the biggest search engine, came to life thanks to two students at Stanford University. Others include Microsoft, Instagram and YouTube.
Kenya, which is positioning itself to be a regional tech hub as evidenced by massive technological exploits currently being undertaken, has resolved to be part of the innovation story.
Could a group of seven Kenyan innovators fit the bill in claiming a space in the world’s innovation domain? According to Jed Ondiko, president of University Students Community Organisation (Uniscoo), the world should “watch our space.”
Founded in 2011, Uniscoo seeks to encourage good money management among students through the use of a prepaid card powered by MasterCard.
The initiative that started from the hostels of the University of Nairobi currently boasts of an asset base of more than Sh100 million according to Mr Ondiko. The group, the president said, started out with only Sh20,000 from personal savings.
“The idea of a student organisation with a bias towards finances arose from experiences within the precincts of higher learning,” Mr Ondiko says.
“Students receive an average loan of Sh15,000 from the government to last them for four months in a semester. This amount is too little, especially for students located in cities. Besides, many have problems budgeting for their expenses, ending up blowing the money in the first month.”
The prepaid plastic, known as the Uniscoo card, was launched in February 19 and is the first Europay, MasterCard, and Visa (EMV) card in Kenya.
The EMV global standard guarantees user’s security in credit and debit card transactions. The card, which retails at Sh300, has a membership of more than 25,000 students.
Mr Ondiko says his team approached John Fernandes assistant general manager Chase Bank Kenya with the idea last year and the bank approved, helping them set up the prepaid system. Next, Uniscoo talked with MasterCard Kenya and closed the deal the same year.
Under the arrangement, a holder of the Uniscoo card can top up at any Chase Bank branch or agent much the same way as making a deposit.
Topping up can also be through M-Pesa paybill number 552800 or Airtel money paybill word Uniscoo. The user then receives an SMS confirming every transaction.
“This allows students to track their spending habits and make any necessary adjustments should the situation dictate,” said head of programmes Peter Oraya.
The students’ prepaid service also works on the platform of the Chase Bank website where a user enters card details to track his/her finances.
The card will also act as a membership ID for Uniscoo and can be used for ATM withdrawals at Chase Bank, PesaPoint, Kenswitch and MasterCard merchant outlets.
Students with the Uniscoo card are set to benefit from discounts at partner outlets such as Nakumatt supermarket, Text Book Centre, Bata, Imax Cinema and Modern Coast. Members also benefit from internships, which are arranged annually.
Last year, close to 700 members from different universities received internships from companies, among them Chase Bank.
The Uniscoo secretariat comprises seven departments — administration, programmes, corporate affairs, finance, legal, ICT and secretary general office. These are charged with overseeing smooth operation of the project.
“Since universities have different needs, we have put in place Chapters, with officials to handle each institution as a single entity but operating under the Uniscoo umbrella,” said Mr Oraya.
Uniscoo said it was currently working on developing a student-based mobile application powered by Android and Symbian operating systems.
Mr Ondiko tells of plans to launch a student’s Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) and they have already presented the idea to Emerging Africa Capital and Hawkhill Partners.
As part of their social responsibility, Uniscoo last month introduced a mothers and daughters programme aimed at empowering young women through seminars and public lectures.
The university organisation said card holders will soon earn smart points on purchases made at any of the 33 million retail outlets across the 210 countries that accept MasterCard.