Bridging the Digital Divide

SAP Social Sabbatical Partners to Shape Cape Town’s Future

Cape Town is a city of contrast. Around every neighborhood corner is a history lesson in the European, African, Indian, and Malaysian influences that give meaning to South Africa’s epithet of ‘rainbow nation.’ Even the city’s landscape can feel like a convergence of worlds, from the windswept Cape Flats to the dramatic peaks of Table Mountain, to the rocky coastline where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. This rich diversity in history, wildlife, culture, landscape, and industry gives rise to Cape Town’s characterization as the ‘world in one city.’ But nowhere does this ring so true as when a 10 minutes’ drive from the palm-lined streets of the city’s posh urban center finds you on a shanty-lined street in one of the city’s sprawling townships.

Apartheid ended in South Africa over two decades ago, but the physical legacy of municipal segregation divides the city to this day. Residents of the city’s townships face a world of difference in access to quality education, healthcare, sanitation, and economic opportunity than those living just two miles away. Access to Information Communications Technology (ICT), like internet, computers, and other digital services is simply a non-starter in many township communities. Without this access, even the most precocious students aren’t developing the ICT and STEM skills they need to gain employment in a digital economy. Despite the infrastructural, social, and economic barriers that exist, Cape Town’s townships remain a source of unmatched energy and opportunity.

“Townships are the future of Cape Town and digital skills are the future of the African continent. It’s critical that we get young Africans coding and engaging in digital activities, or else we will be left behind in the race,” said Sunil Geness, Director of Government Relations and Corporate Social Responsibility for SAP Africa.

Recognizing this enormous untapped potential, SAP partnered with four diverse organizations each tackling a different piece of the ICT education issue in Cape Town: Silulo Ulutho Technologies, Cape Innovation Technology Initiative (CiTi), Tsiba, and Cape Town Science Center. Teams of high performing SAP employees from across the globe were embedded within the organizations for a one-month Social Sabbatical for global engagement. Employees applied their skills and expertise to build the capacity of the organizations to better serve their stakeholders and drive education and digital access in Cape Town. At the same time, employees gained critical skills in leadership, teamwork, and flexibility that they can apply to their work back home.

Silulo Ulutho Technologies – Pioneers in Digital Access

In the barren Cape Flats region on the outskirts of Cape Town is Khayelitsha, the second-largest and fastest-growing township in South Africa and the launch pad of Silulo Ulutho Technologies. Silulo co-founder and managing director, Luvuyo Rani, saw his home of Khayelitsha—with over a million residents, 75 percent of whom are under the age of 35 and 50 percent of whom live below the poverty line—not as a place of destitution, but a place of immense opportunity.

A former high school teacher, Luvuyo witnessed first hand how his fellow teachers lacked the computer literacy required to prepare students for work in a modern economy. He left his teaching position and began selling refurbished computers out of the back of his car in 2004. “Teachers were buying the computers, but still, they didn’t know how to use them,” said Luvuyo. From there, he committed to not only provide affordable computer access, but to provide computer training as well.

Silulo opened its first internet café in Khayelitsha two years later, providing a previously untapped market with affordable computer services such as internet access, mobile-phone services, and digital skills training.

“In South Africa, there is a huge digital divide in terms of access, skills, and connectivity,” said Luvuyo. “The cafés bring one-stop technology centers to areas where there is previously no access or infrastructure. We are the last mile providers where people can walk into a shop and access services to prepare CVs, find job opportunities, or just run their businesses.”

In addition to providing Internet, sales, repairs, and mobile support, Silulo seeks to improve employability and entrepreneurship in South Africa’s most underprivileged communities by empowering clients with trainings on how to excel in a digital world. Today, when visiting one of Silulo’s 36 stores in townships and rural areas across the Western and Eastern Cape of South Africa, you will find a café tailored for township communities.

“Silulo’s services are so important to the townships and rural communities because they are the only ones providing this access… there is no one else who even dares to enter these areas,” said Sabrina Storck, an SAP Social Sabbatical participant from Walldorf, Germany. “Often times, people don’t have the time or the money to travel into the Cape Town City Center to use an internet café or to attend a job interview. Silulo not only shapes the landscape of tech access in townships, it functions as an entry point to the workspace for local community members.”

Having filled a critical gap in the market, Silulo grew tremendously fast in 10 short years, but without any of the standardization or process required for a company of its size. The SAP Social Sabbatical team was embedded within Silulo for four weeks to help the organization build a more sustainable foundation for future growth. The three-person team, made up of SAP employees from Denmark, Brazil, and Germany, set out to understand the organization’s challenges and to simplify Silulo’s operational processes. The team also developed a concept for market expansion through a franchise model and conducted a feasibility study to help understand how Silulo could realistically grow to 100 stores across South Africa by 2020. On their last day of work, the team led a full-day workshop with Silulo staff to ensure each department was prepared to take on the specified recommendations.

“The amount of work and contributions that the SAP team managed to accomplish in four weeks would have taken us five months to sort out. To gain this international perspective and see how our work can be simplified and better implemented is just amazing.” said Hannes Botha, General Manager for Silulo.

With the close out of the Social Sabbatical program in Cape Town, Silulo now has a blueprint to sustainably bridge the digital divide — an outcome with the potential to unleash the digital world to millions of residents across the country and, very possibly, reinvent their futures. The SAP team leaves with a fresh outlook on solving problems, a renewed commitment to the power of teamwork, and the understanding that tackling the digital divide remains an essential next step toward equality in South Africa and beyond.