Ahmed Ismael is fondly called Smiley among his folks in South Africa. I reckon the nick name aptly suits him for the happiness and progress he has been able to bring to the disadvantaged communities of South Africa. Ahmed through his organization Siyafunda ( a Zulu word which means to learn) Community technology Centers has been successful in empowering people from disadvantaged backgrounds to overcome their challenges and use the digital skills learned at the centers to transform their lives. Ahmed founded an organization which has become a platform for over all development of community and it is not just a skill development center. Today,these 120 odd technology centers in South Africa not only offer digital know how but also provides tailor-made solutions for specific communities according to their social challenges. Like, for a community of local street vendors, the technology centers would offer solutions to develop entrepreneurial skills. Ahmed’s award-winning organization partners with various government, international and corporate agencies to uplift the life of disadvantaged in South Africa. Below, you can read our conversation with him:
What inspired you to start Siyafunda Community center?Can you also please explain the concept of the community center?
Ahmed :“The impact of the digital age and e-learning has transformed the world’s access to information and inter-connectedness, making computer competency an essential skill in equipping future leaders and enabling people to participate in the global economy. With a vision to empower, educate and e-connect communities, and make computer literacy and access to an email address available to everyone,Due to our South African historical past of Apartheid, the vast majority of our communities still don’t have access to basic information and communication technologies, which is the internet & e-learning to participate in the economy.
The vision of Siyafunda CTC was to:
“bridge the digital divide”
“bring ICT to the doorstep of the communities”
Empower communities by providing easy access to CTC Centers
Educate communities by providing affordable e-learning CTC Centres
Econnect communities by providing free access to Internet, Technologies
Thus, it will become an enabler for the socio-economic development; job creation and skills development and social networking. Siyafunda CTC enables information and knowledge centres, where people can access Computers, the Internet, and other digital technologies that enable them to gather information, create, learn, and communicate with others while they develop essential digital skills. The focus is on the use of digital technologies to support community, economic, educational, and social development—reducing isolation, bridging the digital divide, promoting health issues, creating economic opportunities, and reaching out to youth.”
I also understand that each of the community center tries to profile the community where it offers it services to provide specify kind of learning. Can you please explain this in details?
Ahmed : “We work with the community to give them access to their information needs and communication.We carry out awareness campaigns on the potential benefits of the Internet. Our organization tries to ensure that key community leaders are involved in campaigns disclosure, because they know what the most appropriate channel is to reach the community (at the same time, also become familiar with the benefits of the internet).
- Obtain the commitment of local government and NGOs towards the project.
- Identify and support local “champions”.
- Making the community involvement in the design, implementation and management of centre.
- Ensure that the community is willing to strive to maintain the centre operational in long-term.
- Ensure participation of all community representatives, including women youth.
- Provide training in information technology and telecommunications provide technical support.
- Ensure the provision and maintenance of progressive resources.
- Provide continuous technical assistance services, systems maintenance, upgrading hardware&software.
- Ensure that local community consultation in relation to the financial infrastructure centre & obtained the commitment of the same (eg, fees, ownership of hardware, salaries of managers of the centre).
- Establish partnerships with local businesses, educational institutions and providers Internet services
What are the kind of challenges you face when you were setting up Siyafunda Community center and what kind of challenges you face today in running the community centers?
Ahmed : “The start-up phase requires a lot of one’s time, energy and financial commitment and yes there are many challenges. I had to make it work. Key ingredients for community service is to be selfless; have passion and drive; take the initiative and don’t wait for things to happen; and one also needs spiritual discipline. Trust and integrity are also vital for a successful partnerships.”
How has been the response to the community centers in rural parts of South Africa?
Ahmed :”We have received very positive response to our work in rural communities especially among women who are mostly oppressed. The expansion into rural communities has been achieved through community partners and the development of social entrepreneurs.
Like,In the Kwa Zulu Natal province, the programmes are run in more than 25 villages in Zululand and in the Limpopo, North West, Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape provinces the centers are managed and run by community partners.”
Would you say that through your organization you could empower the locally disadvantaged community? Can you please narrate an inspiring incident which occurred in any one of your centers?
Ahmed: “I feel happy when people succeed and fulfil their potential and dreams and when they get their graduation. I can tell you about two recent incidents that come to my mind.A grade 11 dropout who attended the basic e-learning for a month managed to improve his learning skills and excelled with a 97 percentage score in his Masters examination. Another story is of a lady who was a cleaner and was assigned to make tea for others at work place, used to attend e-learning classes after work. When she completed her course, her boss promoted her to a job of a Personal Assistant.”
What would be your message to people who want to start a social project?
Ahmed: “One should try to unlock the potential that the Almighty has embedded in every human being. We should try to empower people to do what they want to do.Help people to be creative and productive. Let people learn things they didn’t think they could learn before, and so in a sense it is all about understanding one’s potential.Actually, we have been doing this in some way with our partnerships with NGOs…
- Develop your organisational profile
- Have a simple business plan
- Ensure you are registered with the relevant authorities
- Engage with the communities on your objectives
- Have PASSION
- There will be challenges; DON’T GIVE UP, have FAITH & KEEP AT IT “