Spatial Engineering gives a lot of freedom, the sky is the limit

Become a high-skilled geospatial professional

I see problems as opportunities.

Text: Michaela Nesvarova, U-Today | Photos: Rikkert Harink

Life hasn’t always been kind to Kisanet Molla, but not even war and personal tragedy have broken her spirit. ‘I see problems as opportunities. I don’t want to be restrained by them, I want to contribute to solutions,’ says the young ITC alumna. Right after acquiring a degree in Spatial Engineering in 2021, she co-founded SEWOB, a start-up using geo-spatial technologies to address the world's wicked problems.

Kisanet Molla was born and raised in Tigray, a northern region of Ethiopia currently at war. She comes from a large family of eight siblings, who lost their mother at a young age. ‘I would be nothing without my family,’ she says repeatedly. Unfortunately, Kisanet hasn’t been able to talk to or see her loved ones in Ethiopia for months. ‘All communications have been cut off due to the war,’ she explains. On top of that, the alumna would not be able to safely return to Tigray. She has been actively advocating for the war in her home country to stop, placing herself in a dangerous position.

The alumna hasn’t given up on her dreams, though. ‘The drive to run my own company has always been there,’ she says. After she had to put her first company Deamat on hold, she is now busy with two new adventures. ‘I started a foundation focused on education and entrepreneurship. It offers young people an opportunity to explore and connect with experienced people in their diverse fields. Among other things, it contains online education for people in Tigray and those directly impacted by the war.'

Together with three other University of Twente graduates, Kisanet is also running SEWOB, Spatial Engineers without Borders. ‘I like to think of us as a taskforce that provides solutions to wicked problems,’ explains the alumna. ‘The idea to start this company came during COVID-19. We were all sent home to sit and wait. And I thought: but this is not what we were trained to do! Spatial Engineers come up with solutions, not just wait for them. I wanted to start a company that uses everything we have been learning in the study programme and came up with the idea of SEWOB. We are empathic social engineers focused on solving complex problems using state-of-the-art geo-spatial technology.’

At the moment, SEWOB mainly aims to support countries with weak planning systems. ‘We are only just beginning, but most of our projects will be related to social problems in developing countries. I’d like SEWOB to be one of the top players and contribute to solving problems of our world, such as food security,’ says Kisanet. ‘I really love being able to work within spatial engineering. The field gives you a lot of freedom to come up with your own creative ideas. The sky is the limit.’

The faculty for Geo-information Science and Earth Observation (ITC), has sub-contracted SEWOB in one of its institutional capacity building projects. The project supports the regional and national governments of Ethiopia in regional planning and development through the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat).

ITC and SEWOB have the expertise to support spatially conscious development. They train and support 80 planners on the job across 10 regions as they re-invent regional planning and development with stakeholders. Particularly now, regional planning is crucial ingredient for peace and stability in a country where regional and national identity are at odds, since this will show regional strengths, interdependencies, and the scenarios for development.

The UN-Habitat is a 7 million US dollar project, and is part of a 600 million US dollar loan from the World Bank to the government of Ethiopia under an Urban Institutional and Infrastructure Development Program. With about 115 million people Ethiopia is the second most populous nation in Africa after Nigeria, and one of the fastest urbanizing countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Rapid urbanization poses challenges as cities struggle to provide infrastructure, services, and jobs. Hence a strategic regional perspective of the roles of settlements, to attract and guide investment, is urgently required.