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How has the ULA project changed?

How has the ULA project changed, and what does this mean for you? Nadia Echchihab, Global Business Commercial Team Lead for Connected Places Catapult, explains.

I have been leading on the Urban Links Africa project since the project kicked off last October. Over the past eight months, my team and I have been collaborating with six fascinating cities across Kenya and South Africa on some of their most pressing urban challenges: solid waste management, urban mobility and resilience in informal settlements, to name only a few.

Our partner cities are Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu in Kenya; and Johannesburg, Cape Town and eThekwini (Durban) in South Africa. All of these topics were relevant a few months ago and are even more important now, as the world is fighting a global pandemic impacting life in cities.

We are tackling these challenges by asking impact-driven innovators to propose solutions adapted to these cities. These projects would be joint technological partnerships between the UK and Kenyan and South African organisations.

When the COVID-19 outbreak started, we were confronted with a choice: postponing until ‘things get better’, or embracing uncertainty and proactively changing our scope to deliver right now while embedding our project in the economic recovery effort.

In the context of a travel ban and lockdown in most countries, postponing until further notice felt unrealistic. Our cities will be deeply impacted by the pandemic, so we have opted for a proactive approach and completely reshaped our workplan to be able to deliver as scheduled and close the project in March 2021.

Urban Links Africa – What’s changed?

The project ambition remains the same: to address South African and Kenyan cities’ most urgent urban challenges by bringing together Kenyan, South African and UK tech ecosystems through equitable partnerships, collaboration and long-term investment in order to improve citizens’ lives.

Just like the world has adapted to the new world, ULA has pivoted and here is what has changed:

  • The Open Call scope has moved from deployment to development: Funding will now be released to support the development of multiple solutions to an urban challenge, up to prototype, proof of concept or full proposal stages, in each city.The project will stop short of supporting the full deployment of SME products, services or technologiesInstead, we plan to organise online city forums at the end of the project to showcase the developed solutions, so they can be taken forward by city stakeholders, funders and investors. This means we can support more and a wider array of businesses (up to 15 projects) to develop original concepts and ideas that tackle urban challenges.
  • Paving the way for spin-off implementation projects: We will aim to make the selected partnerships deployment-ready and connect them to potential customers and investors whilst working on follow up projects focused on implementation in the future.
  • Facilitating more cross-country linkages: We are investing in an online collaboration platform to boost multiple stakeholder exchanges and connect them to UK Cities and tech hubs sharing their challenges. This online collaboration platform will enable all our UK-African stakeholders (cities, tech hubs etc.) to work together and share best practises.

What’s coming next? Get involved in our Open Call!

  • ULA Open Call launches on June 24th: Calling UK, Kenyan and South African urban and innovation stakeholders to apply!

We are launching the ULA Open Call on June 24th and it will remain open until August 21st. Successful partnerships are eligible to receive up to £25,000 for ideas and up to £40,000 for more mature projects.

South Africa challenges are:

  • Resilience in Informal Settlements (Cape Town)
  • Urban Mobility (Johannesburg)
  • Waste Management and Pollution (Durban)

Kenya challenges (challenges apply for Mombasa, Nairobi, Kisumu)

  • Stormwater Drainage and Urban Flooding
  • Solid Waste Management
  • Traffic Management and Active Mobility
  • Wastewater Management

To celebrate this turning point, we’re holding an online briefing event to run you through the process. Register here

Call for Challenge Ambassadors: We’re recruiting local challenge experts!

We have released funds to contract ‘Challenge Ambassadors’ in each of the cities – individual experts or organisations who specialise in a specific urban challenge – to help guide the development of solutions by SME partnerships and ensure that solutions are rooted to the reality of the challenge and unique context of the city.

You can find out more about the role and responsibilities here