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Solving for Digital Inclusion through Powerful Partnerships

As a South African, how do you understand and connect with the term digital exclusion? It may seem an obvious question, one to which we instinctively respond with a presumption of what we think and believe we know about being digitally marginalised. But let’s get real and confront a reality that is tough to really ‘wrap our minds’ around, particularly for those of us privileged enough to have never known true digital exclusion.

Let’s compound what we think we understand about digital exclusion with what we think we understand about economic exclusion and disillusionment. We have a somewhat contrived sense of the world we project and the problems we believe to be solving for which is largely driven by a lack of immersion into parallel universes. South Africa is indeed a strong example of parallel universes, or in economic terms, a deeply polarised economy. Danny Warshay, Professor of Entrepreneurship at Brown University, is an advocate for anthropological approaches to solutioning for strong and enduring needs. Too often we are constrained by our convictions of what we believe to be root causes of issues and crises, and too little do we pause, observe, and genuinely seek understanding across these parallel universes with many unknowns.

Solving for youth unemployment and digital exclusion is going to take a lot more than great ideas behind desks and laptops. It’s also going to take a great deal more than many smart lateral thinkers pooling their knowledge and resources into elaborate concept notes and well thought out solutions and implementation plans. Solution design for the giant crises of this modern world, and South Africa, will require leveraging the power of now, mindfulness and observation without constraints and prejudices to truly empathise with the problems we are aiming to effectively solve at scale.


A young Ambassador progresses through 1 of 5 assigned Modules in the Small Projects Foundation learning programme; a critical module on Mental Health and Well-Being. All Small Projects Foundation modules are designed to support upliftment and enhancement of quality of life for excluded and disadvantaged South Africans. The traditional paper-based training manuals are now supported as digitalised training materials on Future Skills to support learning anywhere and anytime.

The Future Skills team has been privileged to share a great partnership with the Small Projects Foundation; a social enterprise with a vision to support poor and disadvantaged individuals and communities by improving their quality of life through access of knowledge, networks, support services and economic opportunities.

A recent site visit to the Eastern Cape, graciously hosted and facilitated by the Small Projects Foundation, was the proverbial portal into a parallel universe for our project team. Our vision from the onset has been to support excluded youth with meaningful learning opportunities to enhance employability and where possible facilitate pathways into employment. But this would be the first time the conceptualisation of digital exclusion ‘partially solved for in theory’ would manifest as reality in two community halls in Pefferville and Newlands. What a privilege to be so warmly welcomed into these clusters of true community and have the opportunity to observe real service in action carried out by a tenacious Small Projects Foundation implementation team.

The feedback points gathered by the Future Skills team highlighted both positive accomplishments and ‘big-wins’ as well as challenges and setbacks which would require further analysis and unpacking to understand these barriers to access and learning better. Perhaps the greatest highlight was the realisation of the power technology has to truly democratise learning by penetrating highly disadvantaged communities and levelling the playing fields in terms of access to quality and open (funded in this context) learning. Our collective social and economic prosperity is directly linked to our access to education. Imagine a South Africa in which the future we choose is one where every South African, regardless of their dwelling and economic status, is afforded the opportunity to explore, cultivate curiosity, and skill themselves with the relevant and in-demand skills for times of great change and even greater challenges.   

Solving for digital equity will catapult South Africa forward beyond its deep-rooted systemic educational issues promoting a far more inclusive and diverse skills economy which is critical for our economic growth and prosperity.    



More information about the Future Skills and Small Projects Foundation Collaboration


A group of Small Projects Foundation learners gather at a community hall in Newlands after their designated training facility was vandalised the evening before leaving the training clinic without power and connectivity. Hombisa Ngcaba (left) – Program Manager, Small Projects Foundation – orchestrated the logistics of arranging a new training location to ensure learning continuity. Many of these learners pay for their own transport to get to these training sites from far distances all to have the chance to access a device, get connected with data and participate in their learning journey.



A Supervisor supports an ambassador login and access learning content on the Future Skills mobile application for the first time. The Small Projects Foundation implement a top-down strategy for supporting learning in the field. At the coreof management, an experienced Program Management team led by the Small Projects Foundation supports learning in physical training locationsacross the various communities targeted in the Eastern Cape. Program Managers support the capacitation and upskilling of Supervisors who take accountability for supporting the facilitation of training sessions for Ambassadors. Learning is community driven with peer-to-peer learning at the heart of the strategy for sharing skills and knowledge.   


One of several groups gather in the Pefferville Community Hall to debrief on upcoming access to mobile devices, routers, and data so they can begin their learning journey on the Future Skills mobile application. To the right, a young mother joins a training session with her young child. Online learning has the ability to transcend barriers to accessing education through traditional institutions which is especially challenging for young mothers with no childcare support services.  



What is the Future Skills and Small Projects Foundation collaboration?

Leadership from Future Skills and the Small Projects Foundation identified great synergies and potential for partnership to digitalise upliftment programmes and training for excluded and disadvantaged South Africans in the Eastern Cape. A partnership was mobilised in October 2022 to support 5,000 learners with access to the Small Projects Foundation structured curriculum hosted on the Future Skills mobile application. In addition to structured learning, all learners were given access to a rich content library in which learners could upskill themselves across various digital and professional skills. The collaboration concludes 31 March 2023 as this marks the end of respective funding cycles for the supported learners.


What problems is this collaboration solving for?

  • Digital exclusion and digital literacy
  • Digitalisation of traditional paper-based training
  • Digitalisation of data capturing for learning and reporting
  • Enhanced reporting on programme performance (richer analytics on adoption, engagement, and retention)
  • Ubiquitous access to learning
  • Access to a broader scope of learning with a focus on access to digital skills (awareness and exposure)
  • Enhanced employment prospects beyond a temporary stipend period of support



Scale of the project (performance to date)

  • 4,925 learners (ambassadors and supervisors) registered and support by the Future Skills platform from 1 October 2022 – 1 March 2023
  • Eastern Cape local municipalities reached include: Amahlathi; Buffalo City; Great Kei; Mbhashe; Mnquma; Nelson Mandela Bay; Ngqushwa; Nyandeni; and Raymond Mhlaba



Impact of the collaboration

Once the project concludes 31 March 2023, the Future Skills project team will formally assess total impact of the project against original performance targets as well as against new areas of impact. Our team looks forward to sharing more information on this collaboration.




How to get involved with Future Skills

We’d love to hear from you and introduce you to more about what Future Skills is doing to support youth work readiness and digital upskilling for the Global Business Services, Digital and Information and Communication Technology sectors.

Please contact our Demand Stimulation Lead to get in touch:

Keith Rosmarin

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