Given the current state of technology and how quickly the world is changing, it is imperative that all young people have the necessary digital skills in order to compete for jobs in the future. The issue of a lack of tech talent in Africa does exist, though. By 2030, 230 million jobs in sub-Saharan Africa would require some level of digital skills, according to a report by the International Finance Corporation (IFC).
Global businesses have not yet fully benefited from the availability of ICT workers in Africa. The governmental and commercial sectors, NGOs, charitable groups, and businesspeople in Africa must all work together to unlock the potential of connecting African talent with international companies, benefiting both the global economy and African youth. There were approximately 500,000 open information technology (IT) positions in the U.S. alone, but only 50,000 computer science graduates were available to fill them.
Particularly in Lesotho, the public has not yet fully embraced tech-skill labor. Despite the obvious advantages of developing internal digital capabilities, the government finds itself absent from the biggest war for tech talent. Nonetheless, Mamonaheng Koenane’s Impact School is ensuring there are tech talents in the country. Because they would always be playing catch-up to the rest of the world if the gap were not closed, Impact School is providing youths with digital employability skills.
In an interview with the Ouut, Mamonaheng Koenane shared her experience so far as a female founder in Lesotho.
The Ouut: What was the motivation behind Impact School?
Mamonaheng Koenane: So, what happened is that I left Lesotho for boarding school in Ireland. So, the idea was that I’d come back after completing high school, but it never happened like that. However, I always thought of home; I don’t know why. For example, when I was serving as an executive member of the African Union in Ireland, I was still interested in bringing this education back home. I worked a lot more with the education officer when I was always thinking about running programs for African kids. The person who helped me apply to Ireland was a family friend and had a lot of interest in education, so I think maybe that’s where all those motivations came from. I think they played a big role in the decisions I made later on.
The Ouut: How was it when you started Impact School? Having read several reports, I have observed that it is usually not very favorable to start a business in Lesotho compared to its southern counterparts. So what were the challenges that you experienced at first? How did you actually deal with them?
Mamonaheng Koenane: Of course, it has been very challenging. I think our location, being completely landlocked by South Africa, has had its negatives and positives. What about the negatives, then? We get overlooked by external bodies. And it’s kind of like we become a part of South Africa when it suits the situation. And then we are not mentioned when it doesn’t suit. Additionally, we don’t get the needed financial support for programs. When you approach the big tech companies, they point you toward South Africa because most of the headquarters are there. But when you get to South Africa, it is very difficult to access these funds, with several policies being quoted. It is always a struggle. But I also believe that our location also gives us an opportunity to expand the tech ecosystem in Lesotho.
Of course, a lot still needs to be done, and I believe that would include government policies and a great deal of support from the government. Also, local industries such as banks and stakeholders would play a very important role in helping startups achieve their collective goals.
The Ouut: What would you say you love most about your team? How has it been working with them?
Mamonaheng Koenane: First of all, when I started off, I was alone. When we started growing, we brought in 4 tutors (2 for coding and 2 for electronics). And then I am responsible for the robotics part. The electronic tutors are academically and practically qualified, and it’s been great working with them. One thing I can tell you is that computer science curriculums are very outdated here. So what the team ensures is that students are brought into the light of today’s happenings and remain elevated. And actually, one of our tutors here, got good news yesterday that he was announced as the winner of an internship in the UK.
The Ouut: What has it been like working in Lesotho’s tech ecosystem?
Mamonaheng Koenane: When I came back to Lesotho, I hadn’t planned to come back; I was still undecided. And then, in 2017, when I came for holidays, I decided to volunteer at a local primary school. When I was there, I noticed the school’s curriculum was outdated, and they had no computers, not even in the principal’s office. I remember asking students to actually borrow mobile phones from their parents while I provided internet. It is challenging as in most parts of Lesotho, we are still struggling with basic computer skills which arise as a result of a lack of exposure to computer accessories. There is a huge gap and something needs to get done as soon as yesterday.
We received a donation from the European Union, and most of the support has come from outside the country. We have been reaching out to local industries here, and hopefully, there will be a positive response in the short run.
The Ouut: I am aware of the collaboration with Holberton School. Can you tell us what to expect from this collaboration?
Mamonaheng Koenane: If you look at the National Strategic Development Plan, one of the major things that needed to be corrected was the outdated curriculum. We have very outdated curriculums. And now, what that means is that upon graduation, students graduate with their computer science certificates but they can not function as software developers and are usually not employable. So our collaboration with Holberton School is to bridge that skills gap. And so, we are bringing relevant and up-to-date curricula and courses. And with that, we’ve actually signed an agreement with Magellan AI, a recruitment company in Florida, to help our graduates get jobs in the US remotely and across the globe.
In conclusion, Koenane added that the enrollment strategy adopted by Holberton School students is truly professional and only considers specific subjects. In her words: “You know, at the third level here, there will be certain minimum requirements, which include English and other subjects. But with Holberton, our application process only requires students to go online and apply. They are then given access to take our intensive, entrance exam, and once they pass, it does not matter whether they failed English.
Koenane also spoke on the teaching methodology, noting that it was project-based planning so that there were more practical projects.