Hasso Plattner Founders Award Finalist Profile: Africa Code Week

Africa Code Week brings coding education to hundreds of thousands of youth in 30 countries and demonstrates the power of public, private, and non-profit partnerships.

The evolving digital economy offers some of the greatest opportunities today for improving peoples’ lives. Those with access to these opportunities will be at the forefront of a revolution. SAP’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) team in EMEA recognized this opportunity and asked the question: How can we help ensure that the African continent will be included?

Their answer was Africa Code Week, the 2016 Hasso Plattner Founders’ Award finalist for the Office of the CEO Board Area.

The initiative began in 2014 with a sponsorship of EU Code Week, which taught coding skills to children across Eastern and Western Europe. The concept inspired Claire Gillissen-Duval, director of  CSR in EMEA, who had a strong feeling that something bigger was possible. The CSR EMEA team recognized a unique opportunity. SAP could take coding – something core to the company’s DNA – and combine it with employees’ personal talents to help tackle the looming digital skills gap and massive youth unemployment on the fastest growing continent.

The Hasso Plattner Founders’ Award is the highest employee recognition at SAP, awarded annually by the CEO to an individual or a team.

Finalist Fast Facts

  • Submission Title: “Africa Code Week: Bringing Free Coding Education to Tens of Thousands of Children & Youth in Africa”
  • Board area: Office of the CEO
  • Team: SAP Corporate Social Responsibility EMEA
  • Number of employees: 3
  • Achievement: Brought coding education workshops to 89,000 youths in 17 African countries
  • Impact: Africa Code Week targets primary and secondary students in order to create and sustain a full lifecycle of skills support for young people in Africa
  • Objectives for 2016: Engage 150,000 youths in coding workshops in 30 countries between October 15-23

Claire, in partnership with her manager, Rebecca Nicholson, head of Employee Communications and CSR EMEA, and Sunil Geness, head of Government Relations and CSR in Africa, set about making the vision of Africa Code Week come to life in one of the world’s most challenging regions.

Claire took the idea to a trusted SAP partner, the Galway Education Centre, which had conducted more than 500 code week workshops as part of EU Code Week. Its director Bernard Kirk believed the key to success was engaging government, NPOs, parents, teachers, schools, and kids. Claire asked the critical question: Could code week work in Africa? When Bernard said he thought it was possible, Claire recruited him for the steering committee.

It wouldn’t be an easy task. As Sunil explained: “There is a lack of internet connectivity. You have to travel great distances to reach the school children in countries with totally different regulatory frameworks.”

The team saw past these challenges. “It was a massive opportunity to build bridges with more partners,” said Rebecca. “We saw a model of private/public/non-profit partnership develop to deal with one of society’s biggest problems. Everyone, from governments and educational institutions to NPOs and corporations, has a role to play. The opportunity to scale the program is significant.”

The team launched the program in June 2015 hoping to reach 20,000 in 10 countries. Forty SAP colleagues conducted “train the trainer” sessions on Scratch, a free coding language developed by MIT. The team worked closely with non-profit partners like the Cape Town Science Centre in South Africa, Ministries of Education, and local governments to bring coding instruction to young people, many of whom had never touched a computer.

Ultimately, the program reached 89,000 students in 17 countries. Based on the success, the team will keep building partnerships and hopes to reach 500,000 students in 30 African countries in the next three years.

For Alicia Lenze, global head of CSR, the initiative shows the power of CSR: “This initiative demonstrates how effective CSR can be in driving the digital economy. The work we’re doing with Africa Code Week today will position these young people to be technological leaders in the next 15 to 20 years.”

“The colors of SAP shine through the passion and ability of our people to help ensure the next wave of people from Africa are not just consumers of technology – they will be creators of technology,” said Sunil. “As a South African and an African, it’s something that makes me immensely proud.”

Courtney Robinson is senior director of executive communications in Global Corporate Affairs at SAP.