on November 22nd, 2023

In the dynamic intersection of academia and entrepreneurship, Uganda resident, Richard Data is currently immersed in a Doctor of Engineering (Civil and Structural Engineering). 

This academic journey is paralleled by his role as CEO of Abudiwe Group of Companies Limited, founded in 2019 with a vision to provide water and sanitation solutions for low-income communities in Africa.  

Q & A with Richard Data on: Engineering, Sustainability, and Business Leadership 

Richard Data, Abudiwe Group CEO

What field of engineering are you pursuing in your doctorate?  

I am currently pursuing a Doctor of Engineering (Civil and Structural Engineering) with EIT.

I am very passionate about environmental conservation and sustainability which is why my research topic is the development of a framework for sustainable management of surface runoff in growing urban cities/centers in Africa.  

I am aiming to contribute to the responsible and eco-friendly development of urban infrastructure in the region.

How did your education in civil and structural engineering prepare you for your current doctoral studies in engineering? 

Over the years I have been involved in infrastructure development projects and I have been involved in responding to emergencies caused by floods.  

I have noticed that most of these floods are a result of climate change and poor planning. During my Bachelor of Science (Civil and Structural Engineering), I was developing a drainage system for a residential complex, I observed significant volumes of runoff water originating from the compound.  

If left unaddressed, this could potentially exert a cumulative impact, potentially overwhelming the current drainage infrastructure. This is what influenced me to do further research to help cities manage runoff water sustainably.  

Can you give us a brief synopsis of your company?  

Abudiwe Group of Companies Limited is a limited liability company that originated in 2019 in Uganda, Africa.  

Abudiwe Group was established by my wife, Mrs. Jolly Aliya Milly, and me to achieve our childhood dreams of creating solutions for low-income communities, conserving the environment for future generations, and supporting the most vulnerable in the community. 

Our vision is to create a built environment that can sustain the current and future needs of low-income communities in Africa.  

We are currently focused on the construction of water supply infrastructure, drainage distribution and installation of water treatment equipment and supplies, distribution and installation of water pumps, water quality monitoring, and distribution of water quality testing equipment and consumables.  

Our upcoming projects include environmental sanitation, drainage, wastewater treatment, and irrigation. 

We also provide opportunities for graduate engineers for internship and mentorship programs so that they are better prepared for the job market, professionally. Our current project engineer started as an intern at Abudiwe Group. 

As the CEO of your own company, what challenges have you faced in balancing your academic pursuits with your entrepreneurial responsibilities? 

Since I have a regular job with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) as an Emergency Response Team Country Director, I have to balance my time for Abudiwe Group. The General Manager, my wife, consults me when there are critical decisions to be made.  

However, my weekends are usually reserved for my studies and assignments. The good news is that EIT provides for all circumstances e.g., I can tune into the recorded lecturers, and apply for extensions for assignment submissions when necessary. 

What inspired you to start your own company? Did EIT’s courses contribute to this at all? If yes, how?  

For the last 22 years, I have been involved in the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) sector in multiple countries hence I have observed how low-income communities have struggled to have access to safe water and sanitation solutions exposing them to water-related diseases.  

I have also invested my time in research using skills that I gained from EIT to identify solutions that are affordable and sustainable for low-income communities. These findings have influenced some of my business ideas on water supply, sanitation, and drainage. 

Moreover, studying through EIT has helped me design infrastructure using engineering codes, plan, manage, cost projects, manage teams, consider environmental sustainability in my designs, and adhere to safety standards.  

My studies at EIT have also improved my writing and communication skills. I am now knowledgeable and experienced in preparing reports, presentations, and networking.  

In what ways has your background in civil and structural engineering informed your company’s work and products/services? 

My civil and structural engineering background has shaped the choices of projects that Abudiwe Group undertakes.  

My studies exposed me to sustainable development and most importantly climate change and the impact of infrastructure development. Therefore, most of Abudiwe Group’s projects are related to environmental sustainability and climate change.  

At the IRC, the projects that I have been responsible for have also been designed to meet standards. I have been involved in the construction, water and sanitation facilities, waste management in health facilities, and isolation facilities during cholera, ebola, and COVID-19 outbreaks. 

How do you manage the dynamics of being a student, researcher, and business leader all at the same time? Any time management tips to share? 

Being a global humanitarian worker, I travel a lot and interact with many people that I always learn from and improve my skills as a humanitarian worker and as a business leader. As a researcher, my travels also expose me to various contexts of engineering and some of the challenges people are facing that need engineering solutions. 

My long-term ambition is to own a successful business to utilize my engineering and leadership skills. I would also like to share my experience with upcoming engineers by providing mentorship and teaching at EIT [one day]. Hence, I have that in mind in my day-to-day work and long-term planning. 

To manage all these competing priorities, I always remain mindful of both short-term and long-term objectives, I adhere to a structured approach to managing my responsibilities.  

I also maintain a meticulously organized list of priorities and deadlines that guide my daily and monthly activities. By crafting and adhering to a well-organized schedule, I minimize disruptions, which allows for a focused and efficient work environment.  

Moreover, financial discipline is a cornerstone of my approach, ensuring the ability to meet educational expenses and support my business endeavors. I prioritize maintaining a healthy work-life balance, recognizing its significance in sustaining motivation and physical well-being.  

Through these intentional practices, I strive to achieve a harmonious integration of my personal and professional pursuits. 

Can you highlight a project or accomplishment from your company that you are particularly proud of and that demonstrates the synergy between your academic and entrepreneurial endeavors? 

There are many companies that construct hand-dug wells for farms and households. The construction process has been unsafe, and many accidents have happened during the digging of the wells due to collapsing soil. Companies also use guesswork to site the wells, hence the chances of getting water are unpredictable.  

Abudiwe Group has now developed a model that uses concrete rings for lining the wells and these have been designed to allow water to infiltrate, minimize contamination, and protect the well diggers during construction.  

We also conduct pumping tests, and water quality tests, we also designed a water pumping system and a water distribution network. We also use advanced water prospecting equipment that gives up to 90% of where and how deep we can attain water.  

All our wells constructed are successful with yields greater than 500 liters/hour. Our approach is currently helping low-income communities to access safe water for domestic use and farming.  

Secondly at the IRC, I used my civil and structural engineering skills to develop guidelines and designs that were used to construct triage, isolation facilities, and waste management facilities in health facilities. These facilities were designed with consideration for infection, prevention, and control to minimize the spread of diseases among patients, caregivers, and healthcare workers. Therefore, I am glad the knowledge that I gained from EIT was utilized to save lives during such outbreaks. 

What advice would you give to aspiring engineers who want to follow a similar path of pursuing advanced degrees while running their own businesses? 

To aspiring engineers, I recommend institutions like EIT, which offer flexible learning to balance studies and work.  

Utilize platforms like Moodle for remote lectures and labs. Surround yourself with a competent team to manage your business, allowing you to handle studies and work simultaneously.  

Start a business aligned with your expertise, but conduct thorough research and identify a niche before diving in.  

Efficiently manage time and finances for success in both academics and business. And, lastly, consider research projects as potential business opportunities; my focus on urban infrastructure at EIT aligns with my business pursuits. 

How has your academic journey and entrepreneurial experience shaped your perspective on the engineering field and the challenges it faces today? 

My studies have taught me that engineers can be good managers and entrepreneurs as well. That is why, besides being an engineer, I have put emphasis on how to manage projects, communicate well, network, and conduct research. I am also more conscious about the environment which is why all  the projects that I am involved in at my place of work and business must reduce the negative impacts on the environment. 

Looking into the future, what are your long-term goals and aspirations for your company and your contributions to the field of engineering as a whole? 

My goal is to become a Chartered Civil and Structural Engineer who will be involved in research and providing practical solutions to engineering problems, mentoring young engineers in the field, supervising research projects, and teaching at EIT, given my skills and experience. 

I love how teaching is done at the EIT, this will allow me to run my business and still teach at EIT. 

For Abudiwe Group, I would like to expand the company to reach more Countries in Africa and offer internship opportunities for university and vocational school students.  

I am a former refugee, and my home country, Uganda, currently hosts the highest number of refugees in Africa. Therefore, besides providing internship opportunities to Ugandans, I would like to make sure Abudiwe Group does the same to refugee students in and around Africa so that these people are better skilled when they return to their home countries.  

Engineering Institute of Technology