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15 June 2021
Graduates of UWC and Samsung’s Future-Innovation Programme overcome great odds to make a difference with digital innovation
Gender-based violence and illegal dumping are among the real-life challenges being addressed by students who graduated today from the University of the Western Cape’s second Future-Innovation Programme.

The graduates, who were recognised at a virtual graduation and prize-giving, include 36 students from the short course in multi-platform software development and 41 students from the short course in digital social innovation. A third of the students who received certificates are black women, and Mickyle Otto is the top achieving student in both courses. 

CLICK HERE to watch the graduation.

“The students in the second cohort of the Future-Innovation Programme, our innovative partnership with Samsung, were onboarded on their learning journey amid the COVID-19 lockdown. For these young students, many of which are coming from challenging backgrounds, the realities of the pandemic were stark. One thing that we all learnt during these trying times is the fact that digital technologies can empower us to connect,” said Professor José Frantz, UWC’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation. These students can now all begin a well-supported career in the ICT sector. 

The graduation also celebrated the seven aspiring software developers, of which two are women, who entered the Samsung EEIP AppFactory, in partnership with Microsoft SA, in 2020. UWC hosted this nine-month programme of applied skills training and building of software products to bolster students’ prospects of employment or digital entrepreneurship. They have been coached and mentored by industry experts and their final software projects are focused on robotic process automation technologies. Roget van Heerden was named as “App Factory Intern of the year: 2021”. The award is given to the intern who best exemplifies the values, principles, and ethos of the App Factory.

“These interns will now be entering their software development careers and we will be observing their progress with interest. We would also again extend an invitation to our partners in the software development industry to partner with us in empowering our future digital innovators,” said Prof. Frantz. 

In partnership with Samsung SA, the Future-Innovation programme provides disadvantaged youth with software development and digital social innovation expertise so that they too can access the digital economy. “Our students come from very different starting points on this digital journey, yet they are exiting the programme with a much better understanding of the digital ecosystem and the potential paths of opportunity therein,” said Prof. Frantz.

She emphasised the resilience of the students who took part in the six-month course, in the shadow of the pandemic. “The students persevered during trying times, often without having highly supportive learning environments at home. Some were limited by simple challenges such as weak mobile connectivity in their area of residence, but on the other hand some students were directly affected by the pandemic and its related medical challenges,” she said. 

“Our students were also victims of crime and were robbed of the very tools they needed for connectivity. Amidst all of these real life barriers and societal problems, they had to cope with the complexities of learning about software development, digital product development and leveraging technology for good. It was an enormous challenge, but they succeeded.”

Prof. Frantz also commended Samsung for comprehensively supporting students by ensuring that they had sufficient data to learn and access to the devices they needed. “We celebrate this partnership as it is helping us to live our motto of ‘making research and innovation count through connecting possibilities’, by bringing hope through skills development, leveraging technology for connecting to human problems and enabling learning even in difficult contexts.”

Hlubi Shivanda, Director: Business Innovation Group and Corporate Affairs at Samsung South Africa, said: “Samsung has prioritised education and training in software development, engineering, business management and entrepreneurship skills. In doing so, we believe that as the programme grows, more of South Africa’s youth can successfully apply their new skills, which are highly sought-after in the country’s digital economy.” He said the programme is also aligned with Samsung’s global mission, “Enabling People”, which is aimed at aiding people, discovering and developing their full abilities and harnessing the potential for success that exists in the technology sector.

The students completed projects aimed at confronting socio-economic challenges such as youth unemployment, environmental degradation, the management of health risks such as diabetes on a budget, and obstacles to early childhood development. One of these is an all-inclusive mobile application, called NoMo, that addresses gender-based violence for men, women and the LGBTQ+ community. Another, called EcoBlok, offers an innovative crowdsourcing solution to map and manage illegal waste dumping sites. 

Student Mikaela Gabriel, who described the programme as “life-changing”, said: “Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine an opportunity like this could happen to me. I have not only acquired a new skill set, but this course has also helped me grow in more ways than I ever knew I would. There were challenging days, but the entire world was going through those challenges with COVID-19; this taught me to never give up.” Another student, Tegwen Galant, added: “When I started this course, I was very anxious as I was trying to find my feet and make my mark in the tech world. It’s great to know this platform exists and will help ease unemployment.”

Many of the students from the first cohort of the programme have already found work, either as junior software developers, mobile developers or as creators of their own digital start-ups. The seven students who accepted internship positions within the Samsung EEIP App Factory, in partnership with Microsoft, completed their intensive learning experiences in May. 

UWC will assist this second group in furthering their social innovation journey by partnering them with the relevant academic expertise at the university, said Prof. Frantz. “Further opportunities will be created for them to develop and package their projects in order to bring their solutions and early-stage digital products to life.”

Shivanda added: “The Samsung-UWC partnership will continue to make a meaningful difference in young people’s lives through capacity building programmes such as these. This life-changing opportunity raises the prospects for employment for these students. Samsung is looking forward to the new intake of recruits for the new academic period and wish them well on their journey of success.”