US enterprise bridging the digital divide in Africa

Digital Divide Data Vice-President-Kenya Patrick Munene. FRED OLUOCH | NATON MEDIA GROUP 

Cloud computing, data mining, digitising and cybercrime are the emerging skills and challenges on the global Information and Communications Technology (ICT) market. ICT experts say Kenya can only compete globally if it has the ability to keep up with new ICT trends. Digital Divide Data (DDD), a US non-profit social enterprise has been working with the disadvantaged youth in Kenya to bridge the digital gap for the last six years. FRED OLUOCHinterviewed DDD Vice-President-KenyaPATRICK MUNENE. Excerpts:

DDD describes itself as a pioneer in Social Impact Sourcing, what do you mean?

It means we have a strong social mission as a company which gives back to society by providing hope to young people. We want to create an impact in society by engaging somebody who might have given up hope in life after high school. This trickles down and changes the family by uplifting their living standards and society in general. We also sponsor their college education so that they can work and study at the same time. Given that these are people from very poor background, they are now being put on a path towards a career. We now have 300 employees.

How much have you contributed to the growth of ICT skills in Kenya?

Our core business is providing training in digital skills and employment for the youth, driven by our social mission to create sustainable digital jobs among the disadvantaged communities. We employ young talents from disadvantaged families, train and provide them with the latest digital skills such as data management and analysis, and deploy these skills to provide services to our clients. We partner with over 20 leading universities to provide social research, content enrichment, data mining and content production services. We invest in training programmes and give scholarships to smart young people.

What type of skills are we talking about here?

Data mining and cloud computing are the new skills on the market and everybody wants them. The advantage we have is that these are new technologies and everybody is starting from the same level. So when it comes to learning, it doesn’t matter whether you are in Africa, the US or in China. The question is that at what price can we acquire them locally?

What is the level of digital skills that leads to qualitative employment in Kenya for the youth?

Skills in ICT are always changing and people must continuously update themselves to survive on the market. In Kenya, we have ICT skills that can only perform up to a certain level. At this point, it is a bit difficult to find sufficient skills in cloud computing on the market and most companies are relying on experts from other countries like India, Philippines and China, which makes us less competitive. It involves bridging the digital divide by providing the latest data services.

Cybercrime, especially hacking, isa major concern. How does DDD ensure the safety of their clients' data?

The issue of data security was a major challenge when we started six years ago. Most clients, especially publishers, did not understand what digitisation meant and whether their data would be secure. But we have deployed the Digital Rights management (DRM) which guarantees security for data storage and setup. We are working with the most secure cloud provider—Amazon Web Services (AWS), the biggest cloud provider globally. Our servers are using cloud technology, we can guarantee our clients, data security and integrity. Initially, clients like government departments were concerned about transparency and confidentiality when their documents are digitised, but now they feel comfortable after we did also work with the Communications Authority of Kenya and digitised institutions such as the Judiciary and the Kenyatta National Hospital.

How then has DDD contributed in bridging the digital gap?

We have provided employment and direct educational opportunities to more than 1,000 young people in Kenya, which has enabled them to work with us or elsewhere. At DDD, we call it train the trainer—and the chain continues. We get a group of about 30 students who we train and certify. We expect to be training 1,000 people at ago in the next 18 months. In the last four years, we have been offering digital research and management, data analysis, data visualisation and cloud computing for entry level jobs.

Who are your main clients in Kenya?

We are working with both the public and the private sector, multilateral organisations such as the World Bank and the UN. At the University of Nairobi, we have digitised over 2 million pages theses, which made the institution to shoot up in ranking based on the available research output. Publishers are also becoming major clients because of converting books into e-book format for access online.

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