At the end of the day, all of my work can be linked back to my original goal: making an impact. I’m doing something meaningful for my community and also with my life. Transportation is something that has affected me personally, and I want to tackle it not only for myself, but for my family, and for my country."Wyclife Omondi ’13, Social Entrepreneur, BuuPass Founder, Hult Prize Winner and Transportation Consultant
I graduated from UWCSEA in 2013 after completing a two-year scholarship, which was awarded to me from the UWC Kenya National Committee. My time at UWCSEA had a lot of impact in my life, in terms of the choices that I’ve made, the values I uphold and the networks I have been able to create since graduating.
When I graduated in 2013 I had a Davis Scholarship to study at Earlham College in the US. However before I headed off to College, I put my UWC values into immediate action by taking a Gap Year in the Philippines. Working with Lihuk Panaghiusa, I was hoping to learn more about running an NGO while I helped with education and welfare for individuals living in poverty. While I could see that these lessons would be useful for me later in life, I felt I needed to give back to the community by demonstrating the UWC values. Just after I came back to Singapore, before going home to Kenya, Typhoon Haiyan hit the region. I ended up travelling straight back to the Philippines help my new friends begin the long journey to rebuilding what they had lost. This experience lit a fire in me, a desire to give back and help others.
In fact, it was this very thing that led me to sign up as Chief Financial Officer of the Magic Bus Ticketing start-up with fellow UWC graduates Iman Cooper (US), Sonia Kabra LPC‘12 (India) and Leslie Ossete ‘12 (Congo) in my second last year at Earlham.
For me, the journey to launch what we now call BuuPass was very personal.
I like to be punctual. But that is quite difficult at home in Nairobi, because the bus system in the city - which 70% of the people rely on to get around - is very haphazard. It’s not even really a system. Its 15,000 minibuses — or matatus, we call them — with informal stops and schedules. Fares, routes and timings change constantly, meaning it's very unpredictable. You don’t know where the bus is, what time it will come and what time it will leave. Or if it is full when it passes by your stop.
For me, this system meant I almost missed my appointment at the U.S. Embassy to get my student visa for the US to come to Earlham. I see the amount of time people spend in waiting for matatus - up to two hours each morning. First of all, it's undignified. And it's unproductive. These people could have spent the time doing other, much more productive things. For millions, it means wasting time every day waiting for a bus that never comes. And when it does come many times, riders get on a bus expecting to pay one fare, only to find that the conductor has hiked the price. Some people losing their jobs, and a lot of people already in poverty end up spending more than half their income on transport. It is not surprising, I am sure, to learn Nairobi is ranked as the fourth most painful city in the world for commuters.
Our solution lets riders pre-book their bus tickets using SMS, which means no need for internet. Since 80% of Kenyans own phones and more than half frequently use SMS texting, we decided to leverage existing bus networks and integrate mobile payments through M-PESA. Kenyans already use M-PESA for paying for their groceries, their bills and other services. We just made Magic Bus another cashless payment service.
We ran a trial over summer 2016, with a financial grant and mentoring from Transdev . Now we have started looking at long distance, with a pilot launched in 2017 for market research and plan to expand in other markets. We may even manage our own fleet, as well as offering the platform for other organised transport groups through a franchise model.
In the end we were chosen over four other startup finalists in the Hult Prize competition in late 2016, an annual contest that challenges students to tackle a pressing global problem. Our challenge was Crowded Urban Spaces, and making them more economically inclusive. BuuPass Inc (then known as Magic Bus Ticketing) was one of 25,000 entries looking for a solution to double the income of people in crowded, under-served urban spaces.
Our inspiration was the result of many conversations revolving around one question: how to have an impact. We realised that while issues such as health care and education get a lot of attention, transportation often is neglected. But that it can facilitate so many opportunities, by giving them a way to reliably access education, health care and jobs.
At the end of the day, all of my work can be linked back to my original goal: making an impact. I’m doing something meaningful for my community and also with my life. Transportation is something that has affected me personally, and I want to tackle it not only for myself, but for my family, for my country.
I graduated from Earlham College with a B.A. in Economics in 2017, and am now interning at the World Bank while I work to expand the BuuPass concept and network. And while BuuPass is a larger scale ambition, I have been working towards it for a long time.
In my first year at UWCSEA, I founded an activity called “Initiative for African Youths” with an aim of creating awareness about current issues in Africa. I continued this path to find solutions to problems at Earlam, and in 2015 I got a US$10,000 grant from President David Dawson’s Discretionary Fund at Earlham College. I took this money back to Kenya to help tackle the issue of menstruation bullying of girls in mixed primary schools, in the hope to help more girls continue their education uninterrupted and fulfil their potential. And since winning the grant for BuuPass, I have gone around the world to give talks and advice to numerous student entrepreneur groups - including a visit to Dover when I was in Singapore in early 2018.
But my enthusiasm to help communities more broadly started with my gap year in the Philippines. Since then, I have wanted to start a business with impact. I am truly a product of the UWC values.
Wyclife attended UWCSEA as the UWC National Committee Scholar from Kenya.
In the IB Diploma, Wyclife studied Economics, English, Chemistry, Psychology, Maths and Swahili as a School-Supported Self-Taught Language.