UNDP’s timbuktoo initiative pioneers Research and Development space for Zambia's Youth

March 4, 2024

Photo: UNDP

Kitwe, Zambia — March 4, 2024


Last week, amidst an atmosphere buzzing with anticipation and excitement, UNDP launched the Mukuba UniPod, a University Innovation Pod at Copperbelt University in Kitwe, Zambia. The Mukuba Unipod is part of UNDP’s bold ambition to establish such spaces across all of Africa’s leading universities. Already, 13 UniPods have been set up in Mali, South Sudan, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda, Mauritania, Sierra Leone, Togo, Liberia, Lesotho, Guinea and Benin. UniPods are part of UNDP’s timbuktoo initiative, a new development model bridging the gap between research and development on the one hand, and product creation on the other, to ensure that Africa’s youth are the catalysts sparking the continent’s industrial drive.

This transformative initiative marks a significant milestone in harnessing the potential of Zambia's youth, providing a dedicated space for students, entrepreneurs, and innovators to collaborate and transform ideas to minimum viable products that can drive sustainable development. Named ‘Mukuba’ which means mineral rich ore in Bemba, one of Zambia’s local languages, the Mukuba UniPod is strategically situated within Copperbelt University, at the epicenter of Zambia's academic and entrepreneurial ecosystem. This strategic location not only fosters synergies between academia and industry but also positions the UniPod to capitalize on Zambia's burgeoning mining sector — which is increasingly becoming key in climate action as the demand for rare-earth minerals grows.  


Photo: Praize Mwanza in Zambia, courtesy of Praize Mwanza

Praize Mwanza, a fifth-year Mechatronics Engineering student and President of the CBO Robotics Club at Copperbelt University, exemplifies the aspiration for innovation within the Mukuba UniPod. He is the mastermind behind RCC Mafishi, an electric car built by him and 13 other robotics students. “Our main customer was the student population. We wanted to make life easier, ditch the buses, and cruise around in style (and silence!)". 


Drawing inspiration from Uganda's achievements in e-mobility, Praize remarks, "In 2011, a student team designed an electric car and scaled up to become a major company named Kiira Motors. The company is now projected to employ over 100,000 workers. That's the future we're striving for, and with UNDP’s timbuktoo assistance, we can attain it." 


One of the technologies housed in the Mukuba UniPod is an Electric Vehicle (EV) Training Kit which provides innovators like Mwanza a great opportunity to learn the technology behind the design of efficient EV batteries and powertrains. However, the UniPod goes beyond furnishing knowledge on EVs.  It also provides Praize and others assistance in commercializing their concept, courtesy of the Technology Transfer Office situated within the UniPod.


Innovating for sustainability


Mervis Ngosa’s recollection of how she started her innovation dates back to her hometown: “I come from Samfya originally and then moved to live in Mansa. We used charcoal and firewood as our main sources of energy. I witnessed so many disastrous accidents associated with these energy sources that I started thinking and investigating ways of using alternative sources of energy”. Through her research, she uncovered copper slag as a viable alternative.


Her renewable energy-saving stove, the Slag stove, aims to reduce household energy costs while promoting sustainability in local communities. "My goal is to reduce the high levels of deforestation inevitably mitigating climate change effects that have heavily affected our country through harsh weather conditions such as droughts,” Mervis explains. Mervis plans to conduct field trials and testing in rural and urban areas to maximize the impact of her innovation on communities.


For Mervis and Praize, the new Mukuba UniPod represents an invaluable opportunity to turn their entrepreneurial dreams into reality. With access to state-of-the-art equipment that enables ideas to be turned into functional prototypes, industry-relevant innovation programs, access to research and development mentorship leveraging the rigor from academia, and networking opportunities, they are poised to test solutions and scale their ideas into market - ready products. Moreover, the UniPod's holistic approach to entrepreneurship support, from ideation to commercialization, ensures that Mervis, Praize and others receive the guidance and resources they need at every step of their innovation and market-entry journey.


Mervis Ngosa in Zambia. Photo: UNDP Zambia

Mervis Ngosa in Zambia. Photo: UNDP Zambia

Aligned with the Government of Zambia's strategic priorities, the launch of the Mukuba UniPod underscores a shared commitment to harnessing innovation as a driver of economic growth and social progress. By providing a dedicated space for ideation, prototype development, and scaling, the UniPod empowers youths to channel their talents towards addressing pressing challenges and seizing emerging opportunities in the Zambian and African economy.


In her keynote address during the launch event, Ms. Ahunna Eziakonwa, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Regional Director for Africa, expressed delight at Zambia's readiness to be one of the hosts of timbuktoo’s thematic centers of excellence. “I am pleased to witness Zambia’s efforts in strengthening the innovation ecosystem in Africa. UNDP’s timbuktoo initiative will bridge the gap between talent and opportunity, bringing together public and private partners to avail early-stage risk capital. Through timbuktoo, we can ensure that the innovation of Africa’s youth drives the continent’s development.”


VIDEO: Watch the Launch of the Mukaba UniPod


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


Contact Information:

UNDP Africa: Marie-Ange Zibi: marie-ange.zibi@undp.org; +15146271408 

UNDP Zambia: Mercy Khozi; mercy.khozi@undp.org; +260211386200

General inquiries: timbuktoo.africa@undp.org