Digital Enterprise Programme students visit the GE Innovation Centre

General Electric’s Londvolota Trust sponsors two Digital Enterprise Programmes, including a site visit to the GE Innovation Centre

Students at Ponelopele and Sandtonview high schools in Johannesburg, who are participating in General Electric (GE) sponsored Digital Enterprise Programmes, were fortunate to visit the GE Innovation Centre in Rosebank, Johannesburg.

Organised by Celiwe Zondo of GE, the students were taken through the process of design-centred innovation by consultant Kathy Berman. The student teams had a chance to present their ideas and gain constructive feedback that they can now apply as they repeat the design process to refine and evolve their ideas as needed.

The key learning the students took away  is that the process of refining your ideas is critical to success. It is only through repeating the process of testing your ideas and then making changes that you can come up with innovative sustainable solutions that stand the test of time.

For more information on a design-centred approach to innovation see this article, which goes through the steps of this method.

Design-thinking as an approach to shaping innovation

JASA programmes incorporate a design-thinking approach to innovation

In JASA programmes, the facilitators introduce learners to design thinking, a step-by-step approach to coming up with innovative solutions to problems. Students are encouraged to look around their environments and identify problems they want to tackle. Then the students work on innovations that will provide solutions, in the form of products or services.

But first… what is an innovation?

Well, it is a new idea, method or product.

  • It can improve an existing solution, such as cars becoming more efficient, or mobile phones having better cameras.


  • It can be new and disruptive.

Examples of disruptive innovations include:

  • Digital film technology completely overtook the traditional film industry
  • Airbnb has disrupted the traditional hotel model by linking host accommodation to potential guests. Since they don’t own hotels or employ staff this means far less risk for the company.

Sometimes, taking the initiative to apply an existing solution to solve a problem in your community can be innovative since you are using a method that wasn’t there before.

At age 14 William Kwamkamba built a windmill to power his family’s home. Even though windmills existed in the world, he found a cost-effective way of making one. You can hear his story here.

One South African innovator is Danielle Mallabone. When she was 17 years old, after seeing the film Titanic, she was inspired to create a thermal lifejacket. She even tested it herself by being immersed in 10° C water for an hour! Luckily the heat effect of her lifejacket worked. You can read about her story here.

So what is the process of design thinking and why is it effective to come up with solutions?

Design-centred innovation 

1. Recognise a need, challenge, opportunity or pain point

The first step is to look around you to see what needs there are in your community and identify a problem you want to address.

2. Understand your operating environment

Speak to those affected by the problem to help you generate products and services that people need and want.

3. Frame issue – Problem Statement

You need to keep questioning to scratch below the surface to understand the problem from different angles and to see what the real issues are.

4. Ideation

Once you have decided on a problem, consider many options of how to address it and write down all the ideas you and your team think of.  Handle your new ideas with care because they can be fragile until they are developed.

Listen to feedback. Perhaps you have a good idea but there is already a product on the market. Maybe your idea has a flaw that you hadn’t noticed. Useful feedback may mean that you have to rethink your idea. Most entrepreneurs go through this process of refining their ideas, over and over again. Those that succeed are the ones who didn’t give up!

4. Prototype and test

You can also make sketches of your ideas or basic prototypes using materials such as cardboard, glue, pens etc. Making a model in the early stages makes it easier to test your idea in the real world.

5. Iteration (repeat the process)

You may need to test your idea and then make changes and go through this process a few times. Often an initial idea will change into something different. Allow this to happen.

JASA facilitators have been hosting two-day workshops on design thinking for learners on some JASA programmes and the insights gained will be taken into consideration in the programmes review.

Avive Papier, a learner at Orion Secondary School in De Aar, said this method gave her a way to gain insight into how things could be improved. Students were encouraged to use anything around them to make prototypes and they found the process so exciting that they didn’t want to stop.

Design-based innovation is used at the SABS Design Institute. An industrial designer and mentor there, Sibusiso Mkhwanazi, explains this process here. Recently nine JASA Alumni and Junior Innovators Competition winners from the past years went through a year-long incubation programme, were they repeated the design innovation steps until they came up with refined ideas that they could prototype. You can read about their journey here.

Here are two examples of emerging companies in South Africa who have come up with innovative solutions to problems.

Empty Trips

Have you ever thought about what happens to the empty space on trucks doing return trips. Well nothing really… until recently. Empty Trips are launching an online trip exchange platform designed to match transport companies having space capacity with those who can make use of it, through an online auction system. This start-up won the Africa Chivas Regal Pitching Den Competition at the 2017 SA Innovation Summit. They represented South Africa at the 2018 Startup World Cup in San Francisco on May 11.


Spoon is another company addressing a local market. There are around 800 000 stokvels in South Africa and yet these informal savings groups, and the people who borrow from them, cannot gain access to the traditional banking industry. This is where Spoon steps in as an intermediary, by providing an online stokvel management system and providing 30-day loans to the stokvels to pool their money for the collective benefit of all members.

Anyone can follow the tried and tested design-centred approach to come up with a solution to a problem.

South African team win prestigious global Social Innovation Relay

Emulsified Environmentalists from JA South Africa take top award at relay involving over 1500 teams from countries around the world

Junior Achievement today announced the winner of the second annual SocialInnovation Relay, a global challenge developed by Junior Achievement and HP for high school students to create and develop new business concepts intended to have a positive social or environmental impact.

Emulsified Environmentalists, a team of students from Sandtonview Comibined School in Alexandra, Johannesburg, won the global competition with a concept for a solar-powered lamp made from recycled materials that will bring light to disadvantaged communities, while also eliminating the environmental and health damage caused by traditional kerosene lamps. Working with  HP mentors, the team developed their concept in response to the problems of electricity shortages and growing respiratory problems in South Africa. Teams from China and Slovakia were runners-up with ideas for a programme that trains young volunteers to work with China’s elderly population, and an educational DVD with supporting training designed to raise awareness around migration issues for young people, respectively.

—   “Winning the Social Innovation Relay means we’ve achieved our goals of helping our community, getting recognition for our school and improving our social awareness skills. Our HP mentors helped us think critically and to broaden our perspectives, and we have developed our self-confidence and improved our presentation skills and our relations with our classmates. Over the course of this project, we’ve learned the importance of team work and that innovative thinking can bring positive change to the entire community. The whole experience has been a lot of fun, and we would like to thank HP and Junior Achievement for this opportunity.” Emulsified Environmentalists

Each participating team of 3 – 5 learners was required to develop a socially innovative business  concept into comprehensive presentations with the assistance of dedicated HP volunteer mentors, for national judging by HP senior management.

Team Emulsified Environmentalists, from Sandtonview Combined School, seen below with their facilitator Isaac Ganyiwa, were judged the winning South African team by the HP judges. The team identified the current power shortages and constant fire breakouts in South Africa’s informal settlements, caused by the use of candles and paraffin lamps, as a serious problem facing their community. Their solution focused on creating solar powered lamps out of recycled material, thus eliminating the need for both candles and paraffin lamps. The lamps, made from recycled cardboard and foil, can be placed in the sun during the day, charging the solar cells.

The winning national teams from across the globe were then required to present their concepts to a panel of global HP judges, who quizzed the teams on the feasibility and global impact of their concepts.  After days of deliberation the panel determined that Team Emulsified Environmentalists idea was the winning concept.

‘We  would like to congratulate Team Emulsified Environmentalists for winning the Global Social Innovation Relay.  Our organisation often comes across some of the incredibly innovative ideas that the youth of our country create, and  it is wonderful for South Africa to receive some recognition.  The team has made us proud  and we are excited to see how their product develops.” – Linda McClure, Managing Director of Junior Achievement South Africa

With over 20,000 students from 13 countries participating, the Social Innovation Relay is the largest global educational initiative to be run with a blend of virtual and face-to-face mentoring.  1,564 teams around the world registered for this year’s relay. 13 teams competed in the final round of the competition.

“The Social Innovation Relay is designed to equip secondary school students with the entrepreneurial and ICT skills they need to succeed in the 21st century economy. This year’s exceptional entries prove that with the right education and resources, today’s youth has the power to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges.” Caroline Jenner, CEO Junior Achievement Young Enterprise (JA-YE Europe)

The Social Innovation Relay was first launched in 2010, and over the past two years more than 30,000 students and 300 HP mentors have participated, submitting nearly 1,000 socially innovative concepts.

“The quality of innovative, socially orientated business ideas and increasing numbers reflects a successful collaboration with HP mentors and our partner Junior Achievement. The Social Innovation Relay is part of HP’s commitment in applying our expertise and technology to help students everywhere gain vital IT and business skills to solve societal issues , leading to a future with many more bright social entrepreneurs.”  Jeannette Weisschuh, director, Global Education Programs, Sustainability and Social Innovation, HP

Project finalists

Team (Winner): Emulsified Environmentalists (South Africa)

Concept: A solar-powered lamp made from recycled materials to help bring electricity to poor people and to reduce the use of paraffin lamps, which are bad for the environment

Team (Runner-up): Team Flower (China)

Concept: A program that trains young volunteers to work with China’s elderly population to document their life stories and overcome loneliness

Team (Runner-up): Egalite (Slovakia)

Concept: “Kick out the difference”, an educational DVD designed to raise awareness around migration issues

Team: Jeux Des Sets Familles (France)

Concept: Educational games to motivate students to learn by having fun

Team: Team Awesome (United States)

Concept: AquaGen, a turbine generator that is attached to rain gutters and uses run-off rain water to generate electricity

Team: Synergy (Kenya)

Concept: Daladala Tracker, a mobile application that indicates the nearest available public transport options

Team: The Innovators (India)

Concept: A program that integrates theater in teaching to reinforce practical lessons introduced in the classroom

Team: LOT – Leads of Teens (Romania)

Concept: E-Progress, a program that facilitates meetings between youths and those at risk of discrimination in order to raise awareness

Team: Ideja (Russia)

Concept: Using VOIP software to connect students around the world and facilitate their study of foreign languages

Team: Optimum (Bulgaria)

Concept: Power ship engines with hydrogen obtained through salt water processing

Team: Alpha Enterprise (United Kingdom)

Concept: GloGos, safety product designed to enhance visibility of cyclists when indicating a change of direction in the dark

Team: Dreamers (Egypt)

Concept: A line of products designed to make reading and learning more interesting

Team: WW (Brazil)

Concept: A multiplier centre for the installation of low-cost sustainable solar heaters in poor communities

For more information on the lead up, click here.

South African team to compete in international social innovation relay

Sandtonview High School compete in 2012 SA HP Social Innovation Relay 

Over 800 learners from more than 13 schools across the country competed in the HP Social Innovation Relay between March and June 2012.  Learners participated in a three hour workshop, where they were taught about Social Innovation.  Learners then completed an online quiz and grouped themselves into teams of between three and five members. These teams were then required to develop a socially innovative business idea that would alleviate a problem affecting their communities.

40 teams submitted business ideas and the best 20 ideas were selected by a panel of Junior Achievement South Africa (JASA) judges.  These 20 teams were required to submit a full concept paper of their idea and the best 10 concept papers were selected. The judges scored the teams on content, innovation and creativity, social impact, the global scalability of the concept and feasibility.  The top 10 teams were comprised of learners from Dawnview, Sunward Park, Tlakula and Sandtonview High Schools in Gauteng as well as The Beacon Secondary School in Qwa Qwa, Free State.

Each team was required to develop their concepts into comprehensive presentations with the assistance of dedicated HP volunteer mentors, who spent many hours with their teams, ensuring they were ready to participate in the SIR national final. The finals were held at HP’s Johannesburg offices on 2nd July 2012, where the top ten teams were required to present their developed concepts to a panel of esteemed HP judges, namely Ms Gois Fouche – HPSA Transformation & Strategy Manager, Ms Sheryll Sukhoo – HPSA Education Services Country Manager, Ms Petro Plotz – HPSA Channel Account Manager, and Mr President Ntuli – HPSA Global Account Manager.

Team Emulsified Environmentalists from Sandtonview High School were judged the winning South African team. The team identified the current power shortages and constant fire breakouts in South Africa’s informal settlements, caused by the use of candles and paraffin lamps, as a serious problem facing their community. Their solution focused on creating solar powered lamps out of recycled material, thus eliminating the need for both candles and paraffin lamps.

 The lamps, made from recycled cardboard and foil, can be placed in the sun during the day, charging the solar cells.  Additional mirrors will be placed on either side of the light bulb, reflecting the light coming off of the bulb – ensuring that entire rooms are sufficiently illuminated.  It’s production and usage will save the environment from pollution caused by power stations and will also contribute greatly in the fight against global warming.  Approximately ¾’s of South Africa’s matriculants (final year of school in South Africa) have no electricity and therefore, no source of light to use to complete their homework, Emulsified Environmentalists believe that their solar lamp will assist all members of the community that do not have access to electricity.   The four members of Emulsified Environmentalists were each rewarded with an HP laptop for their winning concept and have progressed on to the final round of the competition.

The team will be participating in the SIR global final on 12 July 2012, competing against the top teams from across Africa and Europe.  During the next week, the students, with the help of a group of HP mentors, will be required to develop a three minute video pitch explaining their concept.  On 12th July 2012 the team will present their video and concept to an international panel of judges of top HP management, who will select their most feasible and innovative concept.

To see how they do, click here.

Successful Research in Motion Innovation Challenge

First South African RIM BlackBerry® Innovation Challenge – a huge Success

Junior Achievement South Africa launched the first Research In Motion (RIM) Innovation Challenge on Friday, 24 February 2012 at the University of Johannesburg’s Intellilab. 40 Grade 11 learners from McCauley House, Dawnview High School, Sunward Park High School and Ponelopele Oracle Secondary School participated in the day long challenge, funded by RIM.  Learners were taught how to think innovatively through a series of exciting challenges, designed in partnership with the University of Johannesburg’s Intellilab staff.

At the start of the day, learners were split into teams of four, comprising one learner from each school.  The teams were provided with clues which lead them to five Market Points around University of Johannesburg’s Kingsway campus.  The teams were required to purchase a box of robot parts at each Market Point whilst keeping an eye on the fluctuating exchange rate of their BlackBerry® Bucks – capitalising on purchasing the parts at the most profitable moment.  The Market Points were manned by enthusiastic RIM South Africa volunteers who helped the teams decide when the best time was to purchase their parts.  The RIM volunteers were headed by Karina Gibson – RIM Community Relations Manager for the EMEA region, who travelled from the U.K. to attend the event.

Teams collected points throughout the day for the completion of various tasks, be it budgeting or programming their robots.  Each team was also provided with a BlackBerry® PlayBook™ with which to document their experiences. The BlackBerry® PlayBook™ could also be used to snap photos of the teams at strategic points to increase their scores. The Duiker team won the overall challenge and were awarded various BlackBerry® branded prizes as well as R300 airtime for each team member.   The learners all felt the experience was invaluable and the RIM team was surprised at how innovative the teams were during the day.  The exhausted learners were all sent home at 9pm on Friday evening, having spent the entire day thinking innovatively.