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A “Magic” Solution for African Bus Riders

Some 25,000 student teams from over 150 nations competed last year for the $1 million Hult Prize, which promotes business entrepreneurship for social good. The winners: a team of four from Earlham College, including three Davis UWC Scholars, whose project — now a start-up in Nairobi, Kenya — just might revolutionize public transportation in sub-Saharan Africa.

When the 2016 competition, sponsored by the Hult International Business School and the Clinton Global Initiative, called for proposals that could double the incomes of people in crowded cities through increased mobility and connectivity, the Earlham team focused on transportation. They came up with Magic Bus, a text-based system through which users of Nairobi’s 15,000 public-transport minibuses could reserve seats, buy tickets, and find buses’ locations by smartphone.

Magic Bus can make arrival times and fare amounts more predictable for users of the minibuses; it can also help bus companies be more efficient and profitable while curbing crime against drivers, who won’t need to collect fares in cash. When the system was beta tested in the city last summer, “people loved it,” said a co-owner of a transport company interviewed by the Washington Post.

Former President Bill Clinton awarded the Hult Prize last September to teammates Wyclife Omondi (Kenya, UWC of Southeast Asia, Earlham ’17), 2016 grads Sonia Kabra (India, Li Po Chun UWC) and Leslie Ossete (Congo, UWC-USA), and Earlham alum Iman Cooper ’15. Their project has since been spotlighted by the Post, Forbes magazine, National Public Radio, CNN Money, Business Daily Africa, and the Better India.

Wyclife’s teammates are now in Nairobi getting the business off the ground, while he finishes his college career while serving as Magic Bus’s chief financial officer.

“It takes a lot of work, I have to admit!” Wyclife says. “The original plan was to scale to 29 cities and 11 countries in sub- Saharan Africa. But now we are considering options on expanding to other countries.”