UCT flag flies high at Global Social Venture Competition

4 Jun 2014 - 14:00

A shack fire prevention project headed by the Department of Electrical Engineering recently received the People's Choice Award in the 2014 Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC).

Approximately 11% of South Africans live in shacks and nationally there are 10 reported shack fires per day. In response to this challenge, Samuel Ginsberg, a senior lecturer in the Department of Electrical Engineering and his multidisciplinary team developed a low-cost fire detection device and an integrated alert service for shack-dwellers worldwide.

The social enterprise that has been formed to implement this product is called Khusela, the Xhosa word for "protect". The proactive early-warning system networks individuals within communities and with authorities to mitigate the loss of life and property caused by shack fires.

"The device is triggered by heat instead of smoke where in a fire situation the temperature rapidly rises. Should a device be triggered, thus signalling a fire in a home, it will communicate with devices in a 50 to 100 metre radius of it, setting them off and, in doing so, allowing a neighbourhood response to the fire," explains David Gluckman, part of the Khusela team and a UCT business science graduate.

Gluckman and his team mate Paul Mesarcik, a mechatronics graduate, presented the project at the Europe, Middle East and Africa round of the competition held in London. They won this round of the competition in April 2014. Gluckman and another mechatronics graduate and co-founder of Khusela, Francois Petousis, presented at the worldwide finals at the University of California in Berkeley where they received the People's Choice Award.

Hub of innovation for social change

Gluckman said, "It puts UCT on the map as a hub of innovation for social change on the global stage, especially when we compete against the largest and most established business schools and universities in the world. It also highlights that the best way to solve the world’s challenges is through a pluralistic approach, incorporating the brightest minds from a multitude of backgrounds and disciplines."

The project has received seed funding from the Technology Innovation Agency and won $1 500 in prize money. They are currently working in partnership with the local branch of Shack-Dwellers International, who will assist them in rolling out the devices to informal settlements. The plan is to roll out devices to four to five communities in the City of Cape Town.

"The pilot phase will see 2 000 devices distributed and tested. Ultimately we would like these to be in the homes of all informal dwellings at risk of fire in South Africa," added Gluckman.

The GSVC is an international competition that provides aspiring entrepreneurs with mentoring exposure and prize money to transform their ideas into businesses that have a positive real-world impact.

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