As the digital cloud billows out from Johannesburg and extends to South Africa’s rural areas, there is an opportunity to reimagine rural life. Why, for example, can we not setup IT call centres in rural areas? Not only can call centres be more operationally cost-effective when setup outside of urban areas, but they also create substantial employment opportunities (one call centre can employ hundreds of people).
Two reasons have prevented this kind of rural investment in the past. The first is infrastructure, including access to reliable power and connectivity. The second is human capital, including access to young semi-skilled people who are trained for the new digital marketplace.
With this problem in mind, in 2012, South African nonprofit organisation, Good Work Foundation (GWF), and T-Systems South Africa (TSSA) collaborated to establish the Hazyview Digital Learning Campus (HDLC), a semi-rural “future-learning” facility that would provide three progressive stages of education and training:
This innovative training model provided for each Career-Training Academy or programme to be linked to an enterprise established in partnership with an industry leader. The purpose of the enterprise is to employ graduates and fund the learning programmes, resulting in the creation of a sustainable and lasting social enterprise.
A successful case study of this nonprofit and for-profit integrated platform is the T-Systems South Africa (TSSA) Customer Interaction Centre (CIC) or “call center” that is operational, in a pilot phase, at HDLC.
The CIC is the extension enterprise of the HDLC IT Career-Training Academy, which provides advanced IT infrastructure training accredited by CompTIA.
For TSSA, a rural-based CIC translates into a 30% cost reduction, and the IT Career-Training Academy at HDLC means that there is a pool of skilled human capital that can be recruited to staff the CIC.
For GWF, the CIC will deliver previously unheard of rural job creation, retaining people and skills in rural South Africa. It also provides a revenue stream for the campus, where a share of the profits generated are invested back into the Open Learning Academy and the Bridging Academy.
Paris Moeng registered to study at HDLC when he was just 17. Having never used a computer before, Paris surprised the HDLC team by completing his Bridging Academy year in record time. He then went on to enroll in HDLC’s IT Career-Training Academy where he completed his CompTIA A+ and Network+ training certificates.
Paris is now a qualified TSSA IT Support Engineer. Working from the campus where he studied, Paris provides support to people from three major South African companies. A reality for Paris is that he is the sole caregiver for his infirm grandmother and moving to Johannesburg or another major urban centre in search of learning or working would not have been possible.
According to Kate Groch, GWF CEO, GWF plans to continue to couple strategic academies with for-profit enterprises at HDLC.
“A similar opportunity to develop an extension enterprise exists with the Tourism and Travel Academy, where strategic impact funding and collaborative partnerships can meet the recruitment demands of specific industries and fund learning gaps that exist in rural areas,” said Groch.
“Young rural people should not have to migrate to urban areas to empower themselves. Similarly, rural businesses such as five star lodges should not have to import ‘talent’ from urban areas to plug skills gaps. If we get this ecosystem of learning and working right, we will have the potential to transform rural South Africa.”
Should the HDLC CIC pilot be a success, together with other interested South African corporates who require similar business services, GWF and TSSA plan to develop the CIC into a 100+ seat call centre.
This ecosystem of learning and working aims to: (1) Meet the strategic needs of national corporations; (2) Support skills-development, job creation and innovation in rural communities; and, (3) Sustain the campus and its learning programmes.
Special thanks to a team at T-Systems South Africa who continue to believe in the GWF mission. Mardia Niehaus, Gert Schoonbee, Adre du Plessis, Malena van der Westhuizen and Collin Govender. Thank you also to Sibusiso Shabangu, Annette Erasmus, Pierre Jansen van Rensburg, and the CIC project management team for your guidance, passion and dedication.