“It takes an empowered village to raise a child in the digital age” – The story of Africa Code Week #63 #cong19


In 2018, the Africa Code Week project introduced 2.3 million young Africans to coding and digital literacy skills. 37 countries | 63,759 free workshops | 22,999 teachers trained and an almost 50:50 balance between boys and girls taking part. Impressive numbers from an initiative in just its fourth year. Africa Code Week is a powerful example of the incredible possibilities when communities come together to address a pressing social problem. This is their story…

Key Takeaways:

  1.  For community projects to work, they need buy in from all of the key partners. It simply will not work without it.
  2. For community projects to thrive, the communities themselves need to take an active role. It is not enough to simply agree to support it. The reason ACW is continuing to grow and thrive is because the communities are empowered to take an active role. They are creators, not just consumers.
  3. Even a seemingly insurmountable challenge, like radically altering the education systems of an entire continent, are possible.
  4. Sometimes, all it takes is a simple, “I wonder if…”

About Niall McCormick:

Niall is a recovering engineer and now mature medical student at NUI Galway. He co-founded and ran Colmac Robotics, an award winning educational technology business for 4 years before starting a new adventure and beginning a career in healthcare. As part of the Board of the Camden Education Trust, he advises on innovative educational projects taking place in Ireland and around the world. He is interested in too much but emergency medicine, community and education are at the core.

Contacting Niall McCormick:

You can follow Niall on Twitter or send him an email.

By Niall McCormick

“It takes an empowered village to raise a child in the digital age” – this is the mission statement of Africa Code Week, one of the most powerful forces for good that is sweeping across the 2nd largest continent on Earth. Since its inception, the project has introduced over 4 million young Africans to coding and digital literacy skills, gained the admiration and support of 28 African governments and 131 implementation partners and, most importantly, has energised communities across the continent.

So, some background on Africa before we get stuck in:

  • It consists of 54 countries (plus two that are disputed), home to 1.2 billion people.
  • It’s big… really big. At just over 30 million square km, it is bigger than the US, China and Canada combined and almost twice the size of Russia.
  • It’s old… really old. Widely recognised as the origin of humans and the Great Apes.
  • It’s diverse, in every sense of the word. From its geography to its wildlife to its wealth distribution, the continent occupies an entire spectrum on every level.
  • It’s incredibly resource rich, holding huge amounts of the world’s platinum, gold, cobalt, diamonds and uranium. Its richest resource though, is its people.

So how do you a start a mammoth project like this? With a simple, “I wonder if…”. Like many great ideas, this one came from a conversation in Ireland and was between two of the trailblazers of this project, German software company SAP’s Head of Corporate Social Responsibility for EMEA, Claire Gillessen-Duval and the Galway Education Centre’s Bernard Kirk. The EU Code Week project had been running in Ireland and other EU countries for a number of years with the aim of introducing young people to coding and digital literacy skills. In 2014, Ireland had the most number of events of any country in the project, despite our small size. This was achieved by establishing key partnerships between schools, industry and government. Claire, seeing an opportunity, uttered the fateful words “I wonder if we could do that in Africa?”, and so, the Africa Code Week initiative was born.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Ireland has played, and continues to play, a key role in this project. The Camden Trust, an Irish education charity are one of the main partners alongside SAP, Irish embassies across the continent play an active role in facilitating government talks and recently Irish Aid have come on board with the project. Despite what we may sometimes think, we are known and respected the world over as educators, carers and peacekeepers in some of the most deprived parts of the planet. The Irish Defence Forces are the longest continuous serving peacekeepers with the United Nations, currently in their 61st year. Thousands of Irish priests, nuns and brothers are credited with providing education and healthcare for some of the poorest communities in the world throughout the 20th Century. Now, in the 21st Century, we are helping to provide digital missionaries.

In its first year, the plan was simple: Run workshops in 10 African countries where SAP had its offices and introduce 20,000 children to digital literacy skills. The results: 88,763 young people from 17 African countries took part in the more than 3,000 free coding workshops. Clearly, this had huge potential.

Potential is one thing, realisation is quite another. In the first year, the burden of training the trainers or running the workshops fell on a relatively small group of volunteers from SAP’s African and European offices along with representatives from the other key partners at the time including the Galway Education Centre and Cape Town Science Centre. If the project was going to reach its potential, it needed to rethink how this whole thing would work. There were two key missing pieces in the puzzle. If you want to change an education system, you absolutely need government involvement. Africa has 54 governments, each with its own agenda and ideas for how education should be delivered. If you want to inspire communities to actively participate in something, you have to empower them.

It is thought that pre-colonial Africa consisted of up to 10,000 different states. Much of the continent was then colonised by European powers and independence struggles lasted until the very recent past. In anything that you do, you should be very cognisant of history. With the best intentions in the world, you will inevitably set yourself up for failure by failing to acknowledge the past. In the case of Africa Code Week, the focus rightly shifted to community empowerment and ownership. Gaining the approval and involvement of several governments, adopting a train the trainer model and recruiting highly talented educators, ambassadors and community leaders from across the continent has propelled the project into its current position where over 4 million young people have been afforded the opportunity to experience coding and technology, opening up opportunities that were previously unimaginable.

The title of this post is, “It takes an empowered village to raise a child in the digital age”. It perfectly encompasses the mission of Africa Code Week as they continue to push the boundaries on what it possible. It began as a CSR project, an opportunity for one of the world’s biggest companies to give something back to the communities it works in, but it has become so much more than that. It is catapulting communities and education systems into the 21st Century and affording young people a potential future that was simply not an option for them even a few short years ago. Its success is largely down to the inspirational leadership from a core group of people steering the project, who have successfully brought all of the right people to the table and sparked the fire. Without key partner support, government backing and community empowerment, it simply wouldn’t work.

See more on Africa Code Week.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”

Nelson Mandela

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