I'm a business operations professional working for a large software company in the Bay Area. My company and Team4Tech selected me to join a service team to impact the educational community in an under-resourced area east of Cape Town, South Africa.
You might think that the time on the ground was where the benefit and joy of serving on this team came from. As much as that was the case, it was a dynamic sense of giving and getting that played-out, which started happening two months prior to stepping foot on the plane to get our team there. Over that two months, Team4Tech taught us how to immerse, how to collaborate, and how to share in a way that brings people in and reaches them right where they are. That's serving.
The time on the ground is the culmination of your prep. efforts - and it's great - but it's the entire process that makes Team4Tech's process so impactful - for all stakeholders.
I am a 73-year-old retiree from IBM and various other tech and consultant jobs, including working for myself. I have worked in technology since 1966 so technology has been my life outside my family. For several years after I retired in 2011, I volunteered for local non-profit groups, developing web sites and small applications. I also volunteered with the local Library but I didn’t get much satisfaction putting books on shelves and it did not utilize my skill set which is all centered around the technology world.
I searched the Internet looking for organizations that I felt could use my skills to advantage. I wanted to give back to the world as well as feel like I wasn’t just allowing my life to slip away.
I found Team4Tech which looked interesting but I could not figure out exactly what I could do for them. After a few weeks of discussing with my wife and thinking about it, I filled out an application. I then forgot about it as I didn’t believe anything would happen. Surprise! A couple of months later I received an e-mail asking to have a phone interview. Martin, from Team4Tech called me and we discussed the details of what a Team4Tech assignment would entail and some potential engagements. Another few months went by and I received another email from Dawn with a specific engagement offer to help a school in the township of Ga-Rankuwa near Pretoria, South Africa. I would be working with a set of around 9 other volunteers of various backgrounds.
This was wonderful! I would be able to use my skills to give back, meet some exciting new people, learn some new skills, and travel to new places in the world. Over the next three months, I virtually met with the team of volunteers. We met weekly, and each week we discussed a new aspect of the engagement which was to be with the LEAP 6 School to set up new computers and help them integrate technology into their classrooms. We had the goals to increase the digital literacy confidence of teachers and inspire youth with technology. The in-country part of the engagement would be two weeks at the end of November and beginning of December.
As I was to find out, this two weeks of actual engagement would take several weeks of planning and discussion. I also discovered that these weeks of planning and discussion helped to make a cohesive team out of ten very different people with a large range of ages and skills. We ranged from Clarence at 23 to Al at 76 and with skills from web design, low level programming, teaching, entrepreneur with several start-ups, SAP executive, and Project Management. This was an eclectic group and as you might suspect, we did not all agree on politics and our views of life but we all did agree on the need for what we were trying to accomplish. The focus of what we were doing and the weekly meetings helped to make us an excellent team. This teamwork was to become very important when we finally arrived in South Africa.
When we arrived at the school on Monday morning, we met with the teachers and students and they welcomed us in the chapel with beautiful music and dancing. We then divided and went with the children to visit their homes and meet their families. This was possible because we arrived at the end of the school year and the students would be graduating the next week. We quickly discovered that our schedules and plans were going to take major revisions. The teachers were very busy with final grading and awarding of honors.
What at first looked like a major problem became a major opportunity. Because it was the week before graduation, the students were available and we immediately started making plans to work with them. We developed classes for the students to teach them SCRATCH programming, use MAKEY-MAKEY to interact with SCRATCH programs to make music and control computers, learn how to be entrepreneurs and develop their own businesses, develop web sites with WordPress, and learn how to develop Android programs. Our group did all of this as well as teaching the teachers about how to utilize Microsoft Office and all the Google tools to leverage the knowledge available on the Internet. This was a very rewarding two weeks and with daily review and team building meetings at the end of each day, we became a close-knit team. We helped each other with the presentations and met each new challenge with joint solutions. What a wonderful trip. The teachers and students were very appreciative and were wonderful to work with. Each day was an exciting new experience with us learning as much as we were teaching. The graduation night was an experience not to be missed as we watched the students receive their diplomas and their awards.
Team4Tech has an excellent approach that provides leadership and team building while at the same time providing support and knowledge to aid the advancement of learning and the use of technology in classrooms around the world. I would not have missed this adventure for the world. I met new friends that I expect to keep for the rest of my life and I could use my skills in ways I had not expected. I look forward to another adventure in the future.
If you, like me, are looking for ways to have new experiences while giving back to the people of the world, please consider contacting Team4Tech and filling out that application. If your company is looking for ways to give back and reward their employees, please get them to look at Team4Tech and consider working with them to set up a program.
Realizing My Retirement Dream
I retired from SAP in 2015. During my 15 year business development career at SAP I led many exciting projects in the emerging markets, including a rural commerce project in India, and opening SAP’s offices in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. While working on these projects, I got to experience firsthand how IT and e-commerce can drive dramatic economic as well as social change in people’s lives. Motivated by being able to make a difference, I started to develop a dream that I would dedicate my time in retirement to supporting IT projects in the developing countries.
Just before Christmas last year, I returned home from a service project in South Africa to advance the quality of high school education using IT. The project was organized by Team4Tech, a Silicon Valley-based nonprofit that helps technology companies bring to life their corporate values and leadership development goals through immersive service opportunities. Since 2013, Team4Tech has engaged over 200 volunteers from 18 technology companies, benefiting more than 33,000 teachers and learners.
For our project, we worked with LEAP, a leading nonprofit that focuses on advancing science and math education for children in under-served neighborhoods. LEAP operates six schools in South Africa, and their approach has produced dramatic results. Today over 98% of the LEAP students graduate from high school compared to a national average of 70%.
Our project was Team4Tech’s fourth collaboration with LEAP, and was located at their LEAP 6 campus in Ga-Rankuwa Township near Pretoria. The overarching goal was to set up new computers and provide training workshops for the teachers and students, to boost their performance and enthusiasm for science and math. My role on the project was to teach the teachers how Microsoft Office can be used to improve productivity by digitizing the classroom as well has make their lessons more engaging for the students. The teachers were blown away when I showed them how to use excel pivot tables to analyze the students’ grades to help them identify problems and best practices. They also saw huge benefits of having their lesson plans in Word and recorded PowerPoint lessons. Finally, they had a road-map to start reducing the paper work and increase the time they can spend with their students. To quote one of the teachers: “Our school has been transformed. We are now a 21st century school.”
However, my most rewarding moment on the trip was teaching the learners Scratch, a programming language developed by MIT to develop basic programming concepts. One of my fellow volunteers even showed the children how to create mobile applications. Standing in the computer lab seeing how quickly the learners picked up Scratch, the excitement on their faces when they had completed their very own mobile app, it struck me that I was realizing my dream. In today’s digitized world, having a basic understanding of coding will benefit many of the children’s careers. There are over 70K IT job openings in South Africa today, and I am confident that at least one of these will be filled by a LEAP graduate.
In addition to installing computers, laptops and projectors, our team of 10 volunteers also introduced the teachers and learners to a wide range of educational software, including IXL and KA Lite. To get them excited about technology, we also showed them how to: 1) experience virtual reality using Google Cardboard, 2) create music through Makey Makey, and 3) build their own website through WordPress.
My advice is to you is to realize your dream. Get involved now, it will be worth it.