When Jimmy Sekhonyane looks at the disadvantaged communities in Orange Farm, South Africa, he replaces the problems he sees in front of him with a vision of the future that promises people more than just a spark of hope. As manager of the Orange Farm Skills Centre, Sekhonyane helps bring Internet access and training to people. As an entrepreneur in training, he plans to open a learning academy providing business and IT courses to youths that desperately need better options.
“I don’t see unemployment. I see unskilled people. This is an impoverished community and skills empower people. Skills give them options to enhance their careers, start businesses, and change their lives,” says Sekhonyane.
To fully understand the incredible spirit behind Sekhonyane’s vision, it’s necessary to comprehend the extreme challenges faced by disadvantaged communities in South Africa. While the country has a 20% Internet penetration rate overall, it’s much lower in rural communities, where school dropout rates and unemployment are high, and less than 2% of households own a computer.
Bringing the Internet to rural South Africa
The Orange Farm Centre is part of a network operated by the Siyafunda CTC Centres that provides affordable Internet and e-mail access and technology training to these communities. With funding and hands-on support from founding partner SAP, Siyafunda CTC has opened 50 community knowledge centers, reaching thousands of people — youths, the unemployed, women, people with disabilities — in search of a better future. For many, the centers offer them the first access they’ve ever had to a computer and the Internet.
Ahmed Ismael, founding Director at Siyafunda CTC, emphasizes the difference this training can make. “If not for these programs, these youths would be hungry and hanging around on street corners, or turning to a life of crime,” he says. “We’re helping create a community where they learn they can do things for themselves, and not just depend on hand-outs, to make a better life.”
Sekhonyane knows this first-hand. He began as a trainee with Siyafunda CTC, became manager of the Orange Farm Skill Centre, and was subsequently nominated for the Awethu Talent Identification program. This entrepreneurial incubator has given him financial, marketing, and sales skills to realize his dream of opening a learning academy in his community. Following an intensive six-month training program in business skills, Sekhonyane will have access to Siyafunda CTC’s considerable network of businesses and government that are potential sources of support. He had already received a donation of IT equipment from SAP.
“I wouldn’t be an entrepreneur without Siyafunda. The program has empowered me to be comfortable and confident that I can actually start my own business,” says Sekhonyane. He especially values the opportunities that Siyafunda CTC offers through its deep ties to the business community and government agencies. “You need to work with people able to support your vision. For that to happen you have to have networks with connections to put you through to the right people.”
Sekhonyane plans to continue managing the Orange Farms Skill Centre, as well as open his academy. The curriculum will include entry-level to advanced courses in business areas such as financial management, marketing, public relations, and IT.
Public-private partnerships for sustainable businesses
Siyafunda has also partnered with institutions of higher learning, most notably the University of Johannesburg. The Out of School Youth Entrepreneurial program is a virtual training program that guides actual entrepreneurs through the process of business development creation through launch. Participants have access to mentors, potential funding sources, and other entrepreneurs.
Susan Steinman, Director in the Faculty of Management at the University of Johannesburg, believes Siyafunda CTC is an ideal partner to bring the University of Johannesburg closer to communities throughout South Africa. “It is very important for social cohesion to have a presence in disadvantaged communities, and to make the University of Johannesburg and in particular, its Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Social Economy, part of people’s lives,” she explains.
Enrollment is up this year, and Steinman considers the program a prime example of public-private partnerships that reflect the University of Johannesburg’s mission statement: inspiring its community to transform and serve humanity through innovation and the collaborative pursuit of knowledge. “Together, we’re serving underprivileged communities in a unique way, bringing knowledge to their doorsteps. We’re opening doors that make a huge difference in the lives of the poor and disempowered,” says Steinman.