Press Release: Carnegie Mellon's Esther Kunda Developing Tools To Help Rwanda Farmers Market Crops and Products More Efficiently-Carnegie Mellon News - Carnegie Mellon University

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Press Release: Carnegie Mellon's Esther Kunda Developing Tools To Help Rwanda Farmers Market Crops and Products More Efficiently

Master's Degree Student Creating Startup To Improve Farm Product Distribution

Contact: Chriss Swaney / 412-268-5776 / swaney@andrew.cmu.edu

Esther KundaPITTSBURGH—Esther Kunda is a problem-solver. And she enjoys being entrepreneurial about finding solutions.

A student in Carnegie Mellon University's Master of Science in Information Technology (MSIT) program in Rwanda, Kunda is using her newly honed technical skills to create a virtual agriculture company to give Rwanda farmers a market boost.

"I want to do something that would help our farmers better market key products and also get timely information about how climate change impacts crops and production," said Kunda, one of the first 22 students scheduled to graduate July 24 from the MSIT program.

CMU extended its global academic footprint in 2011 as the first major U.S. higher education institution to offer graduate engineering degree programs in Rwanda, a tech-savvy East African country building a knowledge-based economy.

"We are extremely pleased that Esther is putting her classroom work into practice by helping to improve and streamline her country's important agricultural sector,'" said Bruce Krogh, director of the CMU-Rwanda program and a professor of electrical and computer engineering at CMU.

Kunda reports that agriculture accounts for a third of Rwanda's gross domestic product, constitutes the main economic activity for rural households and remains their main source of income, which is a little less than 80 percent of the total population. The country's key cash crops are tea, coffee and pyrethrum, which is used commercially as an insecticide.

"I want my virtual startup to help farmers learn about better crop maintenance and delivery systems," said Kunda, the daughter of a farming family.

To help make her entrepreneurial dream a reality, Kunda successfully obtained a $5,000 business startup grant from Indiegogo, an international crowdfunding site.

"My courses in the CMU-Rwanda program have helped me be more confident in attaining my career goals," said Kunda, who is spending the spring semester at CMU's campus in Pittsburgh. "I'm still trying to get used to all the snow and ice."

Kunda also credits some of her early business startup success to involvement with the kLab, an innovation lab in Kigali closely associated with CMU-Rwanda. "My professors have been extremely helpful and continue to fuel my entrepreneurial passion," she said.

"We encourage our students to push the boundaries and to make strategic use of digital information in a variety of enterprises and to be comfortable managing innovation," said Michel Bezy, associate director of the CMU-Rwanda program and a distinguished service professor in CMU's Department of Engineering and Public Policy. "Esther is a wonderful example of the pioneering spirit of our students," said Bezy, an active participant in the formation of kLab.

Kunda joins more than 8 million women entrepreneurs globally who are running startups and setting positive examples for other East African women.

"I am involved in mentoring programs for young women through the Girls in ICT-Rwanda Association, and I helped with the MsGeek competition, where young women will showcase some neat new technologies on March 8," Kunda said. "The future is both bright and exciting."
                         
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Esther Kunda (pictured above), one of the first 22 students scheduled to graduate July 24 from the MSIT program in Rwanda, is using her newly honed technical skills to create a virtual agriculture company to give Rwanda farmers a market boost.