Luleka Mkuzo is arming rural communities with technology
Johannesburg – When Luleka Mkuzo, 38, left her lucrative job as a procurement analyst for a mining company three years ago, she had one dream and mission, to help children and people from rural communities dream.
She had worked for a Gauteng-based mining company for 10 years, but every time she returned to her rural home in Kubha, Eastern Cape, she was torn by what she saw.
Some of her peers from her school days never made it out of the community and have struggled to find jobs for more than 20 years, resorting to asking her for R2 and R5 coins when she returned to visit.
After several engagements with her community, the Durban University of Technology graduate took a leap of faith and started Ubuntu Renaissance Global (Urglobal) in late 2016, a non-profit organisation which aims to empower and facilitate development in rural communities.
Through Urglobal, she designed a mobile technology park which is equipped with multiple laptops to give pupils, teachers and people in rural communities access to technology, the internet, and basic computer skills.
She currently works with rural communities in the Eastern Cape and in KwaZulu-Natal, and last year was recognised for her efforts when she was one of the winners at the SAB Foundation’s Social Innovation Awards. She received R200 000 in seed grant funding for her efforts.
“I have always been interested in community development,” she said.
“I have always looked for things that I can do for my community.
“When I worked for the mining company, the mining company would always look for things to do in the community that they were based in, and when I went back home for leave or holidays, I would always try to do something to help.”
In 2016, Mkuzo did a social entrepreneurship course through the Gordon Institute for Business Science (GIBS) and, by the end of the course, she quit her job to open an NGO to uplift rural communities and return home.
“At GIBS I met other people who gave me courage to make the decision to quit my job and leave Joburg.
“I had some shares from the company, so I decided I would use those to get Urglobal started, so with those shares we were able to buy our first 17 laptops for the programmes,” she said.
Mkuzo had observed that children in rural communities were being left behind as the world moved to a more technologically advanced future.
The buzz word during her social entrepreneurship course at GIBS was 4IR.
The lack of infrastructure, access and exposure to technology and internet in communities like the one she came from made her uncomfortable.
“I realised that people in our rural communities are being left behind,” she said.
She recalled that at university, she and other students from poor and rural communities initially struggled with using computers and the like.
Her initiative offers a mobile training solution to Grade 6 to 9 pupils, introducing them to end-user computing, coding, drone technology and virtual reality.
“As someone who comes from a rural community I know what it's like not to have the basics and have insecurities, especially when you are around people who have been exposed to these things.
“You feel inferior and you feel like you do not bring value.
“We want access and inclusion for rural communities. We want them to know they also bring value, so if they are also included we know we can also be valued,” she said.
She negotiates with the schools to allow her programme to be incorporated into the school timetable for a period of two weeks – which is divided in two spells during the academic year.
“We own 40 laptops now, so we train the children in end user computing, coding and we have gadgets such as drones, virtual reality headsets and Google Assistant speakers, because we want them to see how the world is moving.
“We want to show them how the world will work in future and how technology will take over so many tasks in future. The aim is really to keep adding as many technological gadgets as possible,” she said.
The programme was on hold until it returned last week and, next week, they will be adding one more school from the rural Pietermaritzburg community.
Mkuzo said their facilitators, who were driven young people from the communities in which they operated, were trained by the DUT for about a week before they offered the service.
She said during the lockdown, she had been receiving calls from companies who wanted to partner with the organisation to expand skills to not only young people in school, but also to young women and women in the community who needed skills.
“When I started this initiative, I was doing it because I was trying to say we must not be left behind.
“When the pandemic came, 3 years after the programme started, we are now starting to get those calls from companies who are calling me and they say come run coding workshops for youth, come help us with skills for older women.
“People are calling now because they want to make an impact because the pandemic has heightened the need for these skills. I think now, people are hearing me now,” she said.
But as much as they aim to do good by the community and for the community, theft is still a challenge.
Mkuzo said they donated 10 laptops at three schools, only to find it had been stolen a few months after they were donated to the schools.
“It’s so unfortunate because the people who do this are from the community, the school is in the community and that’s a really big challenge,” she said.
“At one of the schools they drilled a hole in the wall of the principal’s office and smashed the safe, so that is unfortunate,” she said.
“It's a really difficult situation because if they are drilling walls and they are able to break open the safe, I really don't know what the solution is.
“Currently, we can't leave any equipment at the school as a result,” she said.
But as much as there are challenges, the programme is taking shape, with her latest client asking Urglobal to identify four communities that need assistance.
“Because we have access to the people, we can say to the company we can get you child minders, we can get you facilitators, we can get you security guards, catering companies, because we also want to develop business and create employment opportunities in these communities,” she said.
Mkuzo’s goal is to carry on fostering hope, access and a desire to dream.
“We don’t just teach technology, what we do is so much more, we give so much hope.
“I have so many of our peers who are not working and who are dependent on grants for survival.
“We want to create a spark in the lives of those we work with so that they can say ‘I can do something great with my life’,” said Mkuzo.