A Bid To Boost the IT Skills of Africa's Youth Gains Steam

Last year, Jeremy Johnson began exploring a newish education model based on scaling high quality education for students who can barely afford life’s basic necessities, much less college tuition. At the time, Johnson was running his other edtech company 2U Inc., which he cofounded in 2008. 2U builds partnerships with colleges and universities to deliver high quality online degree programs through a blended learning curriculum that combines online education platforms, face-to-face classes, and hands-on learning experiences.

Even though he spent a few years building 2U, the question of scaling high quality education for poor students—which was posed to Johnson when he was giving a talk in Nairobi about the future of education—stuck with him. After his talk in Nairobi, he asked, "What if instead of charging tuition, like a traditional educational system, you were to instead pay people to learn?"

Jeremy Johnson would soon leave his post at 2U to establish Andela along with cofounders Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, Ian Carnevale and Christina Sass. By September 2014, he raised seed capital from some pretty influential funders. Among them were Steve Case, Pierre Omidyar, and Chris Hughes. The exact terms of the offering weren’t disclosed, but according to Andela’s latest Form D, filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, the total offering amount was $3.5 million. Regardless of who put in for how much, Johnson had enough to launch Andela’s inaugural classes last fall in Lagos, Nigeria.

The Andela program aims to accomplish three main goals:

  • Give a chance at an IT education to those who may not have otherwise had one. Andela invests around $10,000 per student in salaries and training costs.
  • Improve livelihoods. After six months of intensive coding training, Andela students begin working for clients overseas, which reportedly allows them to earn a middle-class wage.
  • Fill the skills gap in the global IT sector. According to Johnson, “The skills gap is massive. There are four jobs for every software developer in the U.S. right now, and 14,000 open IT jobs.”

Andela was met with such great success in less than a year of operation that it’s already planning to expand to Kenya, Ghana, and South Africa with the long-range goal of training 100,000 new developers within the next 10 years.

Choosing Nigeria for Andela’s home base is a bit of a no-brainer for Johnson and company. According to McKinsey & Company, over the past few years, the country’s economy has been developing into a pretty significant economic force with a fast-growing middle class and an ever-increasing presence of women working outside of the home.

On the other hand, youth unemployment hovers around 50 percent in Nigeria and, according to Jeremy Johnson, if underemployment is taken into account, the number of young people struggling to make a living is upwards of 90 percent.

Related: Millions to Tackle the Alarming Youth Unemployment Problem in Africa

Africa is in the midst of a youth population bulge and is looking at the significantly increased possibility of political and civil unrest, higher crime rates, and increasing poverty due to high youth unemployment. The Arab Spring has already given us a major taste of how that can go, but bigger disruption may lie ahead.

The potential economic opportunities for Africa’s young people through programs like Andela may help to assuage the negative societal implications that can result from having large swaths of unemployed young people.

Jeremy Johnson and his like-minded backers aren’t the only ones thinking about ways to encourage young people’s economic success in Africa. At the Clinton Global Initiative’s (CGI) Middle East and Africa Meeting earlier, nearly 30 new commitments to action were made for global development issues, including securing access to energy, food, and water; expanding infrastructure for communities, and investing in youth. Over half of those commitments involved investing in young people. A couple of big players in this field include the Coca-Cola Africa and Rockefeller Foundations.