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Leigh Cullen on Pop Up Bus + Innovation Centre: Where Our Journey has Taken Us and Where We are Headed

The Pop Up Bus + Innovation Centre team continues to have vibrant planning discussions on how to move forward. Please stay tuned as Leigh and Alex update their Impact Stories. And, see how you can get involved and help their teams make a difference.

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Leigh Cullen and Alex Mokori are partners on the Pop Up Bus + Innovation Centre project.

The following is Leigh's Impact Story. Click here to read Alex's Impact Story. Please stay tuned as both Leigh and Alex update their Impact Stories.


Research pointed to the variability of educational and basic human needs in communities around the globe, and how this (along with other variables like gender and culture) affects youth employment. So, I set out to design a solution that 1.) addresses all of these needs under one umbrella, 2.) delivers 21st century skills to youth in the event education is inaccessible or unaffordable, 3.) builds a global, professional network via real-time (employment and education) data collection that employers and young job seekers can tap into, and 4.) empowers youth as change instigators within their communities, preparing youth with the professional skills needed to help propel other youth forward.


The idea of anticipating fun, accessible, 21st century professional education popping up in communities around the globe resulted in the name “Pop Up Bus.” I started discovering remarkable one-off cases of buses delivering education to communities in need, and was inspired to unfold the idea further. I was convinced that bus delivery of free education to youth solved education inaccessibility and affordability issues, but knew I had to think through sustainability and technology issues. What technology could be used to collect data in each community in order to understand real-time needs of youth and employers, and to establish a professional network that youth and employers can access to match skills? And, how could the groundwork established by Pop Up Bus in each community create a lasting effect once a bus leaves a community?
During the Research phase I came across Google and Grameen Foundation’s “Community Knowledge Workers Program” ( and was driven to investigate how both are making such admirable strides in providing real-time farming data to (and subsequently sustainable livelihoods for) poor farmers in Africa. Their use of real-time data input by local farmers (Community Knowledge Workers) via mobile device and the parsing of data via Open Data Kit (, was the “light bulb moment” I was seeking. It sparked the following chain of thought: Pop Up Bus onboard Facilitators could work with Community Pathfinders (local youth) to understand a community’s specific educational needs. The Facilitators could teach Pathfinders professional skills that Pathfinders could then teach other local youth. This aligned with my belief that youth are powerful change instigators who have the ability to propel other youth forward. Pathfinders could be paid for their work and installed with mobile devices to collect real-time employment data via a data collection vehicle like Open Data Kit. These Pathfinders needed a hub in which to work, and that’s where Innovation Centre came in. Innovative, functional designs for pop up spaces exist that could be hitched to the back of a bus, or boat, and assembled onsite in any community. At this point, Alex Mokori, Wekesa Zablon, Rehmah Kasule and I compared notes and joined teams. Alex wanted to build an Innovation Centre in Uganda and had a team of young professionals, aka Community Pathfinders, who had already pooled personal resources with the goal of helping local youth achieve employment goals. The idea blossomed from there into a direct collaboration with Alex who started piloting our joint idea in Uganda. Together, our teams started brainstorming solutions how to sustain Innovation Centres and Pop Up Buses, how to reach local youth, and how to build viable mentorship and employer networks.


What I love about OpenIDEO is that it is a forum that encourages global insight sharing, informed analysis, raw creativity, and constructive criticism. Seeds of ideas can be planted on OpenIDEO, like Pop Up Bus and Innovation Centre, and the seeds flourish through vibrant community collaboration. My greatest a-ha moment with Pop Up Bus was when I read Alex’s Innovation Centre idea for the first time and realized that our visions aligned. I was both excited and awed that he had built out a team of young, bright Community Pathfinders who had pooled their personal resources to kickstart a training project for local youth. A wealth of additional insights from around the globe have fueled further exploration which our team is thankful for, like Meena Kadri’s suggestion of incorporating video stories from each community a Pop Up Bus stops in, to 1.) help draw points of commonality between youth struggles, and 2.) that transcend and explain cultural differences.
We have received words of support that encourage us from around the globe saying that Pop Up Buses and Innovation Centres will work in local communities, along with recommendations of how training should be implemented within specific communities.  
One assumption that our team is working through is that a sustainable business model would be easier to diagnose. Wekesa Zablon forwarded an article written by someone who is trying to sustain a pop up hub (Innovation Centre) in a developing country using the idea of cross-subsidy, meaning that a secondary service offered by Pop Up Bus would sustain free youth education. This sparked a discussion between Rehmah Kasule and I on potential secondary product/service offerings. Because Alex and his team of Pathfinders’ are versed in health and nutrition, Rehmah suggested that Alex provide a health and nutrition (fee required) service to the local community in order to supplement (free) youth training. This is one example of global collaboration that has been inspirational.
My takeaways from this challenge are invaluable learning experiences from pushing myself to constantly think out of the box in order to build a sustainable business plan with my team. And, even greater still, I have a new set of global, professional friendships.


Pop Up Bus and Innovation Centre have personally impacted me. I am rooting for Alex that his Innovation Centre will launch successfully and that, together, we can brainstorm a sustainable business plan for him and his team due to this OpenIDEO challenge. I am thrilled, energized, and humbled to see active discussion going on between Alex and his team about Pop Up Bus and Innovation Centre through Alex’s video recordings of his team’s meetings and pilot progress. Wekesa Zablon has shared excited feedback from his community in Kenya about the potential that Pop Up Bus and Innovation Centre can bring to local communities. There has been an outpouring from around the world of enthusiasm around the project’s potential. This inspires us daily.


Phase I–Business Model, Brand, and Pilot:
As a joint team, our first goal is to focus on providing sustainable, global, cost effective Innovation Centres that enable youth to gain 21st century skills that will propel youth into careers of their choice. The sustainable business model we are currently drafting revolves around providing social change interventions for community development via healthcare. Our intention is to develop a change package that adapts to different cultures and geographic locations. This will take some time. Therefore, our plan is to test our prototype and theories in Uganda first. Then we will accelerate the process of sharing documentation and lessons learned after we conduct the pilot.

We are also working on our brand. Feedback we're receiving from Uganda is that Pop Up Buses are a critical part of the project. The consensus is that buses are an essential marketing tool, as much as they are a potentially powerful learning tool. We are determining costs associated with, and feasibility of, developing bus specific marketing campaigns.
Phase II–Determine How Buses will Play a Part:
Exploring the Pop Up Bus idea further occurs in Phase II. We have received such enthusiastic feedback from around the globe about bus integration, that we wish to determine viable use cases for buses.
Alex’s Next Steps for the Pilot include:
  1. Renting a house to serve as office space for the Innovation Centre and Pop Up Bus
  2. Signing a MOU with Kyambogo University to work with students there
  3. Signing a MoU with CEDA International and other agencies to host the students
  4. Recruiting students to the centre
  5. Starting the program within the centre with thirty students and eight coaches/mentors. 

Our Team's High Level Next Steps include:
  1. Supporting Alex as he runs our pilot in Uganda
  2. Continuing to build out and test healthcare related business models–with the primary goal of creating a sustainable Innovation Centre for Alex and his team of Community Pathfinders in Uganda
  3. Testing our business model to see if it will scale
  4. Determining a proposed budget for Alex’s Innovation Centre in Uganda
  5. Creating documentation explaining lessons learned during the pilot and documentation for potential investors
  6. Reaching out to potential partners who can share advice and resources


Anyone who has ideas that complement Innovation Centre and Pop Up Bus, please share your global perspectives, ideas/suggestions, experiences, and resources so that we can implement the idea for greater social impact. All volunteers with the needed skills and knowledge such as youth financial literacy training, leadership, communication, business, product/service design, mentorship, etc, are welcome to support the Innovation Centre. Savvy business minds, we would love your inputs on scaling our business model ideas. Lastly, our team seeks funding for kickstarting Alex’s Innovation Centre in Uganda. At this point, Alex and his young team of Community Pathfinders have pooled together their personal resources to try to get the project off the ground. They have rented a space and have tables, but they lack chairs and basic office supplies. Please reach out directly to Alex if you are interested in exploring funding opportunities:

Icons in illustration from Nounproject:
"Bus" icon by Ilsur Aptukov, "Motorboat" by 1982, "Teacher" icon by Musavvir Ahmed
, "Woman" icon by Simon Child

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Thanks to OpenIDEO and Indiegogo who selected Innovation Centre selected as part of the 5 entrepreneurs from a pool of 50 winners from previous OpenIDEO challenges. Now, the centre needs your help to raise $ 9,000 to support youth mentorship that will allow us to ensure that the first youth for youth social innovation center in Kampala. Uganda thrives and creates lifelong change in the lives of 100's of smart youth. We have six weeks to reach our goal. To support please follow this link:

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