Scholars with a penchant for apps that make an impact

Posted 2019-12-12

While Moses Kirathe was watching a show on the National Geographic channel about poisonous reptiles, he thought to himself, “What would happen if something showed up out of nowhere and bit me?”

Back then, the UBC Sauder Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) student was still in high school in Nyeri, Kenya. Kirathe knew the lack of emergency services in his home country would make a sudden bite a harrowing situation. He says you can’t simply call 911 and expect an ambulance to show up.

Kirathe decided to create an app that enabled users to locate the nearest medical facility and view the contact information for the ambulances at the site. Through the app, users would be able to call an ambulance closest to them. The app also offered useful first aid information to its users.

After going online to research and learn how to build mobile applications, Kirathe brought his idea to market after just one month of work. At its peak, the app had 1,000 downloads.


BCom student Moses Kirathe says the combined major in Business and Computer Science at UBC Sauder was a natural fit for his education. 


Growing a business with the help of technology

Kirathe’s industrious attitude in his younger years didn’t stop there. When he graduated from high school, he began work as a salesman at an electronics store that had a “pen and paper way of doing everything.” Kirathe recognized the potential for automating its business processes.

He wrote a proposal to his employer outlining his desire to build a software program that could automatically tackle tasks that were currently done by hand. After his employer gave him the green light, Kirathe built a stock management software for the business.

“We saw a significant increase in staff morale, and added accountability to sales because we could now easily retrieve a record of all transactions,” says Kirathe. “We could tell when we were running low on the supply of any good, without having to physically check our stock.”


Marrying a love of business and computer science 

Though he had planned on becoming a software engineer, his experience at the electronics store inspired Kirathe to marry his love for computer science with his penchant for business. He learned about the combined major in Business and Computer Science at UBC Sauder, and it seemed like a natural fit for his education.

The Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program helped pave the way for Kirathe to come to Vancouver. According to its website, the scholarship program provides financial, social and academic support to Africa’s best and brightest future leaders. To be considered for the program, students must not only be academically strong, but also have demonstrated a commitment to making a difference in the lives of others.

Now in his third year, Kirathe says UBC Sauder has exceeded his expectations. “I’ve always been interested in business, but I didn’t know that I would enjoy learning various business concepts in a classroom this much,” he says.

Even with a heavy course load, Kirathe continues to innovate. Earlier this year, he co-founded Soma, an educational organization that provides access to free online educational tools and resources to students who have a computer/mobile device but lack access to an Internet connection. Soma was recently granted seed funding and will be piloting its product in partner schools early next year.

Looking forward, Kirathe hopes to work as a product manager or software engineer in Canada for a few years before returning to Kenya. “I want to eventually go back home and build something there. I don’t know what it’s going to look like, but I want to build a company that positively impacts people’s lives,” he says.


Adolphus Bassey will soon graduate from the MBA program. He describes the 16 months he spent at UBC Sauder as “transformational.” 

Fellow Mastercard Scholar Adolphus Bassey recently completed his coursework and will graduate from UBC Sauder in May 2020 with a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

He and Kirathe share a similar desire to impact people’s lives through technical product development. While an undergraduate student in software engineering at the American University of Nigeria, Bassey and some classmates were studying the Millennial Development Goals when they noted the high maternal mortality rates in northern Nigeria.

Bassey and the project team developed an app that provided an alternate medium for medical consultation. It included daily tips on effective health practices for every trimester of pregnancy, as well as a chat forum that connected doctors with patients who were pregnant. 

“It was a pivotal moment in my life that really changed my thought process,” says Bassey. “I saw that using technology could decrease the number of people who die or who self-medicate, even in areas where there are no doctors but there is a lot of mobile penetration.”

Though the app didn’t officially go to market, the team laid the groundwork and Bassey says they may pick it back up again as a passion project in the future. 


Software that impacts lives 

Following graduation, Bassey worked at Deloitte in Lagos, Nigeria for approximately four years. He says his experience in consulting helped him gain clarity on where he wanted to take his career. 

“When you work in consulting, you work on client projects. These projects are scoped out to make an impact in an organization, but I wanted to make larger scale impact,” says Bassey. “I wanted to work in a software company where I would be building software products that would impact millions of lives, not just an organization.”

To do that, Bassey realized he needed to gain more business acumen to build his product management skills. He decided to leave his role as senior consultant and pursue an MBA. 


‘Excellence transcends everything’

Bassey describes his 16 months at UBC Sauder as “transformational” and says he’s learned about three things in particular: excellence, respect and community. As an international student, Bassey says it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and unworthy of opportunities. He recalls struggling with self-esteem early on in his MBA, but after receiving some mentorship and securing a sought-after internship at Salesforce, he knew he should never settle for less.

“Excellence transcends race, it transcends gender, it transcends everything,” says Bassey. “My dad always said, excellence speaks for itself.”

He also notes that UBC Sauder fosters a strong respect for cultural differences and an understanding that how you treat people and make them feel is very important. His third takeaway is the importance of community. You can’t make it through the intensive MBA program without finding a group of people to support you and study with you, he says.

As a soon-to-be-graduate, Bassey is considering where he wants his career to go over the next five or ten years. One thing is for sure – he plans to build products that impact lives. He may even start his own company with like-minded people one day. He says his MBA taught him to be a lifelong learner and that anything is possible.

“UBC Sauder teaches you to be open minded, and that it’s not just about learning one thing, it’s about being open to learning as much as possible.”