It was one afternoon in September when I received an email from Mr. Kaviri Ali congratulating me on being chosen among three other people to attend the 2018 DOT Unconference in Nairobi, Kenya. Upon reading this I was filled with this incredible joy — I didn’t even read the entire email! I looked at my deskmate in the office where I work with tears rolling down my cheeks and told them the good news.
I am doubly blessed, as I was also one of the cash prize winners of the Uganda Impactathon for 2018. Now, to have been given the chance to further represent Uganda at the Unconference? To be able to continue my innovation journey with DOT was something I could never have imagined actually happening to me before.
We began intensely preparing for our trip to Nairobi almost immediately. There were documents to be filled and signed, registration to be completed, proposals to be written, preparing for the innovation showcase and Cultural Night that would be held at the Unconference, and much, much more to do before beginning our journey. I am grateful to have been supported by DOT and the Youth Equality Center team throughout the entire process!
I could barely contain my excitement as each new day I would wake up and mark my calendar, one day closer to October 16th. Then, that morning finally came. I woke up on that chilly morning and arrived at the airport at dawn.
I was still in disbelief that I was this lucky, but nonetheless, here I was on my way to Nairobi!
Upon landing in Nairobi, we met up with fellow DOT Youth Derek and others excitedly waiting for us. It was incredible to finally meet everyone I had been virtually chatting with face-to-face, and it reminded me of a family reunion after ages of being apart. We headed to the opening ceremony of the Unconference from there and were treated to a mouth-watering dinner and powerful performance by a Kenyan cultural group. It was then, looking around at all the youth like me who had come to share their innovations and their stories, that my network was about to expand beyond virtual, and I was about to make connections and friendships that would last my lifetime.
On day one, I attended the innovation showcase after the inspiring opening plenary by Esther, DOT Kenya’s Country Director and our host, and DOT Founder and CEO Janet Longmore. I was one of the lucky youth who got to showcase their ideas during the event that day after our lunch break, but I was so nervous I could barely eat!
The first round of the showcase had me flabbergasted. There were so many amazing social innovations by these incredible young people. One that stood out for me was by the team from Kenya that are fighting poor waste disposal through a special breed of insect that eats the waste instead of disposing of it to rot on land. How cool is that? I felt like funding them right there and then! That idea definitely inspired me. Shortly after meeting the Kenya team, it was my turn to present. Among the first people to approach me was Janet Longmore herself, which excited me so much that my nerves melted away, and I became eager to give my best elevator pitch so that she could give me her feedback.
Since there were many of us presenting at the showcase, I decided to try and attract people to my table with a unique offer; I would do their hair or oil the hair of people who would come and talk to me. I was proud of my quick, creative thinking, and it turned out to be a popular offer! This first day of the DOT Unconference was a blast!
On day two, we began the youth-led sessions. There were quite a number of youth leading sessions and it was a shame I couldn’t attend them all! We decided to split up team Uganda so that each of us would attend different sessions and meet up later to discuss what we saw and what we learned. We (team Uganda) also had a session to lead based on youth development that went very smoothly, and later got to participate in a “Graffiti as Art” session that was both mind-opening and relaxing. Kudos to DOT for organizing and planning such amazing sessions!
Day three was similar; we participated in youth sessions, discovered the new DOT program Innojo for the first time, and sat in on some DOT partner-led sessions by DIAL, the Youth Lab team, IBM, and many others that made for a very powerful experience.
Aside from all our learning opportunities and work as “daring, social innovators”, as those in the DOT network like to say, there were many fun-filled activities to keep the day and evening flowing. There were games (one of which resulted in me getting involved in a muscle pool!), karaoke and Cultural Night, through which we virtually travelled around the world. There was singing, dancing, poetry, skits, and other presentations from all the country teams (Uganda’s was the best, of course) which got everyone relaxing, singing, and dancing in their seats. I truly felt the Unconference theme throughout.
Adding to the greatness of this year’s Unconference was the environment we were surrounded by. It was so tranquil being far from the city centre, and we were treated to amazing delicacies for every meal. The DOT staff was supportive and warm and made sure every aspect of the Unconference was mind-blowing. I made friends that are more like family, widened my network, received some financial support, won an award for “social media person of the week”, learned plenty of new digital skills and grew from each interaction.
I am very grateful to Digital Opportunity Trust for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and to Youth Equality Center for their continuous support. My biggest lesson learned from the theme of this year’s Unconference was “if you want to go far in life, all you need to do is be inclusive.”