• Thursday, February 22, 2024
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‘Access to safe water is essential for improving health, reducing poverty, and promoting sustainable development’

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Onyedikachi ‘Rector’ Erete is a Tech Entrepreneur and founder of Rector Group of Companies Limited, which houses two security applications, the Kasala App and Yawa App, invented to tackle security problems and bridge the gap of insecurity in Nigeria and Africa. In this interview, Erete spoke on his interest in the technology and security sector, including the idea behind the Kasala App. Excerpts by SEYI JOHN SALAU

What inspired your entrepreneurship trajectory?

Growing up, I have been creative, resilient, and willing to take risks; these qualities are often associated with successful serial entrepreneurs with a passion for innovation, problem-solving, and positively impacting the world. My main goal is to make the world a peaceful and safe place for everyone.

Whether through entrepreneurship, activism or simply being a good neighbour. From my vision of making the world safer and more sustainable, I have created a few businesses in security apps and waste management, including the Kasala, an emergency alert and tracking app. Using the latest location and GPS service tracking technology, the Kasala app allows you to select emergency contacts that can respond when you or any loved ones are in distress.

The second app is called “Yawa” This is a free navigation app that uses real-time reports from people nearby to improve safety daily. There is the ‘Rector Waste Smart Bin’, a solar-powered smart waste bin that accepts plastic bottles and cans in exchange for a QR code which will be used to receive free sanitary pads across Nigeria and Africa; this is an innovative solution that can help to incentivize recycling and reduce waste and lastly.

Then finally, Rector Cares Foundation, which provides clean and safe water to rural areas in Nigeria, is our corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative by the Rector Group of Companies. Access to clean water is a fundamental human right, and providing it to communities in need can significantly impact their health, education, and economic opportunities.

As a business owner in Nigeria, what are the typical challenges you face in your operations?

In Nigeria, business owners encounter various difficulties, such as access to funds, political unrest, corruption, lack of sponsors and investors, and a shortage of trained labour. These obstacles might make it hard for businesses to flourish in Nigeria. However, we have surmounted these obstacles and created a profitable company through tenacity, strategic planning, and an emphasis on innovation.

You created an app called Kasala to fight insecurity; what is the app’s functionality?

The Kasala app offers several features to protect users from potentially dangerous situations. Emergency contacts, an SOS button, location monitoring, safety recommendations, safety check-in, and fake calls are just a few of the most common features of the personal safety app. The overall functionality of the unique safety app might change based on the user’s particular requirements and preferences. However, the main objective of such an app is to assist users in remaining secure and connected during a crisis.

Many Nigerians have called for restructuring, especially with regards to the country’s security architecture. Do you consider this necessary?

Nigeria has faced significant security challenges, ranging from terrorist attacks by groups such as Boko Haram to banditry, kidnapping, increased gender-based violence, and farmer-herder clashes. The country’s security architecture has been widely criticized for being ineffective in addressing these challenges. Those who support restructuring the security architecture argue that the current system is not working and that there is a need for a more decentralized approach that would allow for more significant local input and control over security.

They argue that the current system, which is mainly centralized in the federal government, is not well-suited to address the security challenges that are often localized. However, some argue that the problem is not with the security architecture itself but instead with the need for more political will to implement the existing security framework effectively.

As technology evolves, so does the number of people embracing digital transformation; how is Kasala bridging that gap?

Access to good internet and electricity is undoubtedly critical in adopting digital technologies, including personal safety apps. However, personal safety apps can still be helpful for those who need consistent access to these resources. Moreover, we are working on a new feature for Kasala App that does not require an internet connection, such as an SOS button or panic alarm, using USSD Codes (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) through Short Message Service (SMS).

The user can trigger these features, even if they are offline, and can send an alert to their emergency contacts or local authorities. This can be especially useful in areas with poor internet connectivity or unreliable electricity supply. This approach can be helpful in places with limited internet connectivity, but basic mobile network coverage is available.

Another method we are working on is to provide access to personal safety apps through community-based initiatives or public access points. For instance, NGOs or government agencies can provide access to individual safety apps through public kiosks or community centres. Users can access the app’s features and services without personal devices or internet connectivity.

Kasala partnered with Stand to End Rape a while ago; tell us more about this partnership?

STER is a social enterprise charged with the responsibility of advocating against sexual violence, proposing mechanisms to prevent or curtail acts of sexual violence, and providing support to victims and survivors of acts of sexual violence. Our partnership with STER involves users of the Kasala App getting a real-time notification and access to information provided regarding any probable or actual occurrence of acts of sexual violence. Also agreed to give a feature inside the app called “Speak to Someone” Powered by STER; this feature enabled users to also provide data manually about their real experiences in Gender Based violence and able to talk to a STER Representative immediately through our app. The data collected was used as a tool in combatting Gender Based Violence (GBV) by identifying patterns and trends, measuring the extent of the problem, monitoring progress, informing targeted interventions, and advocating for policies and interventions.

You earlier spoke about the Rector Cares Foundation and your focus on providing clean water to rural communities. How many communities or lives have been impacted so far?

I grew up in an environment where we experienced yearly floods, which affected our drinking water and destroyed properties and lives; however, it’s even worse in most remote communities in Nigeria. Having had that experience, I focused on Nigeria’s urgent need for access to clean water. The United Nations, in its report, states that nearly 60 million people in Nigeria lack access to safe water, which can lead to waterborne diseases, malnutrition, and other health problems. Providing clean and safe water is a fundamental human right, and access to safe water is essential for improving health, reducing poverty, and promoting sustainable development.

As an NGO, we have provided clean water in Langbasa Community, Eti-Osa LGA, Lagos State, Obuofia Community, Bende LGA, Abia State and Ochicha Community, Ikeduru LGA, Imo State, and counting with an impact of over 50,000 people in these different communities.

What are the upcoming projects or businesses you are currently working on?

I have a couple of upcoming projects. We are working on a movie project called “LAST DROP” about the lack of clean water in Nigeria and poor management of water resources in Nigeria can be an important way to raise awareness about this critical issue and encourage action to address it.

We are also working on a “Water Entrepreneurship Programme” that promotes sustainability, provides training and resources, identifies local needs, fosters partnerships, and encourages innovative solutions to water-related challenges in different communities in Nigeria and Africa while also supporting local entrepreneurship and economic development and so others too. These are just a few of the many upcoming projects we are working on in our organization.

Finally, tell us about your background and how you started your business?

I am Onyedikachi Erete, popularly known as “Rector” or “The Waterman”, from Abia State. I received my first degree in Environmental Technology from the Federal University of Technology Owerri (FUTO), Imo state. I have two master’s degrees in petroleum geosciences from the University of Port-Harcourt and a second master’s in data science at Ulster University, United Kingdom. Safety has always been one of the biggest concerns in Nigeria. As a child, I experienced my fair share of traumatic experiences ranging from being trapped in a flooded house to being attacked by armed robbers, which could have been averted if safety was a “click away”.

With my background in Technology and Engineering, I ventured into Software development and Data Analysis to tackle security in Nigeria and Africa. Nigeria has faced numerous security challenges recently, including terrorism, kidnapping, and other violent crimes. As a result, there is a high demand for security services in Nigeria, and many businesses are yet to meet this demand. Therefore, I was inspired to build the “Kasala APP and Yawa APP” to bridge the insecurity gap in Nigeria and Africa.