By Pilar Lagos

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Name: Cynthia Wasonga
Occupation: Computer Science student at the University of Nairobi
Age: 20
Twitter handle: @cynwasonga
Link to website: http://www.learnmine.com/

Cynthia Wasonga’s interest in Computer Science first sparked when she was invited to participate at the Google Code In competition. ‘Google Code In’ is a contest introducing pre-university students to open source development. Cynthia was paired with the Sahana Software Foundation. She worked alongside mentors on an open source humanitarian platform which can be used to provide solutions for disaster management. With this experience, Cynthia realized the value of being able to help people through Computer Science. “With code, I saw that I could develop solutions and touch the lives of real people” Cynthia says.

Cynthia enrolled at the University of Nairobi to study Computer Science. In addition to her studies, she started building a startup with three classmates. They heard that the C4D Lab at the University of Nairobi had an incubation program. The group of four applied and got in. As part of her coursework, Cynthia took part in the Design Thinking course taught by UNICEF.

Tell me about your startup.
Cynthia Wasonga (CW): We are aiming to link learners -which can be anyone- to tutors. The way it works is simple. Users (learners) can log-in to the website, request help, and we will link learners with experts. You can access website at http://www.learnmine.com/

For now, we are testing Learmine with university students. Once we learn from this experience, we can look into developing programs for children.

What inspired you to come up with your innovation/project for children/youth?
CW: Two years ago, I applied to program called hell0world.org, to be a tutor. The program is based in the United States. Mentors prepare a computer science curriculum and check in with their students (children) regularly. Unfortunately, the organizers could not find a match for me because of my background so I didn’t get in. I had even agreed to wake up at 3 a.m. Nairobi time to help with the tutorship. I was very disappointed.

A missed chance turned into a positive opportunity. My next door neighbor, who was 9 years old at the time, wanted to learn to code. I realized that if I was willing to sacrifice my 3 a.m. for someone I had not met before, how could I not help my neighbor. I started training her and it was a big success. I taught her HTML, CSS and JavaScript. I’m still mentoring her. This experience led me to want to create a platform to connect people that want to teach with people that want to learn.

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The key characteristics of the kind of people we think can benefit greatly from using our product. Photo: Cynthia Wasonga

What challenges did you encounter when you were trying to execute your innovation/project?
CW: In the beginning, my classmates and I had too many ideas and lacked focus. Thanks to the design thinking classes given by UNICEF, I was suddenly able to explain what I was working on in two minutes.

The exercises that we worked on really helped us to shape our ideas and our startup. The programme also forced me out of my comfort zone and out into the real world to meet my future customers. I realized for instance, that most of the time, it is learners who went looking for tutors and not the other way round. We shifted our focus from letting tutors “advertise” their expertise, to actually letting students request for what they wanted to learn. We’ve put the the former “advertise” concept for later, after the platform grows.

This shows the various events that will happen when users are engaging with our platform. Photo: Cynthia Wasonga
This shows the various events that will happen when users are engaging with our platform. Photo: Cynthia Wasonga

 

What’s the best advice you’ve received and in what way did it have an impact in your life?
CW: Work and connect with the people that you are helping. When you build or design a product, you will always learn what people want and need by working together with them.

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