Technology expert Tiyani Nghonyama (27) is a hugely smart and delightfully modest young leader. He’s the co-founder of Geekulcha, an organisation that teaches technology skills to rural and under-privileged youth, and guides them as they start university or enter the job market. Geekulcha Student Societies are active at 18 universities in six provinces, and its database lists a talent pool of 14 000 youngsters whom companies or the government can dip into when they need to hire an IT specialist.
Lots of youngsters first meet Geekulcha through its VacWork programme, where they spend a week in a simulated working environment, learning how to code and tackling real life problems. Some have won university scholarships with their new-found skills, or launched their own start-ups.
Another of its arms consults to large corporations such as IBM and Microsoft when they want to develop products for young consumers or test consumer reactions. It also runs intense hackathons to help companies or the government design solutions for stronger security or improved services.
Nghonyama is working with several government departments on initiatives to improve service delivery through IT, and he’s been to Parliament three times to discuss those projects.
Not surprisingly, in 2019 he won the IT Personality of the Year Award presented by the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa, competing against industry giants.
While Nghonyama is a Computer Systems Engineer by training, he’s a developer of people by nature. “Waking up every day knowing we have an opportunity to create new things is what matters,” he says. “We need greater capacity to solve the energy crisis, we need data engineers and scientists to manage, economise and create impact with data. We need a great army of digital defenders against cyber threats. We need talent that builds tech solutions for the most marginalised.”