Joint programme helps to develop Tanzania’s science business leaders

More than 75% of young people in Tanzania don’t attend university, and, of those who do, many struggle to find work after graduating.

Coupled with this are the low numbers of university students studying physics and other STEM subjects. What is needed is a change in mindset. What if young people in Tanzania saw the benefits of physics, or considered the important connection between science and business, or provided their own source of employment rather than seeking it from another? All three are excellent questions and difficult goals to achieve.

Alongside the physics department at University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) and with contributions from the Optical Society, we’ve begun a programme that combines all of those things. This month we ran a joint programme that invited form 6 students and their science teachers, from 13 schools in and around Dar es Salaam. Our objectives were to work with teachers to encourage practical physics in the classroom.

Many feel that this isn’t possible due to time restraints within teaching. But equipped with the simple, low-cost experiments developed by our Education team, teachers were able to see the benefits of teaching practical physics. We also focused on entrepreneurship throughout the training, with inspirational talks from organisations supporting entrepreneurs in Tanzania – and from the entrepreneurs themselves, who truly demonstrated what can be achieved. The final objective was to show the link between science and business and that, armed with their STEM knowledge, students could develop ideas that have the potential to change their lives, and in time, the lives of their communities.

The training was a huge success, as the students and teachers alike saw the benefits of science and entrepreneurship and that all important link between the two. However, the next steps of the programme are just as important as the training itself. As our chief operating officer Rachel Youngman put it: “It is encouraging to hear from our science and business partners in Tanzania how crucial it is that we join forces to continue to support the young people that we met through the training. They are the future STEM business leaders of Tanzania and our programme will support them over the coming year to develop their STEM business ideas and explore a new career path.”

Over the next 11 months we and UDSM will work with the schools, their students, science teachers, existing businesses and incubators in Tanzania to support these young leaders to develop their own STEM business ideas. We’ll begin with an ideation process where students, supported by business mentors, will identify a problem within their community and devise a STEM-based solution with potential for commercialisation.

The teams will then work through a business canvass to hone their ideas and really begin to think about the commercialisation of the product. In the second stage, teams will pitch their ideas to a panel of judges and those teams with the best ideas will progress forward to the business development phase. This phase will provide the students with an opportunity to develop their idea further through access to incubator space, expert advice from current entrepreneurs and continued support from business mentors. After finishing school and with time to perfect their presentation skills, teams will pitch for a final time to a panel of judges. Whether they continue to focus on their business idea or go to university, the skills we will be helping to provide are important for their future careers.

We will continue to work with the teams but also the schools and their next cohort of form 6 students. We and our partners are working towards a sustainable, long-term programme for the future STEM business leaders of Tanzania.

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