South African Student Entrepreneurs put COVID-19 Projects into Action with Ford Fund Grant


A South African student team from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) has been selected as one of 14 Enactus teams globally to receive a grant through the Ford Motor Company Fund's COVID-19 College Challenge for their innovative community projects.

Enactus Team Members from UKZN
Image Supplied by Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa

From drug-delivery drones to specialty handwashing stations, student entrepreneurs are putting their COVID-19 fighting ideas into action thanks to grants from the Ford Fund, which has awarded more than $16 000 (R288 000) to Enactus teams for student led projects that will address COVID-19 issues in communities around the world. Enactus - Ford Fund's global partner for the Ford College Community Challenge (C3) - engaged student teams from its 37-country global network, inviting them to submit proposals for how they would address a specific COVID-19 related need in their community.

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Out of 152 entries, the Enactus team from UKZN was selected as one of the winners for its innovative project, SmartGro - a web-based smart-mobility technology solution that facilitates deliveries of essential goods such as food and medication to households within a 15km radius of the Durban central business district.

Through SmartGro, people can submit their list of essential items through the web-based app, which will also integrate WhatsApp and a call function. The SmartGro team then arranges for the goods to be delivered to the client's doorstep.

SmartGro aims to establish relationships with local supermarkets and pharmacies so that orders can be prepared for a driver to collect, or people are hired to prepare orders in-store. The team is also discussing partnering with local taxicab drivers to handle the deliveries, thus helping them financially too. The cost to the customer is the purchase price of the goods, a 10-percent service fee and a R100 delivery fee within a 15km radius of the Durban CBD, which can be paid online, or by cash or card on delivery. The SmartGro team of 10 students is responsible for marketing the services, maintaining the web-based app, assisting customers and receiving orders, and liaising with the drivers and stores.

"We are grateful to be recognized and awarded by Ford Fund in this international competition,"

says Muhle Ndwalane, executive president of the Enactus UKZN team.

"This support will enable us to positively impact many households and drivers who are the beneficiaries of the SmartGro Essentials Enterprise. With the funds we will now focus on scaling the project to other nearby by communities in order to assist more of our people in their time of need."

Mike Schmidt, director of education and global community development, Ford Motor Company Fund, commended the number and quality of entries received.

"When this challenge was presented, we were overwhelmed by the number of proposals and creative ideas that were submitted,"

he said.

"Even while home and away from their universities due to lockdowns, students across the Enactus network continue to identify problems and find solutions to solve them."

Enactus teams from nine countries were awarded Ford Fund grants: Brazil, Egypt, Eswatini, Ghana, India, Kenya, South Africa, the United Kingdom and United States. Each displayed an innovative approach to meeting the challenges created by COVID-19.

The other winners of the Ford COVID-19 College Challenge are:

  • City University of Seattle, United States - Shirtie Mask produces and distributes reusable face masks for vulnerable populations. The project includes an online training program and app to connect mask producers to shelters.
  • Federal University of Pará (UFPA), Brazil - Project Costuraê typically produces EcoBags, but is pivoting production to make masks adapted with recycled material to facilitate communication with deaf people.
  • Helwan University, Egypt - Link Market will provide a safe way for customers to get essentials from supermarkets and pharmacies, while also employing delivery people.
  • Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, India - Kimaya is a new virtual community of victims, counsellors and women who will help one another deal with the growing issue of domestic violence during and after quarantine.
  • Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana - Project ReL is a new, comprehensive, virtual remote learning platform for students at basic and high school levels. The project includes special learning modules for deaf students.
  • Multimedia University, Kenya - With a focus on technology, health and sanitation, this team is setting up handwashing stations in Nairobi County. Each station can hold large quantities of water, soap and sanitizer and is equipped with sensors for safety.
  • Netaji Subhash Institute of Technology, India - Project Aashray is a new web-portal that maps all stakeholders fighting COVID-19 as a one-stop-shop for users to find potential partners to collaborate with. Categories include contact tracing, testing, employee support and free food providers.
  • Southern Africa Nazarene University, Eswatini - Hlanteka Wonder Bucket aims to encourage proper handwashing. The system turns a general bucket into a hands-free tap and mixes the proper ratio of soup and water to save resources.
  • SRM Institute of Management Studies, India - FlyLife will be an automated drone delivery, transport and logistics service for the e-pharmacy industry that delivers to homes. Grant funding is going towards the building of the drone and launch of the project.
  • State University of Santa Cruz (UESC), Brazil - Enpathos is a new website that assists local entrepreneurs by connecting them with volunteers.
  • University College of Management Studies of Accra, Ghana - WATERCOVIDAPP-19 is an app that lists private water vendors in order to help users locate water for household use at a marginal cost during COVID-19.
  • University of Nottingham, United Kingdom - An extension of the Foodprint store - a supermarket that redirects surplus food - Foodprint on Wheels is delivering necessary food and safety supplies such as PPE for nurses to Nottinghamshire Hospice in an effort to help relieve some of the pressure put on their community.
  • University of Southampton, United Kingdom - The Future Brew team will partner with local supermarkets to collect surplus food and create packages that will be delivered to homeless shelters and low-income families.

"At Enactus, we are focused on doing what matters now,"

said Rachael Jarosh, president and CEO of Enactus.

"That's why we are especially honoured to have partnered with the Ford Fund to quickly mobilise and motivate our international network of entrepreneurial NextGen leaders to tackle urgent COVID-19 related issues.

"We know our 72 000 students worldwide will be the front line of the economic recovery - they will help shape how we all revive and thrive in the new normal. That's why this challenge was so critical: seizing immediate opportunities to strengthen communities, Enactus students are already adapting to our new realities. Thanks to Ford, many of them will drive even greater impact,"

said Jarosh.

Ford Fund is the sole sponsor for these 14 winning teams under the Ford COVID-19 College Challenge, which was created as an extension of the Ford College Community Challenge (C3). Now in its seventh year, Ford Fund's signature C3 program empowers student teams to develop and lead sustainable projects that meet an urgent community need, such as clean water, food or mobility. Originally launched in the United States in 2008, Ford C3 is now operating in 11 countries - Brazil, Egypt, Germany, Ghana, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, the United Kingdom and United States - and has distributed more than $3-million (R54.3-million) in global grants to support nearly 200 student-led social projects.

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The COVID-19 College Challenge is the latest example of how Ford Fund is providing critical assistance to local communities around the world in response to the global pandemic. To date, Ford Fund has invested nearly $2.5-million (R45.3-million) to support non-profits in their efforts to address hunger relief, shelter, access to mobility and other urgent needs. Earlier this month, Ford Fund launched a COVID-19 Donation Match program - a combined effort between Ford Fund and executive chairman Bill Ford that will match $500 000 (over R9-million) in employee and other donations to non-profits and community groups in more than 20 countries. 

As Ford Fund concentrates on taking immediate action at the local level, Ford engineers, researchers and suppliers are designing and manufacturing masks, respirators, ventilators and other critical medical equipment and supplies for healthcare workers, first responders and patients fighting COVID-19. 

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