Meet Constantine Obuya, Director of ACWICT, a Non profit organization that recently won the Zuri Awards as best NGO. Zuri Awards are sponsored by Barclays Bank of Kenya and the winners were announced at a dinner ceremony at Villa Rosa Kempinski. We had a few questions for her and here is what she had to say.
Tell us about ACWICT. What does the organization do?
The African Centre for Women Information and Communications Technology (ACWICT) is a Kenya-based ICT for Development (ICT4D) Organization whose mission is to promote women’s and youths’ access to and knowledge of ICTs as tools for sustainable development. We work to address the challenges faced by high potential but disadvantaged young women and youth to improve their education, employment, leadership and health opportunities reaching 25,000 women and youth in rural and urban informal settlements annually and impacting lives of over 250,000 people. At least 80% of the young women trained are placed into jobs, internships, apprenticeship, and online work (micro work) while those seeking entrepreneurship paths are linked to sources of start-up capital.
When did you start ACWICT and what drove you to that?
ACWICT was established in 2001. During this time, there was the emergence of new digital technologies such as the internet, which was receiving increasing popularity for making the world a global village. However with the advancement of these technologies, Ms. Constantine Obuya, Executive Director and the founder of ACWICT realised that women were missing out on these opportunities. Motivated by the urge to broaden digital inclusion to reach women in the informal settlements and rural areas in the country, ACWICT began implementing educational programs that aimed at increasing girls enrollment in school and also encouraging them to take up STEM subjects. In working to empowerment the girl child the organization also realized that after school, these girls then young women were having challenges in securing employment opportunities and thus we expanded into providing workforce development programs. Through working with partners we have so far integrated reproductive health in our employability programs; we have also implemented gender and governance programs and likewise agricultural programs.
Who does ACWICT deal with in terms of partners and beneficiaries?
ACWICT places a lot of emphasis on building strategic alliances to maximize impact and leverage on resources. Through the years, we have developed networks and strategic partnerships and alliances with international development partners, national and county governments, national technology companies, public/private universities in Kenya, TVETs, NGOs and Community based organizations. We have also established an employer partner’s network that supports the job placement component of the organization’s employability programs.
When it comes to beneficiaries we target high potential but disadvantaged young women and at times young men at their transitions point from primary school/high school/vocational and/or tertiary education to the world of work.
What’s your area of operation? Do you work outside of Nairobi and into the counties?
Our head office is based in Nairobi County, and we also have presence in 8 other counties to include Kiambu, Machakos, Mombasa, Kisumu, West Pokot, Busia, Trans Nzoia, Murang’a and Kajiado.
What are some of the challenges that you face in your day to day operations?
Since 2007, ACWICT has been implementing successful workforce development programs aimed at improving the employability prospects and income generating capacities of the young women participating in our employability programs. Due to the demand driven nature of our programs, our biggest challenge has been the overwhelming numbers of beneficiaries who are interested in joining our employability programs however due to limited resources they cannot be accommodated.
What goals does ACWICT have for the next 5 years?
Our workforce development program have been very impactful on beneficiaries lives and those of their significant others. Therefore in this time ACWICT would want to increase our reach to all the counties and impact on one million young women and youth to improve their education, employment, leadership and health opportunities. We would also like to scale up our employability model to other countries across Africa.
What are some of your success stories that stand out?
At ACWICT we believe that provision of education, and productive employment or income generating opportunities are the surest ways of improving our young women’s social and economic standing.
Take for instance Lucy Taabu, a 26yr old single mother of four who could not proceed to high school due to lack of funds. Despite having challenges in pursuing higher education, she had never given up hope of going back to school. When she heard about one of our employability programs that targeted women just like her, providing them with skills for the 21 century employer, she could not let the opportunity pass-by.
She made her application and before long she was called for the interview which earned her admission at Nangina Youth Polytechnic for a 3 month course in Food and Beverage. The polytechnic is located in Busia County, which is at the extreme western part of Kenya and borders the Republic of Uganda to the west. During the training, she gained a lot skills and knowledge in the trade and this has given her a competitive edge in the hospitality industry. She also went through life skills training which furnished her with the key insights on managing life challenges, effective communication skills and decision making skills that have made her a very confident and assertive young woman. Most importantly she has been equipped with ICT skills that enable her connect with the rest of the world and acquire vital informative and educative information.
At the moment Lucy works at Rasto Park Hotel in Busia town and this has given her the opportunity to network with professionals in the industry and meet people from all walks of life. She has also been able to put to task the skills earned in class because at Rasto Park Hotel, she works under their kitchen, housekeeping, laundry departments and also from time to time she serve as a waitress. This has earned her enough to supplement her family’s income and provide for her children’s needs. For her the future looks so bright since her supervisor wants to retain her services for a full employment.
The initiative, The Ngazi Program, bridges the Education to Employment gap at the lowest level of the pyramid by targeting std. 8 leavers.
Success story #2
We have another success story of a young woman who is excelling in online work (Micro Work) Scola Kuria a petite young woman is confident she made the right call to enroll for the Vusha Youth Empowerment Program. Her story is a fascinating narrative of how online work is positively transforming the lives of young women in the county who would have otherwise wasted away in poverty.
Having missed the cut off points to join university, Scholar could not enroll as a self-sponsored student because her parents are peasant farmers and could not afford it. Determined to confront her problems, Scola made several job applications but all in vain, defeated she was forced to stay home and help her parents in the farm. At home, Scholar made sure she surrounded herself with the best and constructive minds. Amongst them was Samuel Kimani, who understood her tribulations.
At the time, Samuel was a beneficiary of the Vusha Youth Empowerment Program and he shared his experiences and benefits of the program. Scholar had never gone through a digital literacy class before. She recalled how she once had difficulty using the internet to make an application to a higher institution of learning. This was very embarrassing, that she had to call her cousin for assistance. During his visitation, Samuel explained of how he had been signed up to the Upwork portal, and already he had earned a few thousands from the online job he secured. This inspired her greatly to apply for the program, and upon being called for an interview just like herself she found a huge turnout of youth seeking to improve their lives. After a successful interview process, Scola embarked on a journey that has positively shaped her life.
On the training, having been signed up to the UpWork, she invested more time on online work, since it was a sure ticket to unemployment. According to Scholar, online work is convenient, it involves working at anytime, anywhere so long as you have access to the internet and a laptop. Her first job was as a virtual assistant where she provided email support, research, data entry and transcription on a part-time basis. She describes the experience as ‘awesome’; she didn’t have to wake up early in the morning to go to an office or strain to beat traffic jam because she worked at her own convenience. So far she has earned 154.00 dollars and she is still working to earn more. Out of the earnings she is able to meet her personal needs and I also support her parents by providing for her siblings personal needs. Scola is now saving to raise enough funds to join the university.
She owes great gratitude to The Rockefeller Foundation, Microsoft Corporation and The African Centre for Women Information and Communication Technology for the employable opportunity provided.
Success story #3
Mary Kalunde, is a Vusha Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) beneficiary working as a system administrator and a database Manager in Ikuuni Hotel in Machakos County. Prior to joining the program, she was a stay at home mother. Every morning she watched her neighbors and friends leave home for work while she stayed behind. Filled with the desire to earn her own income, she promised herself that someday, she will be a working mother.
And so when she was told about the program, she was overjoyed because of the skills development it provided; but little did she know of the job opportunities it would present upon completion.
“I discussed the program with my husband who supported me fully,” she says.
“I applied, went through an interview and later on I was informed that I was a successful candidate. I remember the first day during orientation, walking into a room full of computers, colorful posters on the wall and youthful faces, and from these I was immediately reassured that I had made the right choice,” she adds.
Most of the beneficiaries who were enrolled during the same period were naïve in using computers, but no matter the challenges the trainers were very accommodative and patient in guiding them through class problems. Mary I put much effort on the digital literacy and coding because she believed that the skills are highly demanded for in the society.
After completing the training, the certificate earned, and the skills developed impressed the job market that it did not take long before she landed employment at the hotel. What started as an internship position matured into a full employment. One of her greatest achievements at work was the development of a computerized database system that enabled the hotel management produce fast, accurate, reliable and secure data for the organization. The system is easy and user friendly, and it has allowed the hotel management to serve customers better, and also improve on their financial management systems.
Today, she has developed great interest in the field to the extent to advancing her studies on the same.
“One thing that I love most with the empowerment is my ability to contribute to the bills in the house, and buy my girl stuffs I never had,” says the joyfull mother.
Success story #4
When Daudi Ngoa, visited his brother for the Ramadhan festival he had no idea the will change his life. At his brother, what started as a random leisure walk in the neighbor of Kawangware landed him in the world richest country – Qatar.
Daudi a native from Kisauni, Mombasa County was from the Mosque when he spotted the Vusha YEP poster. What drew him to keenly read through it were the success stories of young people whom as a result of the training had been plucked from the grim of unemployment and were earning sustainable income. Furthermore the free ICT training was definitely an added bonus.
“I am amazed at technology because everyday something new always comes up. And having the knowledge of how technology works is the only way that you will become part of the society today and so I was greatly inspired to apply for the project,” says Daudi. “Besides boys will always be boys, when given a gadget they will always want to know how it works,” he adds.
Without wasting time he called the numbers on the posters to enquire more. Armed with the information he applied for the course. Days later he was called for an interview where he says he maintained posture, truthfulness, precision and explained to the panelists his motivation for joining the project which ultimately impressed them.
In class he was greatly fascinated to learn about computer languages and networking, and to advance his knowledge these areas he went on to enroll for online courses through the TukoWorks Youth Employability and Entrepreneurship portal.
“When I completed the training, my mother asked me to consider looking for employment abroad because the skills I possessed are very unique and internationally recognized,” he says.
He did not take her advice for granted and from time to time he surfed the internet for employment opportunities. One day, while on a job hunting venture, he presented his application documents at a security firm known as International Security Consultancy Group, unfortunately it was turned down because they felt he was over qualified. Three days later, thanks to the Vusha YEP certification, he was recalled and given an offer to work as a CCTV Operator for a firm in Qatar. Today Daudi works in Qatar earning a salary of 900 Qatari riyal (Ksh. 25668).
He is saving to invest in the transport sector when he returns home. He warns the youth against procrastination and encourages them to take advantage of the digital opportunities presented to them.
He greatly thanks Allah, ACWICT, The Rockefeller Foundation, and Microsoft Corporation for the advancement.
You recently won the Zuri Awards sponsored by Barclays Bank of Kenya. What does this mean for ACWICT?
The Award gives us an opportunity to have our story told to the rest of the world with increased partnerships as a possible outcome.
Do you work with Government and in what capacity?
As mentioned earlier, the National and County Governments have been our dedicated partners for a long period now. We have been working with them to leverage resources for the successful implementation of our programs. In our partnerships they have provided the human resource needed to mobilize and recruit young women to participate in our workforce development programs as well as the infrastructure required to execute our programs in various counties. In addition, they have shared with us their networks and resources needed to bring employers on board employer partners.
What methods do you use for empowering women? Do you teach in classes? Workshops? Home visits?
We have adopted different strategies and approaches to addressing unemployment challenges faced by young women at different levels of education. This is achieved by equipping the young women with demand-driven skills, knowledge and attitudes through in-person and in-class training along with self-study. The strategies have given our them a competitive edge as they strive to achieve their life goals and advance in different career pathways to become problem solvers and decision makers of our next generation.
Do you work with men too or only women?
In course of work, we realized that when it comes to employability, young men also suffer the same challenges as women. In this regard we target them in our youth employability initiatives to also provide them with employable skills. Currently one of our male beneficiaries, Daudi Ngoa, due to the skills earned from one of our programs is working at a security firm in Qatar.
Your final word especially to potential beneficiaries who would like to reach out to be part of ACWICT?
ACWICT is an innovative hub that provides skills that touch on every field of work needed in the 21 century labour market. Therefore whatever your future ambitions may be, come and join us for you will find these skills sets useful in fast-tracking your career growth plans.