Port Elizabeth ICT Incubator rewards great social entrepreneurship ideas

OCTOBER 2, 2015

A tiny tech centre determined to give young Walmer township children a grounding in the use of computers has won top honours for innovation at the annual ICET workshop and conference, hosted this year by the Seda Nelson Mandela Bay ICT Incubator (SNII).

ICET (International Centre for Entrepreneurship and Technology), supported collaboratively by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), NMMU and the University of Oldenburg, aims to support and create innovative entrepreneurship in South Africa and provides infrastructure to transfer technological innovations into communities.

The annual conference workshop provided academics, students, incubators and other partners an overview of the ICET projects and additionally offered an open opportunity for people from all walks of life to pitch their social business ideas (SOBI) and win cash prizes worth a total of R7000.

Nilakhe Balani, who founded Sikhanyse Computer Centre in 2013, and her partner Val Stockwell, presented their business to a panel of five judges and the conference delegates. Both the panel and the audience gave their top votes to the computer centre, which aims primarily to reduce the technological gaps between privileged and underprivileged communities.

Sipelo Lupondwana, SNII Centre Manager, said the SOBI pitches were rated on their levels of innovation, social impact, expected profitability and practicability.

“We received 35 applications and from those selected the top eight, each of whom attended a consultative workshop with an entrepreneurial expert. These then went on to pitch their ideas at the conference. It is exciting that people, and especially the youth, who are not necessarily from IT backgrounds are seeing the potential and value of technology for solutions to a variety of social problems,” he said.   

“Nilakhe’s passion for the technological seeds she plants in young children really touched all our hearts. She understands the long-term impact of what she’s doing and has experienced first-hand the importance of giving children a head start in technology.

“Her flair is in working with the community and helping them to get involved. She has mastered the sustainability and security of her programme. There is room now for SNII to examine her systems and optimise her business.”

Sikhanyse Computer Centre is located in Area Q, an impoverished settlement in Walmer Township, where even basic services are not rendered. The team gives computer lessons to approximately 30 children from two early childhood development (ECD) centres and also offers lessons to adults on computer awareness and literacy. More than 150 children have benefited from Sikhanyse since it started.

“My dream was to become an electrical engineer, but I had to drop out of my course at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University because I was not computer literate,” Balani explained. Moved by the plight of township toddlers, she went on instead to establish two day care centres for the children of Walmer and studied early childhood development.

“When I was doing my practical teaching training at Collegiate Girls Junior School, I was struck by the confidence with which children as young as five from more privileged households sat down in front of computers.

“Computer literacy holds the key to a better future. By exposing township children to computer technology at a young age I believe we can make a real difference to the way their lives unfold,” she said.   

Now, the Sikhanyse team wants to develop the existing computer centre into a business model that will generate income and fund salaries as well as community projects. This will also enable them to fund the data costs needed to offer internet access to school children attending aftercare.

Two SOBI pitches shared second place: Trash Out Food In (TOFI), a project to incentivise communities to collect and dispose of litter in a sustainable way in exchange for a hot meal or healthy snacks; and SAScholar, which assists university students to secure funding opportunities from bursaries and scholarships via both Android and Web applications. 

Image: WINNING INNOVATORS: Congratulating the winners of the social business ideas (SOBI) pitch hosted by SNII recently are, from left, Sipelo Lupondwana (SNII Centre Manager), Val Stockwell and Nilakhe Balani (partners in the SOBI-winning Sikhanyse Computer Centre), Jantje Halberstadt (University of Oldenburg), Tafadzwa Kachara (owner SAScholar, SOBI runner-up) and Brenda Scholtz (Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University).