IBM has announced an ambitious new mentoring program that will pair more than 250 of its top scientists and researchers with university students throughout Africa. Called “Makocha Minds” (after the Swahili word for “teacher”), the program will give hundreds of African computer science, engineering and mathematics students the opportunity to advance their skills through first-hand access to the company’s IBM Fellows, Distinguished Engineers and Academy of Technology members.
More than one dozen African universities are participating in the program to date. Makocha Minds is an off-shoot of IBM’s Global Innovation Outlook, an annual exercise that brings together the world’s top government, business and academic leaders to uncover new opportunities for business and societal innovation. The mentorship program was inspired by a meeting earlier this year between students from seven East African universities and IBM Fellow Mark Dean, one of the lead inventors of the industry standard IBM personal computer.
“Talking to these students was one of the most inspirational moments of my career,” said Dean, who also is an IBM Research vice president and director of the company’s Almaden Research Center in San Jose, CA. “They are smart, they are motivated and they want to contribute to the economic development of their cities, their countries and their continent. But they lack role models and exposure to the inner workings of business and technology in today’s global economy. We’re going to help close that gap by sharing our time and experience as they get ready to launch their careers.”
Athman Fadhili, a Masters of Business Administration student specializing in management information systems at the University of Nairobi (Kenya), was among the students who suggested the program to Dean.
“African students need to be trained in entrepreneurship so that they get out there and not just make jobs for themselves but create opportunities to employ others as well,” Fadhili said. “We need access to role models who can show us how information and communications technologies are being used to enable business operations. Simply seeing what is possible will take me to another level and inspire me to achieve great things.”
According to IBM’s Dean, earlier and more in-depth interaction between students and working professionals can address the continent’s skills shortfall and accelerate the development of a more capable and prepared talent pool of scientists, technologists and business leaders.
Mezegebe Gebreyes, a second-year computer science post-graduate student at the HiLCoE School of computer science and Technology in Ethiopa, agrees, suggesting that Makocha Minds highlights the urgent need for Afrrican students to possess the technical capability to confront some of the continent’s most pressing issues.
“Information technology can help Africa in its development and its struggle to eradicate poverty. I want to be part of this plan using my computer science skills and knowledge,” said the 24-year-old student. “I expect Makocha Minds to help me accomplish my goals and show me direction to achieve these objectives.”
He and the other mentors in the Makocha Minds program currently use phone, e-mail, chat and SMS text messaging to conduct mentoring sessions, but in-person meetings are planned for the future.
“So far, the students are most interested in coaching on the skills and approaches they will need to successfully launch their careers,” Dean said. “They ask about real-life challenges we faced, how we handled them and how we expanded our own learning early in our careers. They run really exciting and unexpected ideas for new projects and initiatives by us, and seek connections with professional associations and other career development opportunities. And, not surprisingly, they are also providing me and my colleagues with an incredible education on life and business in developing markets.”
Participating universities include:
* Addis Abeba University, Ethiopa
* HiLCoE School of computer science and Technology, Ethiopa
* Kigali Institute of Technology, Rwanda
* Mekelle Institute of Technology, Ethiopa
* Makerere University, Uganda
* Meraka Institute, South Africa
* National University of Rwanda
* Strathmore College, Kenya
* Suffolk University, Senegal
* University of Botswana
* University of Dar-es-Salamm, Tanzania
* University of Ghana
* University of Lagos, Nigeria
* University of Nairobi, Kenya
* University of Pretoria, South Africa;
* University of the Western Cape, South Africa
* USIS, Kenya
* Vaal University of Technology, South Africa
The IBM Fellows program was founded in 1962 by Thomas J. Watson, Jr., as a way to promote creativity among the company’s “most exceptional” technical professionals. IBM’s technical leadership also includes 494 Distinguished Engineers from within its global technical community of almost 200,000 people. Distinguished Engineers are at once prolific inventors or patent holders and globally recognized experts in their respective fields.