Picture: Marlon Parker, founder of RLabs.

CAPE TOWN - Marlon Parker went from being a Cape Flats youngster looking for a job to becoming a global pioneer and impacting the lives of millions of individuals through his free learning organisation, RLabs. 

Parker grew up in the Cape Flats on the fringes of Langa informal township, Bridgetown. He comes from a single-parent headed household and always dreamed of a better life for himself. 

Despite being employed as a trolley porter at the airport, Parker's dream was to one day wear a suit and tie. 

The entrepreneur's fate then changed when he decided to pursue tertiary studies.“The big turning point for me was realizing that your circumstances do not determine your destiny. I'm proud of many individuals from our local communities and townships that do amazing work bringing HOPE to many. 

My decision to study IT was purely accidental as technology was never something that I wanted to pursue”, says Parker. This is where his career launched and RLabs was founded. 

RLabs, a non-profit organisation provides a diverse range of free training and skills for individuals in lower-end communities. The organisation prides itself on making hope contagious and empowering others. Founded in 2008, RLabs has grown exponentially and is now active in 23 countries. “RLabs started as a small project to provide digital skills opportunities for youth on the Cape Flats. 

We would never have dreamt that the journey of HOPE which started with one person learning how to use a computer in Bridgetown will grow to over 9.5 million people accessing services in 23 countries over the last 8 years”, says Parker. 

"Today RLabs provides communities access to skills opportunities through the RLabs University, RLabs Youth and RLabs Women programmes as well as create support to local innovators and entrepreneurs through our Innovation Lab and Incubation offerings". 

Some of the courses RLabs offer include Public Relations and Marketing, Digital Analytics and Coding, Basic Computing, Small Business Management and Project Management to but name a few. 

The courses are facilitated by industry experts as well as RLabs' very own internal team. 

The success rate of the courses has been dynamic, says Parker. "We've seen more than 80% of our graduates accessing further economic opportunities (jobs, promotions, employment etc.) or pursuing further studies". 

"Our programme materials are also developed with industry requirements and future opportunities in mind", he adds. 

RLabs has developed programmes in countries such as Uganda, Namibia, Tanzania, Europe, South-East Asia as well as South America. 

“We recently incorporated RLabs in the US where we starting our programmes in Waco, Texas”, Parker said. 

The impact of RLabs has also been recognised globally by the World Bank United Nations and the World Economic Forum. Parker says that the awards RLabs received is testament to all the incredible work being done by various individuals and organisations on the Cape Flats. 

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         Picture: Marlon Parker, founder of RLabs. (Supplied). 

On the importance of entrepreneurship, Parker says: “I believe that we have an incredible opportunity in South Africa to develop a generation of innovators and entrepreneurs that can transform our nation and create the change we want to see in our communities”. 

“Developing our youth with the appropriate skills are important not just for getting a job but for being a citizen who can create economic value and social value through doing good in their communities”. 

He adds that entrepreneurship has the potential to better an individual’s circumstance. 

“Entrepreneurship have the potential to unlock opportunities for youth but this cannot happen in a vacuum. We do need the appropriate support and development opportunities for young entrepreneurs. We also need to ensure that our young entrepreneurs have access to the markets and have the mentorship vehicles to support youth on this journey”. 

RLabs assists the youth with entrepreneurship through their Innovation Lab. "The Innovation Lab provides aspiring entrepreneurs and innovators the opportunity to go through a bootcamp programme where they can apply design thinking, rapid prototyping and business modeling to their ideas. The ideas that creates social and economic value will be considered for our accelerator programme where participants will be able to access additional support to refine and launch their business ideas", says Parker. 

On RLabs future projects, Parker says that RLabs and its partners will be launching a new youth-focused platform towards the end of April. Parker says that he believes this will be a catalyst in providing youth with skills and opportunities that will assist them in being ready for the future of work. 

"We currently also working on a new model of equipping youth from the Cape Flats and townships with skills for the 4th Industrial Revolution", adds Parker. 

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