When hordes of young Zimbabweans were busy crossing the southern African country’s borders at the height of the economic meltdown in 2008, a young but determined Limbikani Makani decided to do otherwise and invested his time in coming up with a technology company aimed at changing the face of the country’s start-up scene.
Golden Maunganidze reports
In June this year, thirty-year old Limbikani Makani was nominated by the United States embassy in Harare to participate in the State Department’s Innovation Summit and Mentoring Partnership for Young African Leaders. The Washington summit brought together 65 inspirational young leaders from 42 African countries, and Makani was able to share his experiences and insights on how he has spent the last three years developing a platform to transform the ICT landscape in Zimbabwe. At the time, there was a dearth of information on ICT for the local context, and having identified a niche, he launched the TechZim website, which has arguably become one of Zimbabwe’s leading technology websites for product reviews and local IT news. With approximately 3,000 page views per day, TechZim is proving popular, and Makani says, “We have set our sights on building a culture of start-ups and innovation in Zimbabwe.”
Whilst tech start-ups are now able to access news and information readily, TechZim has had another unprecedented impact by helping secondary school students who are learning the ropes of using ICT as a tool for academic research. Makani explains, “We decided to take on young people from secondary schools and colleges to teach them how to use the Internet and social media networks for their academic research.” They host free informal training seminars during the school holidays where a few youths at a time learn about software, web designing and project management. For novices, there are sessions on basic computer skills – something so many privileged people take for granted these days. “We don’t award certificates because we aren’t a college,” says Makani. “We are basically demystifying ICT and assisting students who would otherwise not be able to afford computer classes at all,” he says.
Makani’s project has proved popular, so much so that the Department of Media Studies at WITS University in Johannesburg invited his input for a study into the revision of the regulatory framework of a new national media policy for Zimbabwe. “If tech start-ups are to succeed, the overall ICT climate has to be conducive to doing business,” he argues. “For eCommerce to become a reality, we need to be investing in skills; in research and development and working towards Universal Internet Access.”
The TechZim project and its attendant outreach programme have also received the thumbs up from Lovemore Mufamba, the President of the Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe. He says, “It’s pleasing to have young and innovative Zimbabweans who are committing their time to assisting others. Finding employment on completion of their studies is a real challenge for many students, but Makani is onto something by encouraging them to create self-employment through ICTs. I applaud any initiative which equips students with practical life skills.”
Cephas Kuenda, an ICT expert and lecturer at Great Zimbabwe University feels that Makani’s efforts will go a long way in helping researchers and those with passion to develop the country. “TechZim should be commended for taking a bold step in breaking new ground through teaching students what they can do with the Internet to make their own living,” he says. Makani’s drive to make ICT issues accessible to start-ups and students alike led him to America, but the message is ultimately for Africa.
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