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Empowering students through technology education: an uncommon story 

Special Interest Programme / Zimbabwe Programme / Partner story

Image © Uncommon

When Uncommon first launched in Zimbabwe at the end of 2017, its goal was to teach youth and young adults how to code. Peter, the organisation’s founder, could see how there was a huge thirst for technology education in the country, as well as a lack of opportunity for youth and young adults to learn these skills. 

Uncommon’s initial model was simple – to train unemployed young adults to be after-school coding instructors for younger children. As the trainings quickly became popular and the demand for tech skills grew worldwide, the team realized they could make an even larger impact. Today, Uncommon also focuses on training young adults for the global tech workforce. To this end, they offer free, one-year bootcamps in seven innovation hubs, which were creatively upcycled out of shipping containers. 

Uncommon innovation hubs are located in low-income communities in the cities of Harare and Bulawayo, with plans to soon expand to Victoria Falls. The bootcamps focus on useful and in-demand tech skills such as design, software development, and digital marketing. Young adult students are also virtually matched with mentors from companies such as Youtube, Amazon, and Google to help with professional development training and soft skills. After graduating from the bootcamp, students are prepared for a wide variety of employment opportunities in tech. 

“Uncommon’s goal is to nurture a generation of talent that will grow existing companies and create new employment opportunities,” says Peter. Indeed, the average annual income of graduates has already increased four to five times following studying with Uncommon. 

Uncommon’s innovation hubs were built from upcycled shipping containers and are powered with solar energy. 

“Uncommon is taking people from an environment where often there is no hope, and lifting them up to the point where, actually, the sky is the limit,” says Ben Gilpin, director of Oak Foundation’s Zimbabwe Programme, “Imagination is what takes their skills to that place where they can have a big impact.” 

But Uncommon’s original mission to reach young children remains. The young adults who graduate from the bootcamp pass on their knowledge by providing free computer coding classes at partner schools in the neighbourhood. They reach thousands of children, giving them access to new and fun opportunities in computer science. 

“The fact that the tech industry is so vast, so open, and breaks down barriers and borders means that tech-literate youth in Zimbabwe can become a resource to the world. And this can uplift a whole generation and a whole country into a new space,” says Ben.  

Watch Uncommon’s latest video to hear more from Ben about the organisation and the many lives they have touched:

Tanyaradzwa Nyamusara is one of the young women who has benefitted from the training. Coming from a small town in Zimbabwe, she first learned about Uncommon when she was 16. “Though I knew nothing about technology, I was curious and decided to join,” she says. “I got so good that I was even invited to New York City for an assignment with ‘Girls who Code’.” A few months before travelling, just before turning 17, Tanyaradzwa found out that she was pregnant. “Many people thought that this was where my story would end,” she says. “But really, it was just the beginning.”  

Today, Tanyaradzwa is a front-end developer at Uncommon, overseeing the coding education over six innovation hubs. She also helps train the young adults who teach thousands of schoolchildren. She has her whole life ahead of her and she is excited about what the future holds. “I am a high school drop-out and a teen mom,” she says. “I am also a developer and a believer in humanity and all that we can do. I am uncommon.”   

Oak Foundation supports this grant through our Special Interest Programme which covers a wide range of fields, including environment, health, humanitarian relief, education, and the arts. This programme reflects the Trustees’ interests in making innovative grants. You can find out more about the programme and its strategy by clicking here. Learn more about Uncommon here