Janet Longmore is the founder and CEO of Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT). She has dedicated her career to the creation of innovative approaches to help people in marginalised communities acquire the skills necessary to enter the modern workforce and become self-reliant. Education Times’ Allan Brian Ssenyonga caught up with her on her recent visit to Rwanda.
Can you briefly tell our readers about who Janet Longmore is?
Janet Longmore: Janet is a Canadian woman who has a passion for leadership for young people and I have dedicated my career to working with young people and supporting them as they build leadership skills. Not only to empower themselves but also to make a significant contribution to their societies and communities. I have learned a lot along the way and I want to share this with young people.
When and how did the idea to set up DOT come from?
Janet Longmore: The idea for DOT came in the year 2000. It was a time when technology was being introduced around the world and yet we had the digital divide. We had globalisation and yet still, youth unemployment. There was a sense that the youth are a drain on society. Of course I felt differently about that. I had also seen how young people got technology and that they were the missing ingredient to help many people in their communities to learn how to use technology effectively.
So the DOT idea was born then. I had been working with a number of companies in my previous work with CISCO Systems. I spoke to them about the idea and my passion for the idea and they provided a three year investment so that we could develop DOT.
What is the footprint of DOT?
Janet Longmore: We launched in the Middle East and into Africa. We are now in our eleventh year and we are working in 12 countries. We have mobilised the talent of over 4000 young people who have impacted 800,000 around the world. Africa and East Africa in particular is a priority area for us.
Why did you pick out Rwanda as one of the first countries to work with?
Janet Longmore: In selecting countries to work in, we have what we call a landscape assessment. That involves looking at the ICT strategy and vision that a country has for not only building infrastructure but also investing in their people to become knowledge workers to be able to use technology. And Rwanda was one of the top countries on our list after we had launched in Ethiopia and in Kenya. Our analysis demonstrated a country that really not only had the young talented population but really wanted to make that investment in creating a knowledge society with digital literacy skills so we felt again that that was the niche for DOT.
We then went and spoke to partners in the Canadian government and also foundations and we were able to secure support from Canada but also from the MasterCard Foundation to launch DOT in Rwanda in 2010. Rwanda has been a shining star in the network. I think the combination of the enabling environment that the government is working to put in place and the vision that they are working hard to deliver on is a very nice fit with the DOT vision and mission.
How does DOT intend to help the youth to tap into the transformative power of ICT?
Janet Longmore: We actually have multiple strategies in our programmes. The important piece is that what we try to foster is the adoption of locally relevant technologies. So we look at what are the appropriate technologies for rural communities? What are their needs and how then can you bring the appropriate technology and then create small businesses for the young people to deliver that?
On mobile technology our observation on Africa and Rwanda in particular has been that it is a huge take up. What is important, and this is what Rwanda is doing is to get access to the information and to be able to use the mobile phone in a way that will further business or job creation and employment. We are now building our learning content and using mobile learning and we are working with women not only to learn mobile technologies but also to improve businesses, using social media to market their businesses using mobile technologies.
DOT Rwanda has been commended for its great partnership with the Rwanda government. So are there plans to share your curriculum with the government for use in schools?
Janet Longmore: We have been looking at how we can bring our curriculum into schools both at the high school level and also at the university level. Already we are offering the programme in the TVETs [Technical and Vocational Education and Training]. We offer the entrepreneurship, ICT skills and life skills training in the TVETs through the young interns. It is important to reach the high school level because educational institutions have a lot of challenges and the world is changing so quickly. So we are exploring how we can do that. We would like to do that in partnership with government using our youth-led model to facilitate in bringing that type of training. We are in the TVETs and we are trying to expand from there.
I agree that the biggest challenge for young people is getting an education that prepares them for the challenges outside school in form of how to find a job or how to create a job or simply how to chart their path in life. They need to different skills to achieve this and if we can work with them before they leave the [education] system that stops the flow of unskilled graduates and we are certainly working on that.
With your focus on ICTs how do you ensure that the youth who get these skills do not waste their time on social media sites like Facebook instead of being productive?
Janet Longmore: Majority of the youth already know how to use some of these platforms and so our role it help them see how to use Facebook for instance, to market your products in a small business. Recently we gathered a number of our young people from around East Africa and we heard from them that it was easier to market their products through Facebook than building a website. So we urge them to take that use and channel it into supporting a business or don’t just chat but use networks to find out about job opportunities or volunteer opportunities. All we do is encourage them to develop productive behaviour and use of technology.
The Rwanda government has a clear ICT programme under the Vision 2020 and DOT also has its objectives. Is the government aligning its programmes with DOT’s programmes?
Janet Longmore: From working together for the past two year and now with the signing of this MOU, we have seen that there is a high level of commitment from the [Youth and ICT] minister in terms of a two way street. Just as we will support the delivery of their programmes and vision, our hope, and I believe the minister is committed to this is that they will learn from us as well. The goal is to find efficient ways to reach large numbers of people and to make it sustainable.
And I know that the minister is out there talking to many different players. I first met him in California at a different conference. We as DOT, have a global network to bring in new ideas and so we could actually create something that was not there before but could be a more efficient and sustainable way of reaching people and delivering more of these digital literacy skills and supporting them. It is a two way street.
One last word to the youth of Rwanda
Janet Longmore: Just believe in yourself and take the time to understand your own passion and stay true to that. Find the opportunities that are close to you, create networks of friends and colleagues. Networks will open new doors for you. But really the opportunity for you to do something productive in life is really yours to make. You need the skills, you need the networks and you need to stay committed to what you truly believe in and the future is bright.