Reydon Otonde is the Human Resources and Social Mission Lead at Digital Divide Data (DDD) Kenya Limited, where she is also responsible for establishing sustainable partnerships, communications, and impact measurement activities.
In December of 2013, the Nigerian Commonwealth of Learning (COL) partnered with the government, the Federal Ministry of Education in Vancouver, Canada and the National Open University of Nigeria to hold the 7th Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning. The forum’s theme was “Open Learning for Development: Towards Empowerment and Transformation.” This conference was designed to explore the application of Open and Distance Learning (ODL) in “widening educational access, bridging the digital divide and advancing the social and economic development of communities and nations at large”.
“Jobs alone are not enough.”
Half of the world population today is under 25 years old and as many as 73 million young people are estimated to be unemployed. Many are growing up in slums and rural areas where there are very few jobs, and most jobs that exist are in the informal sector. Also according to the International Labor Organization, another 152 million youth subsist on jobs that offer no real path out of poverty.
I participated in the conference to share the work that we do at Digital Divide Data (DDD). DDD is an innovative, internationally acclaimed social enterprise that creates job opportunities for disadvantaged youth while delivering business process outsourcing services of high quality to local and global clients. Our company operates in Cambodia, Laos and Kenya and is recognized in the development sector as a pioneer of Impact Sourcing – a socially responsible business model that intentionally employs talented disadvantaged youth, helping them complete higher education and achieve upward mobility.
DDD’s purpose is to provide talented and committed youth a path out of poverty. While I am excited by the potential of Impact Sourcing to build young people’s knowledge and skills and foster their success, we at DDD also believe that jobs, on its own, are not enough. We needed to ensure that our youth employees are learning skills and developing capabilities that will enable them to obtain opportunities beyond their employment at DDD. This is why in addition to skills and workplace training DDD supports dedicated youth with scholarships for higher education.
Having implemented our work-study program for several years we are now seeing the impact of our programs. One important observation is that even with scholarships that cover tuition fees, students spend a substantial amount of money on school supplies and travelling to and from their homes, school and their workplace at DDD. We also observed that a considerable amount of time is spent on the daily commute. In order to help our youth save time, money, and effort we are looking to open learning systems which allow the learner more flexibility and take learning beyond the classroom.
Open learning to support workforce development
DDD had a chance to showcase its unique model in which technology is used to empower underprivileged youth in Kenya and rural Asia through education and employment opportunities. The flexible scheduling structure of open learning systems helps reduce time-constraints, especially in negotiating the transit between school and work. Open learning systems like web-based learning environments also help students use materials in ways that work best for them including learning the content at their own pace, which often means better application and retention of the concepts studied.
Ask any working student and they will tell you that working and studying at the same time is always a challenge. While we don’t expect open learning to be the only solution in overcoming this challenge, it is a tool that, if used well, enriches the learning and character building experience. I, for one, am very interested in seeing the longer-term outcomes of these learning systems and discovering how we can improve in helping hard-working youth achieve brighter futures.