Technology Skills Helping Youth Make the World a Better Place

Editor’s Note: Today’s young people are tomorrow’s leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators. The continuing acceleration of technology and innovation creates incredible opportunities but it also challenges us to keep up by getting the right skills, education and experiences in order to be prepared for these new jobs and opportunities. Many young people are struggling because they don’t have the experience, knowledge or connections they need to find employment. In her interview below, Binta Coudy Dé, an IT student from Senegal, observes that her peers are challenged to apply the things they learn in class to secure employment. Through working with businesses, the nonprofit community and governments, Microsoft is committed to providing opportunities for youth through technology, training, and experiences. Learn more about Binta Coudy’s point of view and her experience at this week’s International Conference on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) in Shanghai, a global platform for knowledge sharing, reflection and debate on the changing landscape of TVET, as well as its future.

By Microsoft Citizenship Team

Binta Coudy Dé is a well-spoken 22-year-old living in Dakar, Senegal, who wants to be an entrepreneur. She’s a member of the team Cyan Girls, which won a software design award for West and Central Africa in 2011 in Microsoft’s student technology competition, Imagine Cup.

“We all wanted to do computer science for good,” she said. “And the Imagine Cup program offered the chance to use technology to solve problems. So we thought we could do something to help those who have the most complicated math in Senegal.”

That would be the rural farmers and fisherman of the West African country. Binta Coudy says they do the best that they can, but often can’t afford to eat the very food they produce – fish and rice – which is part of the country’s most popular dish.

“We tried to identify the real problems facing fisherman in Senegal and we found a company called Corex, who was trying to help,” she said. “But their work was just on paper and they had not yet incorporated technology in their project.”

Based on this idea, her team developed a project called PAGEL, which is a cloud platform designed to provide infrastructure and ecommerce support for rural farmers and fishermen. With software as a service (SAAS) combined with Windows Azure, these individuals and small businesses can better set pricing, identify markets to sell their goods and gain worldwide visibility through an online marketplace. They submitted their project and advanced all the way to the Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals 2011 in New York.


Team Cyan Girls at the Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals in New York, July 9, 2011.

But the work didn’t stop there for this team of young innovators. Binta Coudy and her team members are actively looking to make their innovations a reality. They currently have an opportunity to receive mentorship from the Dakar Information and Communication Technologies Incubator (CTIC), a business incubation center that could help PAGEL. Binta Coudy sees this as an opportunity for her to realize her dream to become an entrepreneur.

“We have a lot of things we can do in Senegal and we don’t want other people to come and do it,” she said. “We want to do it.”

Just this week, Binta Coudy attended the International Conference on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) conference in Shanghai to share her experience with technology and the process of creating the PAGEL project. At TVET, she was part a round table on technology and skills development where she stressed that technology students are often challenged to apply things learned in IT classes to secure employment. Binta Coudy noticed that this challenge was not just specific to Senegal, and that the same thing was happening in other West African countries such as Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. To help address the issue, Binta Coudy and other students formed a network of support groups, comprised of both students and working professionals, who together identify barriers and challenges and solve them creatively. This includes developing a better understanding of the demand for IT skills, mentoring and internship support.

She also spoke of her Imagine Cup experience which gave her a strong sense of entrepreneurial spirit, an incredibly important complement to her IT studies. More importantly, she spoke about how Imagine Cup gave her the opportunity to apply her IT skills and develop concrete examples and outputs of her learning.

At TVET, Binta Coudy is not only an advocate for entrepreneurialism, but a source of inspiration to girls around the globe to seek information technology and computer science as a career path. This is vital to securing jobs of the future, as 77 percent of jobs will require technology skills by 2020, according to a 2010 IDC study. As a woman, Binta Coudy feels her role in information technology is rare due to cultural norms. She says that strict parents of girls might not normally condone late night studying in a computer lab for a project like Imagine Cup. She herself exceled in school and finished a year earlier than her peers, earning a bachelor degree in experimental sciences at just 17. She went on to study at Ecole Supérieure Multinationale des Télécommunications (ESMT) and Ecole Supérieure Polytechnique in Dakar to complete a hybrid study of telecommunications and computer science. When she was doing her first internship in 2008, she was the youngest information technology support staff at the company.

“When you go to a company, they say girls don’t know programming,” said Binta Coudy. “It’s for men, not for girls. One day, there was a problem with a computer and when I came to fix it, a man told me ‘please call your boss because you will not touch my computer. I am sure you don’t know how to fix it.’”

Furthermore, she’s a rare example of having access to technology in early stages of life. She remembers playing solitaire on a computer at just eight years old, when she wondered about the inner workings of the computer. She thought, how is it that the computer won, and how did I come to win? Binta Coudy says that many students are not as fortunate as her to have access to technology at so young an age. Not every school has access to the internet and those students who do have access to laptops do because their parents could afford to buy them one – a rarity. And while she did have the tools available to her, she didn’t have anyone available to show her technology’s practical application.

She said the appeal of Imagine Cup for students is that they learn that they can develop an idea and have a chance to really find if their project will help people. Her hope is that events focused on championing technical and vocational training such as this week’s UNESCO International Congress on TVET will lead to an exchange of ideas among the global community and encourage more students to seek technological careers.