Rockefeller Backs Push to Train South African Young People for IT Careers

South Africa has both a thriving tech scene starved for skilled workers and high unemployment rates among young people. The Mentec Foundation has a project to bridge that divide, and now also has a generous backer of that project in the Rockefeller Foundation. 

When Lydia Ntimane began her Mentec Foundation training, she “absolutely knew nothing about programming.” Now, Lydia is an Accenture service desk agent who can “walk the walk” of a programming professional. Lydia is “very thankful for the opportunity” that Mentec's computer programming and soft skills training has given her. Her story isn't unique among Mentec trainees, said several Mentec alumna who shared their stories in a video on the Mentec Foundation's website.

Mentec's Business Academy of Technology and Systems (BATS) program trains disadvantaged South African young people to become software developers and other kinds of computer programming professionals, then helps them find the first jobs of their new careers. This April, Mentec received a $500,000 grant from Rockefeller to support BATS through March 2015.

The BATS Rockefeller grant may have resulted from the training program's past success rather than Mentec's proactive grant-seeking—Rockefeller rarely awards grants to programs that request funding through the foundation's website. Rockefeller prefers to reach out to programs that it believes can induce transformational change in one of the foundation's four focus areas and coach those potential grantees through the application process. Mentec has worked to improve the lives of disadvantaged, young South Africans since 2006.

Rockefeller usually reaches out to programs that don't just address a Rockefeller focus area, but also fit well into one of the foundation's existing initiatives. In addition to addressing Rockefeller's focus on secure livelihoods, BATS seems tailor-made for Rockefeller's Digital Jobs Africa initiative. Digital Jobs Africa aims to integrate young Africans into the global IT- and business process-outsourcing markets through impact sourcing.

Though BATS is a good fit for the Digital Jobs Africa initiative, Mentec should count itself lucky as a South African Digital Jobs Africa grantee. The initiative officially targets programs in Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, and South Africa. However, one-third of the initiative's grants in the past five years have targeted Kenyan disadvantaged youth—fewer than 14 percent of Digital Jobs Africa grants have gone to South African programs during the same time period. (Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda aren't formally targeted by Digital Jobs Africa but have also received grants through the initiatve.)

After sharing her story and expressing her gratitude for the BATS program, Ms. Ntimane said, “It is really my prayer that they grant the same opportunit for other people who are in need.” Thanks to Rockefeller's grant, Mentec has more power to make Ms. Ntimane's hope into a reality.