The tech evangelist
Njideka Harry equips the next generation with crucial technology skillsNjideka Harry ’12 sat in the college classroom, feeling lost.
It wasn’t the class load; it was that the other students had something she lacked: the knowledge to use a computer. The year was 1993 and Harry, a Nigerian native who had recently moved to the United States, had no experience with technology.
Over the next few months, Harry worked hard at bridging the digital divide between her old life and her new one. This planted the seed for something much bigger: It inspired her to create the Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF), an organization that focuses on providing underserved populations with education and technology to improve their livelihood.
"Education and technology should be a basic human right," said Harry. "It should be affordable and it should be available for everyone on the planet."
Since its inception in 2000, YTF has served more than 1,700 communities, helped create more than 2,670 businesses and trained more than 1.4 million people in Africa, Latin America and the United States.
Harry started the foundation while working as a financial analyst for Microsoft. The organization’s first challenge came while building a community technology center in the Niger Delta that provided a safe haven for learning, while teaching youth marketable technology skills necessary to complete their education and secure employment.
Soon, Harry left Microsoft — without another job, benefits or much money — to focus on growing YTF.
"I am possessed by this cause to enrich developing world communities using appropriate technologies," Harry said. "Technology can level the playing field, can equalize. Imagine that 12-year-old girl living in a rural town in Kenya now being able to learn from a physics class being taught by an MIT professor on a massive online and open course platform. The opportunities that now exist are mind-blowing."
Focusing on entrepreneurship, agriculture, education and health, YTF provides educational opportunities that enable young people to find sustainable solutions to local problems. The foundation partners with marginalized communities in the United States, Nigeria, Kenya, Cameroon, Uganda and Colombia, where Harry’s fellow Executive MBA classmates helped her build a new hub in Soacha, about 15 miles south of Bogotá. The group’s goal is to serve 20 developing countries by 2018.
The organization’s work has not gone unnoticed. YTF recently became a member of the World Economic Forum, an international nonprofit that unites global business and political leaders to improve the world. The Forum, in conjunction with the Schwab Foundation, named Harry one of its top social entrepreneurs of 2013.
At the Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, this past January, Harry met with several stakeholders, outlining ways to create training and employment opportunities for the disenfranchised.
"It was an amazing experience for me and an incredible way to share the work of the organization with world leaders,” Harry said.