|Sept - Dec 2016|
|Global Digital Innovation|
By AYESHA DAWOOD
While South Africa stumbles about desperately struggling to formulate digital communications policy, many countries are already implementing their policies. The problems and obstacles in each country are unique to the environment but sometimes some very simple initiatives point to solutions.
A few years ago in Finland, two non-technical women became involved in digital communications technology. Their learning brought the realisation that millions of young people are excluded daily from the world’s most important digital communications system. Most of the world ‘s people are Internet users; most are not involved in designing and building the applications that have become the new online engine driving education, information, entertainment and commerce.
The acquisition of such knowledge and skills is considered “technical” and meant for “geeks”. This is an unfortunate reflection on the world’s most important communications system. These thoughts inspired Linda, of Finland, to rethink how ordinary people without any special talent or expertise may take part in making their own imprint on the Internet.
Using Ruby on Rails, one of many programs used to build web applications, a very simple but unique once-off workshop was set up in 2010. Called Rails Girls, the two-day workshop selected young women and men to learn about how easy it is to work with a program like Ruby on Rails. The philosophy of Rails Girls inclusive and is aimed primarily at girls but is happy to accommodate women, boys and men too!
The principles on which the workshop are based are non-negotiable: it is not-for-profit, the volunteer skilled coaches can’t charge a fee and the organisers work for the public benefit.
Funding is drawn from sponsors and based on the rapid growth of the project, spreading from this one little workshop to 232 cities around the world, sponsors are most certainly not in short supply. While most of the workshops are in the developed world, Africa has not been ignored.
Both Uganda and Mozambique are the beneficiaries of Rails Girls projects and young people there were given the rare opportunity to rethink their participation on the Internet. These were firsts for Africa.
The founders in Finland and their friends around the world that have set up Rails Girls chapters are so passionate about the idea that they respond almost immediately to requests for assistance. When Digitalnfo.com contacted the founders recently, the workshop was as good as done.
Minimum but essential communication and advice were dispatched and a sponsor was found within days. And that is how Rails Girls Johannesburg was born.
US-based Github, used by more than six million people to build innovative apps, pitched in with gusto with a financial contribution for Rails Girls Johannesburg. ThoughtWorks, an international company based in Johannesburg, is to be commended for their support and commitment to the project. Local company IdealizeIt and Incubeta, a global company also based in Johannesburg, did not have to be persuaded to support Rails Girls Johannesburg. While there are no immediate material benefits for the sponsors their commitment to ensuring that the project is implemented demonstrates an uncommon generosity.
The accompanying articles tell of the background and success of the project and government and business may do well to take heed of encouraging the funding of these projects without dictating their shape and direction. Rails Girls Johannesburg is a small project by any standard. However, its significance should not be underestimated. The vast benefits that will accrue to young participants will, like its founding session in Finland, will become self-propagating.
Perhaps, the lesson is simply what we already know: change begins with one person.
Wouldn’t it be nice if South Africa’s government and businesses (which rely heavily on digital communications) made just a little contribution?
And girls, if you want to be a part of rails Girls JHB, complete the application form on this site. Tweet us @Digitalnfo and @RailsGirlsJHB for more information.
All you need is a laptop and some curiosity. Show spark!