24-year-old Netia McCray is passionate about hardware prototyping and development as well as fostering young innovators and entrepreneurs around the world, which is what led her to start a social venture called Mbadika and create the Mbadika build-it-yourself solar charger.

A recent graduate in Political Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), McCray founded Mbadika – which means “idea” in Kimbundu, a language spoken in northern Angola – with a group of fellow students as a non-profit organisation interested in increasing relations between international innovators and leaders in various fields to tackle social issues around the world.

Netia McCray
Netia McCray

Mbadika has helped over 200 aspiring young innovators and entrepreneurs in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa to turn their ideas into real solutions.

One of Mbadika’s latest projects is an interesting portable solar mobile charger that anyone can buy and assemble themselves. The reason McCray came up with the DIY angle was to give young people interested in hardware and product development a crash course in electronic prototyping.

“In the past we’ve taught kids to build hardware products and make a business out of it, but this is our first own hardware product,” says McCray. “Hardware in Sub-Saharan Africa is extremely hard to develop, so we’re hoping to help the next generation of African innovator entrepreneurs.”

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“The inspiration from my last trip to Cape Town at a hardware workshop I was hosting for kids. One kid said to me the workshop was great but we don’t know how to basic electronic hardware development. One of my favourite hobbies is to create kits for my younger brothers and sisters and so I thought I should do the same thing for my students,” she adds. “Solar is such a big thing in Africa right now and that’s why we decided to start with it.”

The Mbadika charger can be assembled in just six steps written on a small card. And according to McCray, you don’t have to be an electronics nerd to make it, kids as young as seven years old have successfully made their own Mbadikas.

McCray says it shouldn’t take an average person more than over an hour to completely assemble one Mbadika charger. “We wanted it to be very easy because we know hardware can be intimidating,” she explains.

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Each Mbadika kit comes with a solar panel, USB circuit, a switch, breadboard, battery packets and batteries and a few other electronic components to do some electronic prototyping with the charger.

“Once you have that, you can go through the instructions step-by-step,” McCray says. “It takes about 10 to 12 hours to charge the two batteries with our basic kit, the larger kit takes about 10 hours. Both kits charge with or without sunlight.”

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“The Mbadika charger is still in its early stages, so we’re here at Maker Fair to find out if this could take off by interviewing people and seeing how they like it.”

For it’s future plans, McCray says they want to spread the Mbadika charger throughout South Africa, then into the rest of the continent and ultimately worldwide.

“Everyone is looking to Sub-Saharan Africa for new innovations lately, if it can happen here, it can happen anywhere, that’s our philosophy,” she concludes.

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