UNDP’s timbuktoo empowers young women innovators in Malawi

March 22, 2024
Photo: UNDP Malawi

Photo: UNDP Malawi


Blantyre, Malawi — March 12, 2024


In a new effort to foster innovation and entrepreneurship among Malawi's youth, UNDP recently inaugurated a University Innovation Pod (UniPod) at the Malawi University of Business and Applied Sciences (MUBAS). Launched under timbuktoo, UNDP’s bold and ambitious initiative to spark a startup revolution in Africa, this new platform represents a pivotal step towards transforming public universities into vibrant centers of research and innovation.


The MUBAS UniPod is amongst the 13 UniPods that UNDP’s timbuktoo initiative is establishing in universities across the continent, and the second in Southern Africa, following the Mukuba UniPod inauguration in Zambia a week earlier. They are new, dynamic spaces for ideation, collaboration, and entrepreneurship, providing young African innovators with tailored resources and expertise to support them in turning their ideas into viable commercial products. Aligned with UNDP's overarching goal to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, these UniPods serve as a crucial link between research and product innovation, empowering the continent's youth to spearhead its industrial progress.


Transforming healthcare delivery


Photo: Courtesy of Sally Mwayi Changaya

Sally Mwayi Changaya and Sonia Kachale, two remarkable young women innovators, have emerged as pioneers in Malawi's innovation landscape. With her Flow Assist IV drip monitor and controller, Sally Mwayi Changaya, a fifth-year Biomedical Engineering student, is revolutionizing healthcare delivery in low-resource settings. Sally's groundbreaking innovation is a cost-effective solution tailored to the needs of Malawi's healthcare system.


In Malawi, nearly 90% of hospitalized patients rely on IV infusions for fluid administration, including medication and nutrition. In resource-limited settings, gravity infusions are commonly used, necessitating manual adjustment and monitoring of drips. However, this approach often results in inaccurate flow rates, with potential complications including fluid overload, cardiovascular issues, respiratory distress, organ dysfunction, and hypertension if the flow is too fast. Conversely, if the flow rate is too slow, patients may experience inadequate pain management, delayed treatment response, dehydration, organ dysfunction, and compromised recovery. 


Range of machinery and equipments available in the UniPod at the Malawi University of Business and Applied Sciences.


Sally’s Flow Assist IV drip monitor and controller, designed specifically for low-resource settings, utilizes locally available materials, resulting in a low-cost solution compared to existing market devices. Unlike devices often acquired through purchase or donation, which may lack spare parts or expertise for repairs in regions like Malawi, her device can be easily repaired or replaced by any clinical or paramedical engineer.




Photo: Courtesy of Sally Mwayi Changaya


Speaking about her innovation, Sally emphasized, “Previously, we only had access to a design studio, where we could create low-fidelity, medium-fidelity, and occasionally high-fidelity prototypes. The UniPod has introduced a rapid prototyping lab, enabling us to produce high-fidelity prototypes efficiently. This facility also allows us to advance our prototypes into market-ready products. With support from UNDP’s timbuktoo, I am confident that we can overcome the challenges hindering innovation in Malawi and create sustainable solutions that improve the quality of life for our communities”.


In addition to the resources available through the UniPod at MUBAS, Sally will soon have the opportunity to expand her innovation to a wider African market. She will gain access to expertise, health technology resources, and mentorship offered by timbuktoo's health tech hub, set to launch in Kigali, Rwanda later this year.


Banking simplified 


Joining Sally is Sonia Kachale, a graduate mining engineer who has defied conventional expectations by becoming an award-winning innovator in the IT sector. Her innovations, including the award-winning mobile application MI-money and digital manufacturing of construction machinery, demonstrate her exceptional talent and commitment to technological advancement in Malawi.


Sonia Kachale (right) with two of her colleagues. Photo: Courtesy of Sonia Kachale


Conceptualized together with her project partner Emmanuel Nangwiya, Mi-money integrates all Malawian banks, mobile money services, and international visa-enabled banks for seamless, real-time, and affordable inter-institutional transactions. Additionally, Sonia is part of Qubix robotics, a pioneering digital manufacturing startup company that produces sustainable manufacturing solutions, including 3D printers and Computer Numerical Control machines, and laser cutters.


Despite their remarkable achievements, Sonia and Sally represent a generation of innovators facing significant obstacles in translating their ideas into tangible products. Challenges such as scarcity of resources, lack of collaborative working spaces, and limited funding opportunities have hindered the progress of young innovators in Malawi. "Innovators like myself want to build companies, local manufacturing, for products, tools and equipment that can be used by our people”, highlights Sonia. “UNDP’s timbuktoo comes in as an answered prayer to the hindrances that we have been facing and also as a quick vehicle to achieve the transformative vision outlined in Malawi 2063.”


Speaking during the UniPod launch at MUBAS campus in Blantyre, Dr Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera, the State President of the Republic of Malawi, noted: “The launch of this new space by UNDP’s timbuktoo is a testament that having modern education and state of the art supporting facilities in the country to harness Malawians' potential is possible”. 


In her remarks, Ms. Ahunna Eziakonwa, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Regional Director for Africa, emphasized the importance of instilling confidence and empowerment in the youth of Malawi: “What makes a difference is the spirit of compassion, competence, capability, and self-confidence of young people. This is the beginning of prosperity for Malawi. Through UNDP's timbuktoo UniPod, we want to cultivate a future where everyone has a chance. A future where every Malawian, irrespective of where they were born and who they were born to, has the access and opportunity to realize their potential and contribute to the advancement of their nation."


For more information on UNDP’s timbuktoo initiative, please visit the website


Contact Information:

UNDP Africa: Marie-Ange Zibi; marie-ange.zibi@undp.org

UNDP Malawi: Sawiche Wamunza; sawiche.wamunza@undp.org 

General inquiries: timbuktoo.africa@undp.org