Nelly Cheboi: Bridging the Technology Gap in Rural Kenya
Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and an online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, who are advancing the UN SDGs.
Spiffy here with the scoop on the entrepreneurial leaders of Planet Earth. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Nelly Cheboi, the CEO of TechLit Africa. Let’s learn what’s happening at TechLit Africa and how Nelly is making a positive impact in the world.
Spiffy: Hi Nelly, thanks a million for talking to me today. Tell me, what challenge is TechLit Africa addressing?
Nelly: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! Rural Africans lack opportunities to make a living, but computers and the internet provide global opportunities. TechLit Africa teaches digital skills to kids in primary schools to unlock these opportunities. We teach classes with donated, used computers. Our classes follow a curriculum designed to close the skills gap for adults living in rural Africa.
Spiffy: What motivated you to do it?
Nelly: I was born into poverty. I grew up watching my dear mom work tirelessly to educate my sisters and me. People in rural Kenya work really hard just to provide for their families. The lack of upward mobility is the most depressing part. The systems are not in our favor. Loans have at least 13% interest rates, unreliable roads make it really hard to distribute goods, and our education system is so expensive that families continue to sink into poverty simply for educating their children. To me, the lack of strong institutions and infrastructure keeps rural Africans poor. Digital infrastructure is the easiest one to build. A future where rural Africans could be making money online is what keeps me motivated.
Spiffy: How would you say that TechLit Africa is working towards a more equitable world?
Nelly: Rural Africans lack tools and the skills to leverage the digital economy. A great swath of African talent does not fit into the fast-paced technological world, despite being well-educated. If we fail to fill the widening gap between the market requirements and available skills, we will be unable to lift African families out of poverty. Organizations in advanced countries upgrade computers every three to five years. They have millions of spare machines per year and the problem of what to do with them. We work towards bridging that equity gap.
Spiffy: Tell me about a recent organization milestone or initiative. What impact does it make?
Nelly: This is a short video of eight-year-old Leddy teaching her mom touch-typing. This video is really cool. Leddy, like most people in rural Kenya, would most likely have used a computer only after she graduated high school. I first used a computer when I was eighteen years old. Even after graduating with a computer science degree, I had to practice touch-typing for six months before I could pass a coding interview. It is very heartwarming that 4,000 kids already will learn faster than I did when breaking into technology.
Spiffy: Please share an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn from it?
Nelly: We want our programs to be sustainable. We thought that it would be easy for parents to contribute a dollar a month to cover local operations costs. So, we quickly installed the computer labs thinking we could charge the schools later. Schools were happy with the program, but none of them were eager to pay or talk to the parents about paying for the program. Our program costs rose, quickly becoming expensive with no visible end. We had to find donors to cover the earliest schools in our program. Now, we require schools to pay before we install computers. This has slowed down our growth rate a lot, but we are content knowing the programs are funded. We received an award in CNN Heroes for our work.
Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Nelly—it’s been an honor!
Nelly Cheboi was born into poverty. It is Nelly’s life's work to re-write what it looks like to grow up in rural Kenya. Nelly is the CEO of TechLit Africa, an organization that leverages the digital economy to lift rural African communities out of poverty. (Nominated by the Ladderworks team. First published on the Ladderworks website on October 13, 2022.)
© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jason Block. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.