- Innovation. Brenda Katwesigye, the telecom engineer whose family struggled to buy her eyeglasses as a child, grew up to co-found Wazi Vision, a company that created an app which screens eyes using a smartphone and provides eyewear at affordable prices, writes Edgar R. Batte.
Brenda Katwesigye recalls how as a child she needed to wear eyeglasses to be able to see the blackboard clearly. Her family struggled to buy her the vision saving eyeglasses. But she felt the full impact when as an adult she went to buy herself another pair of eyeglasses and discovered how prohibitive the prices were. “I had insurance cover with Jubilee Insurance.
At Eye Care Centre, I met a very friendly eye examiner who was helpful and warm. When I chose the glasses, he told me the spectacles would cost me Shs600, 000. He told me my insurance only covered Shs300, 000 of that cost. I was not very amused by that. I asked myself why such a small piece of glass was so expensive,” Katwesigye shares the story of her journey to innovation.
This year, she was one of the inspirational speakers at the End Poverty Day organised by World Bank. The Wazi Vision eyeglasses which are made from recycled materials were deemed as one of the ways young people are using innovation to fight poverty.
Because Katwesigye needed the glasses, she paid for them but resolved that that would be the last time she is struggling to afford a pair of eyeglasses. So she decided to embark on research that led to the birth of Wazi Vision.
“I found out that the frames were the most expensive item in the ensemble but the lenses were also the most important. You could not have one without the other. I also discovered that prices increased with the quality of the frames. Luxury labels such as Gucci or Ray-Ban are more expensive than the less popular labels,” she states.
Around the time, she got an opportunity to travel to the United States of America (USA), under the Mandela Washington Fellowship. The telecom engineer determined to use this time to seek for cheaper ways of making cheaper glass frames.
With more research, she realised she could use recycled plastics to make frames. It required a lot of work so Katwesigye decided to quit her job and concentrate her energies on growing her idea into an enterprise that would provide cheaper options to people with sight challenges.
“Up to this point, I had worked with Deloitte Uganda which was an amazing working experience because I met people, got to learn a lot on job and grew in career. Quitting such a job has been one of the toughest decisions that I have ever had to make because I was so green about what I was getting into but I saw a need and I wanted to work on something that could create a difference,” Katwesigye explains.
Turning dream into reality
In December 2015, Wazi Vision was founded with the aim of providing more affordable means of diagnosing refractive errors and providing affordable eye glasses made from recycled plastic.
Today, the company is diversifying into making strong yet cheap or affordable building products. “As I worked on selling spectacles, I realised that people come, they buy one pair of glasses and never return so I decided to find another way of using recycled plastic to make something more in demand. I noticed, people spend a lot of money when they are constructing houses, and more so pay heavily for tiles,” the innovator notes.
She adds, “Cement is very expensive if you are building so I would like to provide a solution that can cut down some of the construction material by 50 per cent through providing recycled plastic for pavers. The secret is to make them look like or even better than the normal pavers so that the consumers enjoy value for money.”
“We hire women to collect this plastic. There are hotels that are giving us their plastic waste and we are creating cool things out of that waste,” she adds.
When she is not inventing cool things, the innovator shares her story with many people, including young people to inspire innovation and entrepreneurship. She was one of the main speakers during the Leadership Congress 2018, organised by Brac Uganda, for scholars from different high schools.
As an entrepreneur, Katwesigye started her first business while at university, with her friend, Elizabeth Basaza. “We asked the administration to allow us put up a stall where we would keep phones for the visitors at a fee of Shs1, 000,” she recounts.
Katwesigye has been named by Quartz Africa, a platform that celebrates innovation in Africa, among their 30 innovators of the year 2018. She was appointed by the European Commission, Ars Electronica in collaboration with BOZAR and Waag Society launched the STARTS prize to select the most pioneering collaborations and results in the field of creativity and innovation at the crossings of science and technology with the arts. She is a board member of the Regional Advisory Board for the Young African Leaders. She adds that Wazi has earned trust owing to its durable and stylish glasses thatcost 80 per cent less than what is available on the market.