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girlsinsouthafrica
From June 24 through July 5 2019, Vodacom initiated its Code Like a Girl program in South Africa. In South Africa 70 girls were provided with the opportunity to take classes in engineering, math and coding. While one purpose of the communications company’s program was to narrow the gender gap, it means more for the country as a whole; it means the chance for sustainable jobs and prepares South Africa for the industrial revolution affecting all developing countries.

Early Stages of Code Like a Girl

Vodacom is a company based mainly in South Africa and nearby countries that is focused on mobile communications. It manages phones and data much like other companies, such as Verizon and Sprint, but on a more local scale. Even back in 2018, the company made plans to offer science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects to girls in different provinces and hopefully spark an interest in these courses.

The inspiration for this plan derived from a lack of female participation in STEM courses because only 35 percent of girls pursued any kind of career in these fields. Women are also underrepresented in STEM careers, as most of them are male-dominated.

Steven Barnwell, an executive manager for Vodacom, commented that while this career gap is beginning to close globally, “in many countries, including South Africa, the gap is widening in STEM careers.” Girls in South Africa with the backing of Vodacom’s coding program might be encouraged to pursue these daunting careers, now equipped with the know-how to prosper.

Initiating the Initiative

Phoenix, a township in South Africa, documented the course of the Code Like a Girl initiative in its local news. Managing executive Chris Lazarus detailed the process and how the girls chosen benefitted.

Firstly, 70 girls in the province of KwaZulu Natal, ages 14 through 18, had been selected to learn code. They were also advised to study communications as well as science and technology subjects. Participating in both STEM subjects and Vodacom’s initiative would foster problem solving and creative thinking.

Throughout the one-week course, the girls in South Africa learned the language of the computer and how to operate programs for developers such as GitHub and JavaScript. Finally, at the end of the week, each girl presented a website she developed by herself.

Lazarus proposed that providing coding skills allows girls to thrive in the transition to a technologically developed nation, saying “we aim to have young girls excel in the fourth industrial revolution. Through our project, we want a future free of the gender inequality, more so when it comes to jobs of the future.”

Looking at the Other Benefits

Currently, South Africa boasts one of the highest information, communications and technology (ICT) markets in Africa. ICT products and service cultivates in the markets. IT jobs, therefore, are currently sought after as the economy begins to focus on its thriving industry. Girls in South Africa pursuing coding now have the opportunity to jump into the influx of jobs, securing a sustaining and well-paying future.

While the economy prospers, 30.4 million citizens still remain in poverty. Nearly half of South Africa’s black females live below the poverty threshold, and many schools remain under-resourced. However, with Code Like a Girl spreading across provinces, girls living in poverty are presented with a unique opportunity and education when the program reaches their school. A gap then not only lessens between gender, but economic class as well.

South Africa is also on the brink of a digital revolution. Communities still remain in the process of transitioning to cellphones and schools are adopting technology in their classrooms, requiring both teachers and students to adapt. Girls inspired by Vodacom’s program may find themselves with an edge, already accustomed to the confusing languages of technology while the rest of society is still getting used to it.

Matimba Mbungela, Vodacom’s Chief Officer of Human Resources, commented to ITWeb Africa in regards to the students’ situation, saying, “it [is] necessary for us as the country’s leading digital telco to take it upon ourselves and launch this initiative to prepare young females, so they can adapt skills of the future and contribute in taking our economy forward.”

Inspired by ‘Code Like a Girl,’ girls in South Africa will find a unique position in society amidst the ever-changing world of technology.

– Daniel Bertetti
Photo: Flickr

zonal_champions
Despite advances in advertising in recent years, word of mouth is still considered by many marketing experts to be the best form of advertisement. As businesses look to increase their presence in South Africa, word of mouth publicity could be the key to appealing to otherwise unreachable demographics.

Zonal champions, as they are called by marketing agency Creative Counsel, are human advertisements. They are members of local communities who are employed to represent a brand and promote appropriate products during their everyday conversations. The potential consumers are able to freely question zonal champions about the products, allowing for all curiosities to be satisfied before a purchase is made.

Nontando Vena, a zonal champion for South African mobile phone company Vodacom, says she doesn’t have conventional work hours. Instead, she promotes the brand “24/7, 365,” and members of her community occasionally refer to her as “Miss Vodacom.”

The merits of zonal champions are numerous for both the customers and the providers. For businesses, zonal champions are able to reach rural parts of Africa that traditional advertisements are unable to. Upwards of 550 million people are without electricity in Africa, which represents a massive untapped market for businesses to sell products. A zonal champion only needs two to four days to be properly trained, and they can continuously reach rural customers on a daily basis.

South African consumers are more welcoming of zonal champions than they would be of commercials and billboards. Consumers are more trusting of a friend or family member than they are of an advertisement, and this is especially true in South Africa. Zonal champions are able to give a familiar face to otherwise detached companies, which let consumers feel more comfortable with new brand names.

Economically, zonal champions are also beneficial to the many rural consumers who are forced to be judicious with their income. While the income of South Africans has risen by upwards of 170% in the past decade, the average annual income is still about $6,258. As a result, South African consumers are extremely hesitant to invest in products they are unfamiliar with. By answering questions and recommending products, zonal champions are able to engage local citizens and let them know if the product being offered will meet their needs.

In addition to the benefits for businesses and consumers, the zonal champions themselves are able to benefit from this unique form of employment. Unemployment in South Africa remains very high, with up to 24% of citizens without work. Many of these people have no access to education, and therefore are considered “unemployable.” There are no prerequisites to become a zonal champion, and the work itself primarily involves being present in a community. This allows a new opportunity for these “unemployable” citizens to find work and curb the harsh unemployment rate in the process.

Africa’s economy is among the fastest growing in the world now, and international businesses are starting to take notice. President Obama’s recent trip to Africa highlights the continent’s growing relevance in the global economy, and zonal champions will surely play a large role in growing markets in these once impoverished parts of the country. With the numerous advancements in technology and advertising in recent years, zonal champions prove that old fashioned conversation is still as relevant as ever.

– Timothy Monbleau
Sources: Linkedin, How We Made It In Africa, CNN, Creative Counsel, BBC, Google Currency Conversion, World Bank, Vodacom
Photo: Riger Jabber

 

M-Pesa
Here in the U.S., cell phone apps such as ‘Venmo’ that allow simple and quick money transfers have revolutionized the way we exchange money. However, with mobile banking as well as Venmo-like apps, they require all users to actually have a bank account. While speed and efficiency are a huge pro about these apps, they, as they are, wouldn’t necessarily be as successful a venture in the developing world.

M-Pesa (meaning mobile ‘money’ in Swahili) has grown to be the most successful mobile financial service in the developing world. Started in 2007, the company’s main goal wasn’t necessarily convenience but had the more objective of creating an app that people without bank accounts can use. Bank accounts usually must maintain a minimum balance or have other requirements many people living in developing areas just cannot meet.

M-Pesa users only need two out of three things: a mobile phone and an ID card or passport. With these in hand, they can do numerous things just from their phone: deposit and withdraw money, transfer between different accounts (even to those without an M-Pesa account), manage their transactions, pay their bills, and even purchase mobile minutes. With about 1 in 5 sub-Saharan Africans actually having a bank account, M-Pesa opens up an entire world for people to exchange money freely without being tied down to a bank.

The company manages an individual’s account through their phone number. As part of Safaricom’s and vodacom’s networks (service operators in Kenya and Tanzania: think Verizon or AT&T), only those who receive their service through these companies can take advantage of the system. Once money is transferred, users can cash out at various retail outlets or stores that normally sell cellphone minutes.

M-Pesa was initially created to help the transfer of funds for people receiving microfinanced loans because it helped keep rates down, as it cut out the direct contact with money. Now, it operates in 5 countries including Afghanistan, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, and India. It reaches 15 million users in Kenya alone. 

– Deena Dulgerian

Sources: Co.Exist, Wikipedia
Photo: Hapa Kenya