MEST Joins UNDP & FinMark Trust Hackathon in Lesotho

Nazli Allie, Tuesday July 24th 2018

Last week MEST Business Teaching Fellow Kerry Sinclair and South Africa Regional Director Victoria Jackson went to Lesotho to carry out  the UNDP & FinMark Trust Hackathon focused on financial innovation and inclusion.

The hackathon was a multi-stakeholder event involving donors as well as representatives of the public and private sectors in Lesotho in creating innovative and technologically based solutions to financial market development. It was also country-led, which provides an optimistic outlook on the future of a high skilled labour base in driving the economic needs of Lesotho.

This hackathon focused on solving challenges in financial inclusion for visually impaired and the elderly,reducing cash based transactions and moving towards a cashless economy for SME’s, and managing community based savings products.

The 7 winners who were chosen from the hackathon received one award. Each award included a $5,000 cash prize (paid out in tranches and at the completion of KPIs), mentorship and technical support for winning teams to enable finalisation of the prototype by MEST, in addition all participants received a Certificate of Participation.

Participants included early stage business owners and students in ICT who were driven by entrepreneurship and social impact. The group had a mix of students who are going through formal educational programmes and others who are self taught.
Most of the participants have more technical backgrounds relative to business therefore the application (in their business operation) of the principles from the programme will serve as a component in their toolkit to launch thriving businesses.  It is probably the most comprehensive programme they have been exposed to in relation to business. Kerry was essentially providing an MBA programme. - Damola Owolade, FinMark Trust

The participants were provided with training and all the necessary information needed to get started with the hackathon. After teams were formed, they started tackling the hackathon challenge, pitched product ideas and completed research on market analysis, competitor landscape and market variability.

On the second day of the programme, participants were taught the fundamentals of lean business planning and given an overview of the nine blocks of Business Model Canvas (BMC) along with marketing tools and strategy.  On the third day, they were taught Ecosystem Risk Management, Policy landscape, Regulatory environment, Political and structural trends.

The calibre of the attendance highlighted the need for business acumen despite the varied experiences coming from business owners and students.
The common factor was that everyone was hackers, their skills were in product creation and we came in with direction to build business acumen. Our focus as teaching fellows is to help them build integrated products for their specific market. -  Victoria Jackson, MEST

Next for the hackathon winners is to undergo a 1-on-1 developed training curriculum, which will include supervision and monitoring evaluation with the support of  MEST Incubator Fellow mentors in September.
The hackathon has provided a great channel for young tech entrepreneurs to start thinking about innovation for Lesotho communities. Each team designed a great prototype during the hackathon and now has the chance to use market principles to build a viable business. I'm confident that the September in-person tech training will deliver mature products that can be launched into the market by the start of 2019. - Kerry Sinclair, Business Teaching Fellow