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GirlCode: Empowering the youth through tech

14 June 2022 •

By: GirlCode and Tahlea Culture

For Youth Day, we wanted to shine a light on GirlCode, a non-profit organisation, empowering young women through technology. We’ve been privileged enough to partner with them over the past few years and have been inspired by their vision, growth and the tremendous impact they have had on the community.

Youth Day commemorates the Soweto Uprising in 1976, which led to the significant change in the landscape for the South African youth. We believe ‌GirlCode is changing the landscape for young women across South Africa. Not only are these young women being empowered by expanding their skill sets, but they are carving out their own futures by changing the narrative.

We reached out to Zandile Mkwanazi, the co-founder and CEO of GirlCode, to find out more about the GirlCode journey. Let’s get into it!

Q: What is your role within GirlCode?

I once heard that a startup CEO needs to do three things right:

  1. Set and maintain direction
  2. Hire great people
  3. Raise money

However, my role is not limited to that, as I wear many hats. As a growing organisation, it is not always possible to have the resources we need to achieve our goals and so; I have to ‌step into many roles and support the team. Sometimes that means being the marketing manager or even the facilitator for our classes.

Q: How has the vision for GirlCode evolved over the years?

GirlCode was initially supposed to be a once-off hackathon. I wanted to create a safe space for young women to get together and showcase their skills and talent in building software.

I used to attend a lot of hackathons and tech events. I quickly realised that there was very little female representation. I strongly believed that there were women who wanted to be in this space and needed a platform where their voices could be heard. Even though we kept hosting the hackathon as an annual event, we knew that the movement was growing and required more commitment.

In 2018, my co-founder and I, Tinyiko Simbine, quit our day jobs to pursue GirlCode full time with the hopes of eventually becoming a digital accelerator academy for young women across Africa to gain the necessary technical skills for employment. We now have eight full-time staff members and our first campus in Midrand. We’ve come a long way from that first hackathon.

GirlCode Team.JPG

Our mission has always been to upskill young women. Over the years, we knew we had to challenge ourselves, so we set an audacious goal to upskill 10 million young women by 2030. Our aim is to use technology to generate employment and empowerment opportunities for these young women.

We know that to achieve this goal, we cannot do it alone. To make this a reality, we’ve had a big drive to form partnerships with the public and private sectors to create an ecosystem that will allow us to tap into the resources available. We have been incredibly blessed to have many companies, such as Byte Orbit, support our vision and join us in our mission to empower young women and girls.

Q: What does it mean to empower the youth, specifically young girls and women, through technology? And how is GirlCode doing this?

When girls attend our workshops and/or hackathons (not to mention the upcoming programmes), they learn something new and add a new skill to their abilities. Skills development‌ is empowerment. Once someone has a new skill, they can use and teach it for the benefit of others.

We encourage our university beneficiaries to give back by teaching the primary and high school beneficiaries, thus creating a sustainable ecosystem. The more we are able to teach, develop skills, and expand our reach, the downstream effect will continue to sustain the impact we are creating.

Q: How many young girls and women have GirlCode had the privilege of impacting?

We have run various initiatives that have impacted over 60 000 young women and girls over the course of eight years. From our annual All-Women hackathons connecting over 300 female IT students directly to companies for bursary and job opportunities, to our GirlCoder clubs.

In 2019, we participated in the SAP Africa Code event, where we introduced coding for the first time to over 1 000 girls aged 10-18. We've visited many schools and universities/colleges, talking to thousands of girls to encourage them to consider a career in the tech industry. We’ve also provided our graduates with opportunities to interview for a UK-based technology company, of which eight young women were offered full-time jobs and relocated to the UK.

We have been intentional about moving away from awareness campaigns and initiatives that drive reach to focus on skill programmes that have a lasting impact on the individual.

GirlCode Hackathon 2022.jpg
Q: Do you have a specific story that speaks about the impact that GirlCode has had on the youth?

I have many, but I think just from the past year, there were two women in particular who inspired me and reaffirmed my commitment to giving opportunities to even more young women and girls throughout South Africa.

The first is Nwabisa Silo, who recently completed our online bootcamp and secured a graduate opportunity at Altron. This was her feedback:

"I know if it weren't for the AWS certificate I obtained through the GirlCode programme, I wouldn't have gotten a chance to be part of the graduates programme at my dream company. I will forever be grateful to GirlCode. A journey to becoming a Cloud Engineer".

We also had a young lady, Xitshembiso Rejoyce Zitha, who started the programme using her cellphone. Even though she faced many challenges, she continued and entered our International Women's Day hackathon in March, where she won a brand new laptop. She has since completed her training with us and is currently interviewing for job opportunities.

Thank you to Zandile, Tinyiko and the entire GirlCode team for your continuous efforts to help empower young women and girls. If you’d like to learn more, partner or donate to GirlCode, please check out their website.

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14 June 2022
By: GirlCode and Tahlea

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