Rwanda's Best & Brightest
Kunda with OSCA Connect team members
Driven by a deep love for technology and her country, Esther Kunda (E'13) is relentless in her quest to impact the lives of her fellow Rwandans.
Though she won't graduate until May, she is applying her education from Carnegie Mellon University Rwanda (CMU-R) to take her startup company, OSCA Connect, to the next level.
OSCA Connect's app, Sarura — the Rwandan word for "harvest" — provides farmers in Rwanda with weather updates and agriculture extension services through text messaging.
"We set out to make it easier for people to get information, to save them time, energy and money," Kunda said. "Farmers can use our app to find things such as agricultural advice, where to buy seeds and fertilizers or the nearest market where they can sell their produce."
Carnegie Mellon began offering graduate engineering degree programs in Kigali, Rwanda, in 2012. In addition, the university is collaborating with the Government of Rwanda to develop an innovation incubator, advanced practical training programs, executive education programs and a mobility research center.
Kunda is pursuing a master's of science degree in information technology, and her class will be the first to graduate from CMU-R. A course she took on innovation management taught her strategic planning and enabled her to practice what she learned with local companies nearby.
"Some of the companies have been in Rwanda for more than 10 years, so they really understand the Rwandan market," she said. "We applied the strategic planning to those experienced companies, and when I saw how they are benefitting from that I realized I could apply it to my own company."
Attending a top-tier American university like CMU was a dream come true for Kunda.
"When CMU opened its campus in Rwanda, it was the perfect opportunity for me to attend one of the best universities in the world and see what they're doing," she said. "I knew that whatever I studied at CMU would be applicable right away."
Kunda's adviser is Hedda Schmidtke, an assistant professor in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) at CMU-R and CMU Silicon Valley.
"Esther is certainly one of our best students. Besides a busy schedule as a CMU graduate student and entrepreneur, she visits schools to spread her enthusiasm to high school students or co-organizes competitions," Schmidtke said.
Those competitions include Ms. Geek Rwanda, which raises awareness for the unique opportunities that the ICT revolution in Rwanda brings to young women.
"I hope Esther will be successful and that we will soon see a number of female ICT millionaires from Rwanda," Schmidtke said.
Kunda is wrapping up her last semester at CMU on the university's Pittsburgh campus along with three other students in CMU-R's first graduating class.
"I like the spirit [at the Pittsburgh campus], and the new opportunities you can find when you look around," Kunda said. "If you really want to work hard and make connections that will put you closer to your goals, CMU is a very diverse community that can help you do that."