The DT4A Innovation Challenge

Often it sounds so easy to do or achieve when we hear news or read articles detailing the success of a business/start-up winning a challenge, getting funded, or securing a grant. But sometimes the news sounds deceiving as this is one of the most daunting tasks. We learned this through our journey of bringing AddisMapTransit to life.

A Bit of History

AddisMapTransit was introduced to the public on a soft launch back in 2019 and became the first ever public transport trip planner app, further than that it is released as FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) which makes it the only kind in Ethiopia. As exciting realizing this project as we also had to struggle to continue funding the maintenance and continuous development tasks. Hence we had to invest our time and personal finances which are somehow discouraging as it has no room for running activities as smoothly as needed that in turn affects the timeline, success, and dedication of everyone involved.

A New Leaf – DT4A Innovation Challenge

Ever since the launch we have been actively engaged in fundraising and strategizing on possible features or value-added services that can be commercialized. We also took part in a couple of competitions/challenges to no avail. But after a long trial, we had to change our approach and give focus on PR and promotion wherever and whenever possible. Fortunately, this turned out to be fruitful for our case. We later got the news that the first of its kind “DT4A Innovation Challenge” was in the making to help innovators and creators that are contributing to the movement for open data across Africa and improved planning and implementation of sustainable mobility, particularly of the paratransit or informal transport sector focusing on UN SDG 11 “Sustainable Cities and Mobility”. This was a great opportunity as it directly aligned with our project and hence our journey started to become one of the 4 awardees (and 1 of the anglophone countries) to win the 30,000 USD in Grant.

The Process and the Lessons

In light of our previous experience in participating in global and regional competitions, we guessed a 50/50 chance of winning but put every effort to write a winning proposal. But despite our expectations, we succeeded and got a place in the 13 finalists selected out of 120 applications. This changed our mindset as it means our chance of becoming one of the winners increased from 1 out of 30 to an incredible 1 out of 4. This also means that we need to be ready to tell a compelling story and put our hearts out as the next stage was the judges’ interview. The journey was extraordinary not only we were challenged by the judges but got incredible comments, feedback, and ideas that would greatly help us make great changes in our approach and operation of the project regardless of the outcome of the interviews. When we say the challenge was one kind it is not only because of the process and the awards ahead but also the panel of judges that were carefully selected from various organizations with exceptional experience and knowledge. The questions raised, the comments and the feedback were also a great learning experience from a team of experts that made a significant contribution towards contributing to our modern-day challenges such as equitable and highly efficient public transport.

Once the interviews were over the rest is history as they say it. After the site (office) visit stage and close to a month of “refreshing email inbox every hour”, we finally made it and were selected to be one of the four winners/awardees. It came with mixed feelings overwhelming happiness on one end and disbelief on the other. This marked the first success of AddisMapTransit and the team behind it to win not just a national competition but a regional one. It also came with tremendous responsibility that needed real dedication and effort than ever before.

Words to the Wise

In summary, the journey was one for the books, both challenging and also enlightening. When we first got the announcement that the challenge was open our main focus was winning and continuing with our plans. But through the process, we also were able to learn, adapt, rethink and redo our whole project plan and methodologies. We also were more motivated and inspired by the whole learning experience that we decided that instead of just winning we focused on making the best experience to re-think our strategy and grow in experience in a way.

We hope this motivates you our reader to never give up or give in on your dreams. As long as you have a true desire to do something, get creative and innovate, always aim to learn from the process. Never let circumstances discourage you, take every opportunity to learn, adapt and change. Always be open to feedback and criticism from people with knowledge and experience. Finally, challenges, competitions, and awards are not always a must-win/have. They sometimes are the best opportunity to get a pre-assessment of your project idea and the best opportunity to test and evaluate yourself.

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