Awards spotlight: SITA Air Transport Community Foundation
Amber Harrison, IEMA Fellow and director of CSR and sustainability at SITA, talks about the project that won IEMA's Community or Social Value Award
How did the idea first come about?
SITA has a global presence, so with the creation of the Foundation initiative we wanted to undertake a community project that impacts individuals in countries that we work in. Our SITA council was very keen to show a commitment to young people and technology. We picked Africa because there are around 10 million people under the age of 18, which is increasing rapidly, but there is also a huge skills gap and a lot of educated people leaving, contributing to brain drain.
What did you hope to achieve?
We wanted to work on ICT education programmes for young people, and encourage them to stay in the country by working with local communities and supporting ongoing programmes so they stay engaged. By providing ICT labs and dedicated teachers, students are learning their state curriculum and doing well. They are also taking on other projects such as website design, which is benefiting the schools and their management offices, too.
Why are tech skills important for sustainable development?
We see a lot of technology growth and adaptation across Africa, but ICT skills aren’t universally widespread. With the development of mega cities, and more aviation and technology companies moving to the continent, we want to make sure young people have the opportunities to support entrepreneurship.
Are they staying in the local communities?
We support tertiary level students in universities and schools through degrees related to ICT, computing or aviation, and we are seeing a lot of students choosing to pay it forward. One recent success story involved a young man from the Congo, Jules Ntumba, and we supported him through his education. He graduated last year, and has set up his own company teaching young people – particularly girls – how to design, build, code and fly drones. He is encouraging the next generation to stay in the Congo and learn.
You have a particular focus on gender equality, why?
Gender equality is a challenge in many countries, but particularly across some nations in Africa, where it is traditional for girls to drop out of education early because of family or marriage expectations. We partnered with several charities, including Promoting Equality in African Schools, whose schools have a 50/50 female-male intake. A lot of girls are challenging the boys in technology, and that is good to see, as both genders do better when there is an equal playing field.
"We are seeing a lot of students choosing to pay it forward"
How do you measure progress?
I try to visit the programmes that we run at least once a year. We have projects in Ethiopia, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Rwanda and Kenya. I join monitoring and evaluation visits with the charities, and spend a few days meeting students, teachers and principals to understand what is happening and what we can do better. We look at student and teacher retention and marks. We have capability assessments to evaluate computing skills, and interviews to find out what works and what doesn’t so we can adapt and evolve. A number of teachers have become heads of departments or vice principals, or have adapted the programmes and rolled them out in other schools.
How did you feel winning IEMA’s award?
I was thrilled. Sustainability is becoming more and more important, and a lot of people have been working behind the scenes for a long time. What I love about the awards is that they bring these people into the spotlight and highlight the incredible things that have been happening. It helps to inspire people
and it is always nice to be rewarded.
- Since 2014, the Foundation has helped more than 80,000 young people in Ethiopia, Uganda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe through projects delivered with its charity partners. These include the provision of ICT labs and equipment, teacher training and access to funding for education.
- Additional projects: implementing solar power at schools in Zambia and Uganda; funding students at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa on courses related to IT, computer sciences, electrical and information engineering, and aeronautical engineering. It funds a $10,000 innovation award for students at Witwatersrand, the Tshimologong Innovation Precinct in South Africa and 16 seats for entrepreneurs at the Tshimologong Innovation Project.