- To the freshman who is Dr. Kevit Desai?
K: I could describe myself as a partner and friend to the engineering community in Kenya. Since 2000 and a little bit prior to that, I have been promoting innovation amongst the youth through the Engineering Exhibition and I felt that there was a lot of capability in our youth that I had seen in some remarkable projects. Of course, when I started there were only 13 projects that turned up because primarily students didn’t have confidence in the private sector, though last year we had 134 projects that turned up. So far, there has been enormous growth and interest in this initiative as far as trying to promote innovations which emanate from the youth. As a result of engineering exhibitions, we have as a partner and friend changed the landscape of engineering in country, we have introduced various initiatives like I-club, Sambaza, the ICT board etc, all this emanated somewhere through the engineering students exhibitions. So the partnership has produced an enormous amount of capability today and we see that the nation is interested in pioneering and modernizing new industries including incorporating latest computer technologies as well as trying to be the centre of excellence for manufacturing.
- Everybody out there especially in the engineering community who has heard about you is wondering, what does your educational and professional background look like?
I hold an undergraduate degree in electrical electronic and computer engineering. Coupled with that is a PhD. in robotics (systems engineering) from Tokyo, Japan. In a very early stage in University I focused on three key areas, a background in professionalism which ensured and saw me working at organizations like Toyota, starting Centurion Systems, some 15 years ago, promoting innovation, and being on various boards in education like the Commission of Higher Education, council of the University of Nairobi, South Eastern University College and USIU. I have been instrumental in various initiatives like the national strategy for University Education, the Science Technology innovation bill, am current chairing the policy on financing University Education. The professional background was also informed and connected and integrated with the leadership background where I was the chairman for the Institution of Electrical and Electronic Engineering (IEEE) for several years and subsequently was re-elected last year. I have been pioneering the engineering exhibitions amongst other initiatives like the linkage of industry with Academia concerned. I have done various initiatives as far a social responsibility is concerned; primarily mentoring the youth and helping them appreciate innovation. Aspects of my leadership within the Kenya Private Sector Alliance where I helped create linkages between government and the private sector, and to engage in policy legislation, regulation with ability to reach all these areas as far as the business environment is concerned. My primary theme has always been leadership, professionalism and social responsibility. This is my make up, it is my main attribute.
- As you have been moving up the ladder, you must have met various challenges and successes along the way, could you tell us something about the challenges and successes?
The tasks that I have taken up have always been enormous e.g. creating a linkage between academia and industry. It is a monumental task and I could say that 2 have seen various successes and failures, but all in all, I think that is all part of working progress, and when you are aiming for big impact in society, like trying to create a culture of innovation or initiate a process where government and private sector can speak to each other for the first time. There are small failures and small successes but I can say that in overall, it has been a very successful journey and I have been satisfied all along the way because I have surrounded myself and I have been lucky to have good partners and good individuals who have also seen a common vision in trying to promote development.
- What really drives you? What makes you wake up each morning to hit untrodden ground for the past 40 years in the country?
I think its something common in each of us ability and an environment which liberates you to engage in life and to design, to develop technology, to play a role in the environment and to find that I managed to see that as liberating and as a result, on a day to day basis, I get inspiration to engage in many different activities which don’t deter me. I feel that where I can contribute to definitely contribute.
- You have a passion with improving the engineering sector.
I have a responsibility and also a quick regard for engineering because, as a young boy I grew up into the engineering community. I was fascinated by engineering. But of course one has to balance between having self-interest and also ensuring that you contribute to an environment. I think I have done so and done very well with myself and going ahead, to want to do a lot more and subsequently a lot more for the environment of engineering.
- What do you think about the engineering curriculum in the country?
I think, before we address whether the curriculum is up to date, we need to understand the country; objectives, mission and opportunities. As a young graduate, we have got to appreciate that Kenya is on the move, that we have a common vision, called vision 2030 which specifically states that we need to focus on certain sectors like tourism, industry etc. And this could inform any young person that the government and the private sector are committed to enhancing their investment, even in realization of the fact that we have a highly populated region of about 150 million people in the East Africa region. This indicates to you that technology will be with us in a very profound way because technology informs the sustainability and transformation of any organization today. So it is a given fact that technology is going to be with us and it is going to be a very big part of our life and in increasingly larger penetration in the success of anything that we do. Having understood that, and if you look quite closely at technology, you see that it is unique and just as it is exciting, it is extremely challenging because it is continuous dynamism. We also need to see that our environment is unique, this is not Germany and it’s not England. So there is space to tropicalise or enhance its applications and capabilities so that there is a direct value addition to transformational sustainability of its organizations. This is all a macro environment, so basically it tells you that it’s an opportunity to understand and appreciate technology to its maximum. There is a genuine requirement for alignment of the typical general education being offered through our curriculum. There is a genuine requirement for enrichment of how practical work is carried out, how theory is done etc. But quite typically, every single country in the world has its own challenges as far educational system is concerned. Another way of approaching the same kind of problem and see how we can actually mitigate the challenges of not having appropriate education is to meet the private sector expectations. What we are calling for is a network of training providers like centurion to address this deficiency. For example we have a training kit which is based on an existing technology in industry. The purpose of the kit is to provide confidence and relevance. But it is based on a theoretical knowledge which is gained from university and a liberal knowledge and so we find that as an engineer you are constantly retrained to meet industry expectation. For example am about to leave to the United Kingdom to do a course on the latest generation of x-rays scanners. This is to help me familiarize myself with the equipment because I will engage on a practical basis, because I will be familiar with the technical details like the model numbers, capability of the equipment and hence I can repair it. This helps interface directly with the industry, just like what we do in Centurion Systems.
- Why the name Centurion?
Centurion essentially means leader of a hundred technologies. This is derived from the Romans, which meant a general of 100 Army men. Centurion Systems Ltd is a training institution for both university students and corporates. It is affordable in the sense that you get value for your money, with 90 percent of the training involving practicals and its application in the industry. This is geared to ensure that the person improves his revenue and the revenue of the company as well as gaining respect in the industry.
- What makes Centurion stand out from the rest of the capacity building and training institutions?
This is because centurion is not like any other training system. We are the pioneers and we have a passion to extend the life of technology. We help the trainees to internalize and give immediate solutions in avionics, industrial environment, and biomedical systems in a mission that is mission critical. Secondly, we have advanced technology and provide solutions. We train the corporate which helps us earn respect of the corporate professionals. We have the latest technology and we help maintain technology too. We are also the best facilitated engineering systems in Kenya and have the best technics of knowledge transfer in Kenya
- You are an authority and you do bear huge responsibility as stated earlier. Am curious, how do you manage all these responsibilities?
My aim is to add value to industrial engineering through the use of creativity and experience. In the process I enjoy all these things with the larger picture in mind. This is informed by a huge passion for development which has seen a lot of success. At the same time, a lot of input has seen prosperity and competitive progress of the nation. This has had a lot of fruition although there is still room for growth. Furthermore, I have engaged in innovation in Kenya and East Africa which has led to recognition and celebration of talent in the region. What I can say is that am always satisfied with the progress and much more is on the offing. Watch this space.
- Engineering and vision 2030. What do you think? Are we on the right path? Are training institutions like Centurion systems setting us on the right path?
Vision 2030 demands macro environment as well as policies to be achieved. These must be handed down in a smooth way from regime to regime and it involves many people to be achieved, not just engineers. This ensure that infrastructure, mechanisms and facilities are created and maintained. We should also be competitive as a people and be ready to collaborate with other pillars of vision 2030. Finally, I could say that vision 2030 is good vision that has given us inspiration and hope. We are concerned with Technology and its sustainability and transformation of technology. We do maintain important technologies and engage heavily in research and development which ensures perpetuating to a greater heights