November 16, 2021  

Supplied by Minx Avrabos from SAIEE


A group of inventive and civic-minded UKZN students bagged second place in the 2021 Youth Innovation Challenge (YIC) run by Innovate Durban. The competition brought together 60 participants and 23 teams from across KwaZulu-Natal to address this year’s theme: Response to Crisis. 


Innovate Durban (RF) NPC is a registered non-profit company set up in 2017 as a special purpose vehicle by eThekwini Municipality to support innovation ecosystem and innovators through programmes, research, capacity building and skills development. 


The Youth Innovation Challenge (YIC) is the flagship programme of Innovate Durban. It seeks to take youth through the innovation pipeline centred around finding innovative solutions for challenges faced by communities and businesses. Implementation includes upskilling workshops, coding training, pitching sessions, and group solution demonstration events.


Team UKZN focused on the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 11, which is about sustainable cities and communities. Ms Nitasha Pillay, Mr Jirah Moodley and Mr Nathan Pillay (who formed team Tagged AI [Artificial Intelligence]) developed a solution to promote child safety and prevent human trafficking using their very own technology. 


The team walked away with a cash prize of R25 000 and will also receive 12 months of support and assistance from Innovate Durban to upgrade and launch their solution. In addition, Nitasha was awarded the Zutari Woman in Design Award for her “rate of engagement, enthusiasm, enquiring mind and positive attitude as well as continued engagement on platforms” in the YIC. 


Tagged AI leader and final-year Computer Science student Moodley said it is important that the youth are actively involved in creating solutions to challenges. ‘The youth of South Africa are the future of the country. If all youth can engage in innovative and creative thinking to solve problems faced by South Africa, then the only way for SA to go is UP! SA will have a brighter and more successful future,’ said Moodley.  


Third-year BCom Marketing and Information Systems student Nitasha was inspired to enter the competition as she wants to change the world and inspire others along the way. ‘Don’t limit your challenges. Challenge your limits,’ she said.

Nitasha, who is the Project Manager at Enactus UKZN, a UKZN Peer Academic Mentor and Youth Ambassador for Women in Tech South Africa, said that technology is a powerful instrument in modern day society. ‘From the time I was little I would always participate in challenges that would require me to think out of the box. When I was in Grade 7, I participated in the First Lego League robotics competition. I’ve always had an interest and a heart for innovation and making an impact through my work. I believe that when you commit your work to God, he establishes your thoughts and vision.’


First-year BSc Computer Science student Nathan (who happens to be Nitasha’s brother) joined the YIC as a way to challenge himself. ‘I enjoy embracing new adventures - especially if it’s tech-related. Challenge yourself to do better and be better every day. Remember, growth starts with a decision to move beyond your present circumstances,’ said Nathan.


‘I have a strong passion and love for technology and I’m so overjoyed that I participated in this competition as it taught me many new skills and techniques to tackle problems and to come up with innovative ideas,’ said Nathan, the youngest team member. He encouraged the youth to better the society we live in. ‘It’s all a matter of taking up the space and getting geared to make a change.’


As part of the challenge, the team attended a workshop during the semester break in September where they learnt about design thinking, intellectual property, the importance of SDG’s and solution development. ‘I met the most dynamic and energetic innovators. It didn’t feel as if it was a competition because all the teams had a vision to make a difference through their solution,’ said Nitasha. Moodley and Nitasha also won prizes at the workshop Q & A session. 


While their polished presentation skills made it look easy, the team faced numerous challenges including finding the time to balance tests and assignments. ‘Getting the tech required for our innovation was the biggest task we had. After much research, we came up with workarounds and obtained our needed hardware for a fraction of the price,’ said Moodley. 


The team thanked everyone that supported them on the month-long challenge. ‘A special thank you to Mr Kyle Bryce Khedun (third-year Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) for assisting the team in the design thinking phase. We appreciate our UKZN facilitator Mr Joash Govindsamy (founder of Green Gold Technology and Youth Innovation Challenge winner 2016) for mentoring all our teams at UKZN.’ The team also thanked Innovate Durban and their team including Ms Susanne Ramsunder (Programme Lead at Innovate Durban) and Innovate Durban’s Mr Sakhiwo Rewu.


Nitasha and Nathan acknowledged their parents, Pam and Terence Pillay ‘for supporting us, always challenging our thinking and praying with us.’ 


The Durban University of Technology team took first place for developing an eco-friendly alternative to feminine sanitary wear and hygiene, while Mangosuthu University of Technology students placed third for developing a public transport App to promote the safe use of public transport for local users and tourists.


The judges for the finals included:

Aurelia Albert - CEO Innovate Durban 

Justice Matarutse - eThekwini Municipality 

Vishen Pillay - Adams & Adams 

Shaun Tait - Domini Foundation 

Richard Ahlschlager - Zutari         


Photograph: Innovate Durban and Supplied

From left: Ms Nitasha Pillay, Mr Nathan Pillay, and Mr Jirah Moodley from team Tagged AI scooped second place at the Youth Innovation Challenge Awards hosted at the Botanical Gardens on the 10th November 2021.