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August 24, 2021

Empowering communities, one computer at a time

For equality to be achieved, there first needs to be equity. Giving everyone the same opportunities to learn, grow and achieve economic freedom will not result in the same outcome for everyone.

The needs of an individual must be met with that individual’s specific circumstances in mind. That is the approach of Social Coding, a not-for-profit focussed on digitally empowering youth between the ages of 7-34 to ensure that they can access economic opportunities that can uplift them out of poverty.

Meeting people where they’re at

“When you engage with communities, you have to meet them at the point of their needs, not yours,” says Social Coding Founder, Thembi Magajana, who started the NPO in 2016 to help more young black women become interested in coding as a career.

What started as a few young girls learning to code together has exploded into a network of digital literacy projects that spans four provinces and serves over 5833 beneficiaries. When the project began to scale, Thembi and her team quickly realised that teaching young people to code entailed much more than just Googling things on the weekend.

“The digital divide has left people marginalised,” she highlights. “You find that a lot of rural kids lag behind before they even get to university, because it’s usually the first time they see a computer. They’ve never had the exposure or experience before.”

Philanthropy with impact

Addressing this digital divide is a herculean task for one team to tackle, that’s why corporate sponsors who value intentional and results-driven philanthropy have partnered with Social Coding to make a tangible impact.

One of these partners is local software development company, Boxfusion, which has assisted in the funding of various pilot projects initiated by Social Coding. “Boxfusion has funded a lot of our crazy ideas and have put capital into every small project we’ve piloted,” notes Thembi.

The current project Social Coding is rolling out entails giving rural children “real place” work experience using virtual headsets.  “A lot of young adults that we work with have never left their village before. So, you can’t expect them to go into the corporate field and immediately be able to empathise with clients or an employer because they’ve never been in that position.”

“Using funding from Boxfusion, Social Coding will be able to allow these rural children to virtually “walk a mile in someone’s shoes” without ever leaving their environment,”

Creating a pipeline from village to varsity

Ensuring sustainable change goes beyond just digital literacy. Once children know how to code and understand how to use computers, they move onto high school, where they choose subjects that dictate what their future careers will be.

Social coding encourages children in their programme to follow traditional STEM subjects, with much success. “In 2019, we had 150 kids across the board that picked maths and science. What was interesting was of that number, 45 had previously been failing maths before joining our programme.”

From high school, these kids then need access to the same opportunities as their counterparts in affluent areas. “What happens after school when our kids are competing for scholarships with kids that write essay pages in perfect English? Our job is to ensure that we can provide scholarships that these kids have access to. And this is an important part of sustainability, direct access to scholarships.”

From there these young adults have the opportunity to take up internships at partner companies like Boxfusion. “It’s about exposing rural talent and ensuring that there’s a pipeline from the village to the urban areas.”

Beyond education

But addressing the digital divide doesn’t stop with schoolchildren. “We’ve expanded outside of our Junior Pioneers Program, and we’ve gone into entrepreneurship. The model basically is, how do you come into a rural community, identify what technological tools will help either the person or the business, and provide that tool for them.”

In some cases, this has involved partnering with online payment platform, Yoco, which allows rural shop owners to go cashless in the age of COVID. In other instances, Social Coding has partnered with the University of Pretoria to provide small scale farmers with a digital diagnostic tool that allows them to determine if there is disease before the entire crop fails. “These people want to do better. They want to scale not only for themselves, but for their families,” adds Thembi.

Small transformation, big impact

Starting with just a small group of young girls who were interested in coding, and scaling to create transformative impact in rural areas across South Africa is an impressive feat. But what matters most about Social Coding is the small stuff. Starting with individuals, like a ripple in water, and following their trajectory from school to varsity and the workplace allows this not-for-profit to create a long-lasting change to the digital landscape of South Africa.