School of Mathematics, Statistics & Computer Science

UKZN Students Take Second Place in Youth Innovation Challenge

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A group of inventive and civic-minded UKZN students bagged second place in the 2021 Youth Innovation Challenge (YIC) run by Innovate Durban.

The competition brought together 60 participants and 23 teams from across KwaZulu-Natal to address this year’s theme: Response to Crisis.

Innovate Durban (RF) NPC is a registered non-profit company set up in 2017 as a special purpose vehicle by eThekwini Municipality to support innovation, innovators and the innovation ecosystem through programmes, research, capacity building and skills development.

The YIC is Innovate Durban’s flagship programme. It seeks to take youth through the innovation pipeline centred around finding innovative solutions to challenges faced by communities and businesses. Implementation includes upskilling workshops, coding training, pitching sessions, and group solution demonstration events.

Team UKZN focused on the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11, which is about sustainable cities and communities. Ms Nitasha Pillay, Mr Jirah Moodley and Mr Nathan Pillay who formed the team Tagged AI (Artificial Intelligence) developed a solution to promote child safety and prevent human trafficking using their own technology.

The team walked away with a cash prize of R25 000. They will also receive 12 months’ support and assistance from Innovate Durban to upgrade and launch their solution. In addition, Ms Pillay was awarded the Zutari Woman in Design Award for her ‘engagement, enthusiasm, enquiring mind and positive attitude as well as continued engagement on platforms’ in the YIC.

Tagged AI leader and final-year Computer Science student Moodley said it is important that the youth are actively involved in finding solutions to challenges. ‘The youth of South Africa are the future of the country. If all youth can engage in innovative and creative thinking to solve the problems faced by South Africa, then the only way for our country is UP and we will have a brighter and more successful future,’ he said.

Third-year BCom Marketing and Information Systems student Ms Pillay was motivated to enter the competition as she wants to change the world and inspire others along the way. ‘Don’t limit your challenges. Challenge your limits,’ she said.

Ms Pillay, who is the project manager at Enactus UKZN, a UKZN Peer Academic Mentor and Youth Ambassador for Women in Tech South Africa, said that technology is a powerful instrument in modern-day society. ‘From the time I was little I would always participate in challenges that would require me to think out of the box. When I was in Grade 7, I participated in the First Lego League robotics competition. I’ve always had an interest and a heart for innovation and making an impact through my work. I believe that when you commit your work to God, he establishes your thoughts and vision.’

First-year BSc Computer Science student, Mr Pillay (who happens to be Nitasha’s brother) joined the YIC as a way to challenge himself. ‘I enjoy embracing new adventures – especially if it’s tech-related. Challenge yourself to do better and be better every day. Remember, growth starts with a decision to move beyond your current circumstances,’ he said.

‘I have a strong passion and love for technology. This competition taught me many new skills and techniques to tackle problems and come up with innovative ideas,’ Mr Pillay added. He encouraged the youth to improve the society we live in. ‘It’s all a matter of taking up the space and getting geared up to make a change.’

As part of the challenge, the team attended a workshop during the semester break in September where they learnt about design thinking, intellectual property, the importance of the SDGs and solution development. ‘I met the most dynamic and energetic innovators. It didn’t feel as if it was a competition because all the teams had a vision to make a difference through their solution,’ said Ms Pillay. She and Moodley also won prizes at the workshop question and answer session.

While their polished presentation skills made it look easy, the team faced numerous challenges including finding the time to balance tests and assignments. ‘Getting the tech required for our innovation was the biggest task. After much research, we came up with workarounds and obtained the hardware we needed for a fraction of the price,’ said Moodley.

The team thanked everyone that supported them during the month-long challenge. ‘A special thank you to Mr Kyle Bryce Khedun (third-year Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) for assisting the team in the design thinking phase. We appreciate our UKZN facilitator Mr Joash Govindsamy (founder of Green Gold Technology and Youth Innovation Challenge winner 2016) for mentoring all our teams at UKZN.’ They also thanked Innovate Durban and their team including Ms Susanne Ramsunder (Programme Lead) and Mr Sakhiwo Rewu.

Ms and Mr Pillay acknowledged their parents, Pam and Terence Pillay ‘for supporting us, always challenging our thinking and praying with us.’

The Durban University of Technology team took first place for their eco-friendly alternative to feminine sanitary wear and hygiene, while Mangosuthu University of Technology students placed third for a public transport App to promote local users and tourists’ safe use of public transport.

The judges for the finals included:
Aurelia Albert – CEO Innovate Durban
Justice Matarutse – eThekwini Municipality
Vishen Pillay – Adams & Adams
Shaun Tait – Domini Foundation
Richard Ahlschlager – Zutari

Words: Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer

Photograph: Innovate Durban