It isn’t often that a chemistry student in Uganda gets the chance to join forces with a grad student in the USA to develop a joint project, but this is just the opportunity given to Stephen Sentamu and Daniel Mosiman via the Shell Ideas360 programme.
Daniel, a PhD student at University of Illinois at Urbana, met Stephen Sentamu, a student at Makerere University in Kampala, during a field trip to Uganda. The pair discovered they were working on similar projects as part of their studies and decided to collaborate to enter Shell Ideas360 in 2015.
Their idea was to find a solution to remove excess fluoride from drinking water to help protect some of the world’s poorest communities from the health problems it can cause. By connecting students from such different backgrounds, the team combined technical and academic expertise with real world insights into the practical and financial challenges their idea needed to overcome.
“My role when developing the concept was mainly to contribute ideas from the local community and advise the team to come up with a cheaper technology, which is affordable by the local community. This is important because areas where dental and skeletal fluorosis is endemic are areas occupied by the poor”, explains Stephen.
Their international collaboration resulted in Team Fluorasorb being picked from thousands of entries as one of the Shell Ideas360 finalists. This amazing achievement perfectly illustrates how, by connecting students from around the globe, Shell Ideas360 sparks innovative ideas.
“From the competition, I learnt that by collaborating and freely sharing ideas we can achieve more in the world. In addition, I learnt that if problems in Africa are to be solved, we need to collaborate more and share ideas freely irrespective of our origin, race, colour, rich or poor”, says Stephen.
Opening career opportunities
For Stephen Shell Ideas360 delivered far more than simply praise for his team’s smart idea, it also opened doors that set him on the path towards a better future. At the finale Pradeep Pursnani, Deputy Director at the Shell Foundation, and one of the judges that year, was so impressed by Stephen that he suggested he get in touch with Envirofit International in Kenya.
Envirofit International is a social enterprise that has worked with the Shell Foundation since 2007 to reduce air pollution by bringing clean energy cook stoves to developing countries. Pradeep advised Stephen to approach them about extending the project to Uganda. Thanks to his energy and drive this proposal was accepted and it began rolling out in Uganda early this year, with Stephen working as a Sales Agent for Envirofit Cook stoves in his home country.
Learning essential skills
Shell Ideas360 didn’t only open up career opportunities for Stephen, but the skills he learned from the experience continue to help him in his job today. “At the final event I had the chance to interact with experts when preparing for my final presentation. I learnt valuable presentation skills from them which have been so helpful in my current job, where I’m often required to present to others, he explains.
Stephen’s story illustrates how Shell Ideas360 enables the next generation of innovators from a wide range of backgrounds and cultures to collaborate and come up with smart solutions to the planet’s energy, food and water challenges. It also shows how the experience teaches students vital life skills and can pave the way to a dream career.