INNOVATIVE: Godwin Benson is the brains behind Tuteria, an innovative online learning platform that connects people seeking to learn something, with those who can teach them. Pictures: The Royal Academy of Engineering
A Nigerian systems engineer was named the winner of the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation on Tuesday night.

Godwin Benson designed Tuteria, an online platform that links students to qualified tutors in their area and within their budget.

Users find the skill they want to learn on an app on their phone, set their budget, and wait to be connected to the nearest tutor.

The Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, founded by the Royal Academy of Engineering, encourages sub-Saharan African engineers, from all disciplines, to develop local solutions to challenges in their communities. It provides training and mentoring to help turn engineers with incredible ideas into successful entrepreneurs.

Four finalists were selected from 16 shortlisted candidates, who received six months of training and mentorship. The winner was announced in Nairobi, Kenya, after pitching live to the judging panel and assembled audience.

Benson receives £25 000, and £10 000 is awarded to each runner-up.

WINNER: Godwin Benson – Nigeria

Nigerian systems engineer Godwin Benson developed the Tuteria online platform after his own struggles as a tutor.

Tuteria, a play on the word “tutorial”, links students to qualified tutors. It allows people who are looking to learn a particular skill to locate competent tutors in their area online.

Students and teachers are vetted before being allowed to use the platform, to ensure that both sides receive the service they expect. (Benson recalls a time when, as a tutor, he wasn’t paid by a client for a month.)

Tutors are required to upload a valid ID card and pass a competency assessment. Those who make it through the first stage take part in a Skype interview with the Tuteria team before being allowed to market themselves on the platform.

So far, only about 2 500 of 16 000 tutor applicants have passed Tuteria’s competency tests.

The platform also has a ratings system, where clients can review a tutor’s performance and conduct.

To prevent payment issues, like the one Benson experienced as a young tutor, Tuteria learners book and pay for lessons upfront online, and the tutors are paid once the lessons have been confirmed as delivered. Tuteria takes 15 to 30% commission for each paid lesson.

The skills offered on the platform range from traditional academic subjects such as maths and science, to more practical and artistic skills such as learning to play the piano, sew clothes, cook or speak a new language.

Tuteria users range from university students up to the age of 28 to those starting their education. Kids as young as 4 have been registered by their parents to find home tutors.

Benson felt so strongly about making his mark on education that he gave up a stable salary with his job at Deloitte Nigeria to start Tuteria.

“I’m passionate about helping other people succeed, and as a tutor of nearly 10 years myself, I know the difference that a platform like Tuteria can make to someone’s education,” he says.

His innovation has won him a number of awards. Last year, he was the winner of The Future Awards Africa for education.

Tuteria also won the Impact Award under the Education Section of Facebook‘s Innovation Challenge, and

Benson received a commendation from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Benson was also one of the winners of the Microsoft Lumia 535 Dual SIM “Passion to Empire” Campaign, and the second runner-up of the Pitch Royal Residence Grant.

In March, Benson presented Tuteria to Prince Andrew in London at [email protected], a platform that allows entrepreneurs to pitch their technology solutions to an audience of global influencers.

FINALIST: Hindu Nabulumba – Uganda

An engaging online learning platform in Uganda is bringing education to those who can’t physically access learning institutions.

The Yaaka Digital Learning Network is a forum, an academic resource, a job listing, a tutoring aid and a peer-to-peer knowledge sharing platform all in one.

Developed by Hindu Nabulumba and her team at Ultimate Multimedia Consult, Yaaka is designed like an interactive social network, where teachers and students can share academic knowledge and materials.

It allows skilled teachers to tutor remotely and earn extra income, and its users benefit from each other’s experience and guidance.

The network, which was launched in March 2015, already has about 11 000 users.

Students and teachers range from pre-primary school to university level, and academic, social or extracurricular activity materials are shared in the form of text, audio, audio-visual or video content.

Online classes are held for those with internet-connected devices.

Students and teachers just need to register to access or offer learning materials.

Content that is shared on the platform ranges from maths, biology and chemistry to theology, documentary film production, human resource management and nursing.

Nabulumba is conscious of many people not having reliable internet access, particularly in Uganda’s rural areas.

To circumvent this problem, her team has customised an offline version of the network on tablets.

This opens the platform up to users in rural areas.

The platform currently contains Ugandan syllabus content for Ugandans, by Ugandans.

The innovators hope to develop the platform and tablets for each African country in the near future.

The team also encourages users and experts to give feedback about how they can improve the learning platform.

In March, Nabulumba was invited to present Yaaka to an audience in London, at Prince Andrew's initiative [email protected]

This platform allows entrepreneurs to pitch their technology solutions to an audience of global influencers.

EDUCATIONAL: Hindu Nabulumba developed a digital media platform for students and educators to mentor and share academic material and social activities.

FINALIST: Kelvin Gacheru – KENYA

An innovation by water resource engineer Kelvin Gacheru aims to prevent unnecessary water wastage, while cutting costs for water users.

Gacheru invented the Mobi-Water system, which helps water-tank owners monitor and control the water levels in their tanks from any location using their cellphones.

In Kenya, 40% of urban and 60% of rural residents lack access to a safe and reliable water source. As a result, water tanks are popular throughout the country.

The system is solar-powered and monitors water levels, leaks, valves and pumps.

It allows the user to remotely open and close valves and pumps, and can be used by anyone, from homeowners to hotels, businesses and farmers.

Gacheru, who is experienced in irrigation design and water treatment, came up with the Mobi-Water system after working on projects across Kenya.

While setting up irrigation systems for small-scale farmers, he realised their water tanks would run dry without their knowledge, resulting in poor yields.

In another project, he drilled boreholes and set up supply points with safe, treated water in remote rural areas.

In both cases, he realised that a mechanism was needed to monitor the water usage and see whether the projects were sustainable.

When water levels drop below a certain point, a sensor in the tank picks this up and a text message alert is sent to up to 10 mobile numbers. Short reports can also be sent throughout the day.

“The Mobi-Water system allows farmers, families and businesses to use water more efficiently, which is essential in a water-scarce country,” says Gacheru.

He also points out that regular water shortages in Kenya have opened water users up to exploitation by water providers and tankers, who charge extremely high prices when they know people need the resource urgently.

Gacheru’s company, MobiTech Water Solutions, is building partnerships with water suppliers who can be on standby to refill water tanks before they run empty.

He estimates that through proper monitoring and management of water tanks, Mobi-Water users will be able to save more than 30% of their water.

He is testing the prototype on a small-scale rural farm in Kenya.

Gacheru hopes that with funding he will be able to make the Mobi-Water system more accessible by reducing costs, and market it to residences, community water points and irrigation tanks.

In March, Gacheru was invited to present the Mobi-Water system to Prince Andrew in London, at [email protected]

This platform allows entrepreneurs to pitch their technology solutions to an audience of global influencers.

WATER-WISE SOLUTION: Kevin Gacheru has developed a mobile-based water monitoring system that allows users to monitor water tank levels, control valves and pump water remotely through a mobile based application. He holds a sensor unit that is to be attached to a water tank on top of a hotel in Nairobi, Kenya.

FINALIST: André Johan Nel – South Africa

When André Nel’s pensioner father couldn’t afford a hot bath, he was inspired to find a solution that would drastically reduce the cost of heating water. The result is the GreenTower Microgrid, a hybrid solar microgrid solution that uses 90% less energy to heat water than a geyser.

In this alternative to high-energy and high-carbon footprint household geysers, water is heated directly by the sun in a series of black thermal pipes and low pressure storage tanks. Once the water is hot, the electrical energy generated by the photovoltaic solar panels is used to pressurise and distribute it. The water is kept hot overnight using the same electrical energy.

Nel’s father’s situation is not unusual. In Africa, only one-third of citizens have access to grid-connected electricity, and heating water accounts for the majority of electricity costs in homes and offices.

A report published by the International Energy Agency in 2014 shows that more than 620 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa live without access to electricity. This is nearly half the global total and more than any other region of the world. Demand is set to more than triple by 2040.

According to the report, more than 200 million people in East Africa are without electricity, around 80% of its population.

This means the GreenTower Microgrid has the potential to be used across the continent to improve living conditions. Nel sees enormous opportunity in Zimbabwe, for example, where the unstable national grid experiences frequent blackouts. To alleviate pressure on the grid, the government is phasing out electrical geysers over the next four years. Solar geysers will be mandatory for new houses.

Nel, a former rocket scientist, has designed the GreenTower Microgrid system to be used on a large scale. A single unit, packaged in recycled shipping containers that have been insulated, can service 15 homes and reduce the electricity demand from a community by 65%, considerably easing the pressure on the national power grid.

Excess electricity is fed back into the grid to avoid wastage or used to power LED lights and other essential household appliances. Crucially, an “Internet of Things” smart controller will enable consumers to get remote, real-time feedback on their energy consumption, using big data to incentivise more sustainable and affordable energy use.

The South African entrepreneur is the founder of Eco-V, a company focused on energy-efficient and off-grid power and water solutions. Eco-V already has major new plans to develop energy-efficient ventilation and even recycle household bathwater, creating a self-sustaining cycle of renewable water heating.

He has recently been chosen as a finalist for the prestigious Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, and will compete for the award in Nairobi on May 23.The GreenTower has already won a number of competitions, including the Swedish Smart Living Challenge in 2014 and the Pretoria GAP Green Living Award.

He was named the first runner-up in the Green Economy category at the Gauteng Accelerator Programme Innovation Competition for 2014, which included a grant and an incubation opportunity at The Innovation Hub.

Nel was a runner-up in the 2015 Global Cleantech Innovation Programme for small and medium-sized enterprises in South Africa.

HOT STUFF: André Nel is the person behind GreenTower, the next generation hybrid solar microgrid providing off-grid water heating and water conservation. He hopes to provide off-grid services on a large scale for many households in Africa.