Getting emerging markets engaged in high technology requires a real-world education. That’s why Coderise, a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Medellin, Colombia, is offering free coding courses to high school students. But first the NGO has to find a route to financial sustainability.
“We are currently evaluating business models to see what can work best,” Andrea Cornejo, Coderise’s founder and director, told Global Delivery Report. “We are aiming towards local Medellin institutions and the community taking ownership of the program.”
Coderise wants to engage where there is already some activity in the private sector. Medellin is an exciting place to start, but there is also opportunity in hotbeds of entrepreneurial activity such as Mexico’s “Silicon Valley” in Guadalajara, and the small country of Uruguay, which is actively building skills in its IT sector.
“We are interested to see replications of Coderise where we find a growing community of tech start-ups and programmers,” said Cornejo. “We want Coderise to grow organically, where there is support and resources available to make it happen.”
Dollars and Sense
For an NGO like Coderise, funding can be a challenge. To address this, the organization is employing a two-pronged approach: crowd funding and corporate sponsorship.
“Coderise was founded by a crowd funding campaign,” said Cornejo. “This is a concept where everyone can participate in donating and supporting an initiative, and the project gets funded by the ‘crowd’.”
“Socialatom and Intergrupo cover critical costs such as instructors, space and a regional media campaign,” said Cornejo. “But, most importantly, whatever business model we decide on, it should remain financially accessible for students of all schools and communities.”
Head Start Down South
The traditional approach to coding education in mature economies is to focus on a basic public education first, and to introduce computer science in secondary school. If the student is interested, then he or she can pursue information technology in a certificate or degree program. That might be a good idea in Latin America, too — except there is a critical shortage of both instructors and computers.
So Coderise is counting on volunteers already employed in IT to help create interest in Latin American students.
“At Coderise, we are calling in mentors as speakers to come to share an afternoon of their experiences with students,” said Cornejo. “These are successful tech entrepreneurs and programmers that volunteer to participate in Coderise.”
The other challenge is getting the technology into students’ hands. Here Uruguay has set itself as an example to the world. Last month, for example, Uruguay President José Mujica hosted Irina Bokova, the director general of UNESCO, who was full of praise for that country’s push to build human capital by investing in computing technology and education.
“There may be additional contributions from UNESCO,” said Ms. Bokova, who visited local schools to see the results of Plan Ceibal, which resulted in Uruguay being the first country in Latin America to secure one laptop for every child.
“Now in Uruguay for a child to have access to a computer and the Internet is a right, not a privilege,” Miguel Brechner, Plan Ceibal’s director, said during a school tour with Ms. Bokova.
Counting on the Community
An environment like the one in Uruguay would seem to make sense for an NGO like Coderise. However, Coderise is heavily informed by the expertise of its team, many of whom are Colombian entrepreneurs and IT experts who live in the United States.
“For now, we want to await results and see how we can improve the experimental structure of Coderise before looking to where we can launch it next,” said Cornejo.
If the course plan works, it could act as a model that would be easily transferable to hot geographies – including a city like Guadalajara, Mexico. Like Medellin, Guadalajara is actively promoting itself as a Digital City and has a strong presence of community-minded entrepreneurs.
“Our mentors and guest speakers were not difficult to find and convince,” said Cornejo. “Most are very excited to give back to the community.”