“My story begins with my mom’s.” This acknowledgement from Harald Oswin reveals a lot about his motivations and sense of self. Harald has several accomplishments for his age. His anchoring is due to his mother’s commitment to giving him the best education. He attended Waterford Kamhlaba United World College of Southern Africa in Swaziland on a 50% scholarship. Harald’s mother made ends meet through a retail job and sacrificed her annual leave for nearly ten years to earn extra money. From her, he learnt the value of hard work and believing that it’ll open doors. The one thing he’d like to give her in return is the key to open the doors to her dream home one day.
By the time Harald was in his final year of school, he had flourished so much academically and in his role as Chairperson of the Student Representative Council that the school increased his scholarship to a full one and wrote off all the debt he’d accumulated over his school career. He owes a lot to Waterford. Besides awarding him with a full scholarship, they also acknowledged the many late nights he would spend on campus. He would often be working on projects until very late at night and then have to walk five kilometres back home, trudging through fields and a ghetto. After observing his unwavering dedication, the school offered him boarding the following semester.
Harald is the co-founder of Geyserflicker, a company that is set to improve the lives of millions of South Africans by relieving the pressure on our power grid, bringing household electricity bills down and saving us from getting up early in the mornings to flick our geyser switches back on.
Harald had to be at work by 06h00 every morning during his internship at Rocket Internet in Cape Town in 2012. His flatmates told him that the geyser, as the home’s biggest electricity hog, should be kept off as much as possible. This meant that he would have to be up at 04h00 to switch the geyser on and give it time to boil. It frustrated him so much that he even considered hiring someone whose only job would be to stand by the distribution board and flick the switch every morning!
By the time the Foundation’s annual Jamboree took place, he had a slightly more refined solution – a device (not a person) to flick the geyser switch. He received the support he needed to pursue the idea further.
Soon after Jamboree Harald boarded a plane to Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the United States to begin his third semester at Harvard University as a student in Applied Mathematics. He applied for a Harvard scholarship thanks to the encouragement of Mr. John Storer, an inspirational high school teacher, and received his acceptance letter soon after starting at UCT as an Allan Gray Candidate Fellow in 2011. The Harvard scholarship meant that he no longer needed the funding offered by the Foundation, but he chose to remain part of the Fellowship Programme, participating as much as he could albeit remotely. At Harvard he was more motivated than ever to find someone to make the geyser switch device for him.
After crashing many engineering classes in search of such a person, he met Barry McKenna who helped him build the first prototype. Barry is now co-founder of Geyser Flicker. Their business idea was a finalist in the Harvard College Innovation Challenge in 2013 and soon after that, they were offered a Fellowship and seed funding from the New York-based Resolution Project.
This funding allowed Barry and Harald to progress to the next phase of their business: registering their company with two more directors and producing a prototype. Since 2014 they have also had their business incubated at The Innovation Hub in Pretoria as part of the Maxum incubation programme. With all the resources that incubation offers – access to infrastructure, business mentors, legal professionals and venture capitalists – their business ought to be financially viable soon. This will probably happen a lot quicker considering that Harald was acknowledged as the Fastest Moving Green Entrepreneur in the Maxum Programme at the end of 2014.
Harald and Barry also entered The Green City Startup, an entrepreneurship competition held in collaboration with the of Johannesburg’s Challenge Fund. They were selected as one of eight finalists to receive grant capital. This funding is earmarked to help them get their first bulk orders from municipalities. They also stand a chance to be one of two finalists to walk away with R1 million at the end of August.
Another feat Harald is proud of is being the first Candidate Fellow to complete the four-year Fellowship Programme remotely. Unlike South African-based Candidate Fellows, Harald didn’t have access to mentors or dialogue sessions.
Just knowing that there was someone else on campus also putting in the hours to submit ignitions would have been great. But this was a luxury he didn’t have and he chose to do it purely out of passion. In fact, the habit of thinking up solutions for inefficiencies around him (that’s the gist of ignitions) and submitting them on a monthly basis has become such an ingrained habit that Harald still regularly pens down his ignition ideas despite being finished with the Fellowship Programme.
“I think the main way the Foundation has helped me is that it has allowed me to shift my mindset and it has made me more entrepreneurial. I can’t thank them enough for always making me think in an entrepreneurial manner.” He also cites the annual Jamborees as having been a highlight of his yearly calendar and notes that despite being remote for most of his Candidate Fellowship, he never felt any divide whenever he was reunited with the South African cohort of Candidate Fellows.
When asked to explain the significance of being a Candidate Fellow he replies by acknowledging the great responsibility of having had so much invested in you. The only appropriate response would be to live an extraordinary and selfless life, making every effort to bring positive change to South Africa.