Introduction: As part of my International Development MSc degree at the University of Edinburgh, I conducted a work-based research placement with the Turing Trust in Kumasi, Ghana. I visited numerous Integrated Community Centres for Employable Skills (ICCES) facilities across the Ashanti region, which is for young Ghanaians (between 16 and 25 years old) to gain more practical skills to enter the workforce. The Turing Trust have an ongoing partnership supplying computers to these facilities.
During my placement, I had the invaluable opportunity to speak directly with many young Ghanaians (over 80 in total) to learn more about challenges they face and explore the role that ICT can play in combatting them. It was truly inspiring to speak with so many passionate young people, to learn about their ambitions and what they think about technology more widely.
More specifically, my research surrounded the entrepreneurial environment in Ghana, exploring the importance of digital literacy for young Ghanaians. This research concluded that although there is a huge entrepreneurial appetite, especially amongst youth, there is a lack of a conducive environment for them to succeed. Equipping young Ghanaians with digital skills training is an essential component of enabling them to adapt to the current digital age. This is where the Turing Trust’s work supplying recycled PCs is crucial, providing access to ICT for young Ghanaians in schools across the entirety of Ghana.
Many of these young people would otherwise not have the opportunity to access a computer, and the exciting thing about this initiative has the potential to tackle Ghana’s digital divide which hinders its development as a whole.
Providing access to ICT empowers young Ghanaians to exploit the widespread benefits that technology can bring individuals. ICT is unavoidable in the current digital age and has the enormous potential to connect the previously unconnected in society. Without access to ICT, marginalised individuals face unequal opportunities and subsequently become further isolated, which is especially apparent for disadvantaged rural communities. This sentiment was echoed almost verbatim with most individuals I had the chance to speak with, and the idea of the world as an interconnected “global village”.
As one trainer exclaimed to me:
Technology is the key! Without it, Ghana will not be able to develop in the 21st century.
Current trainees: I observed an extensive number of training sessions at ICCES institutions, and it became increasingly apparent that trainees were able to quickly adopt their theoretical teachings and then practically implement them in a practical sense through the use of ICT.
In one class, trainees learnt about the importance of conducting financial management for any small enterprise. Subsequently, the following class gave trainees the opportunity to access PCs (donated by the Turing Trust) to input and analyse financial information into Microsoft Excel documents. Trainees talked to me about how this practical element has helped them to understand the nature of profit and losses in their prospective enterprises.
A number of trainees had already put these digital skills into practice outside of their class-time, running their own small enterprises within their local community. I spoke with one catering trainee, Marie*, about how she was able to transfer these digital skills to track financial information on Excel which has enabled her to more accurately calculate profit margins. The use of internet on personal smartphones means she was able to research market costs of flour, rice etc. and explore new recipes to experiment with in the future.
She told me that having access to PCs has helped her:
Learn how to be creative and apply their entrepreneurial skills learnt onto digital platforms so as to differentiate between products.
This highlights the empowering benefits that technology can have on the lives of young Ghanaians, in this case to unlock the innovative potential of aspirational entrepreneurs. Without access, ventures are restricted to a localised scale.
As an ICCES trainer in Accra explained:
Access to technology helps connect young entrepreneurs with online networks in order to help them to take their ideas to the next level.
Graduates: Sandra*, a recent graduate of ICCES Tetrefu explained she faced difficulties implementing the practical ICT skills without access to it. She told me she faced difficulties:
Keeping track efficiently of sales, profit margins [etc.] and this has hindered my potential to grow my existing business, and instead of focussing on expanding, I am working day-to-day to ensure I am able to pay the rent for my business premises.
Christopher* is another graduate of ICCES Tetrefu and has gone on to set up his own electrical shop, which sells more environmentally friendly electrical appliances, his unique selling point. He is a well-known entrepreneur that is respect within his community has expanded his enterprise to now be able to employ one other individual. He explains that through attaining digital skills training thanks to Turing Trust donations at ICCES Tetrefu, he has been able to see tangible impacts on his business. He is able to access a PC, which he shares with a family member to address the inhibitive financial costs of ownership.
He uses this to promote his business via social media on a wider scale than he had previously foreseen without the use of ICT. He uses social media platforms, such as Facebook, to communicate directly with prospective customers. As a result of his digital literacy he learned from ICCES Tetrefu, he is able to conduct this online promotion. This has led directly to an increasing number of customers visiting his shop and ultimately increased level of sales. As a result of the increased sales that ICT has helped to facilitate, he has been able to start paying back his student loan from University.
In his own words:
Being able to use ICT efficiently has been crucial for me as an entrepreneur, especially with the intense levels of competition in the area, and low profit margins available, therefore digital literacy, that I have learned thanks to the help of ICCES, has helped me to stand out from my competitors.
*For the purposes of my research all case studies used are anonymous.
End: Without the Turing Trust working in local communities to equip ICCES centres with PCs, young Ghanaians would not otherwise have access. Young people like Christopher* and Marie* would not be able to reap the benefits of technology without the help of the Turing Trust’s work.
However, the digital divide is still prevalent across the Ashanti region in Ghana, and more widely across the developing world. ICT accessibility needs to be further improved through the provision of more PCs to more trainees in more centres. Too often is the case that training sessions at ICCES centres involved trainees sharing just a few computers among a large class size. More needs to be done to ensure that a generation of Ghanaian youth do not get left behind and more can be done with the continued support for the Turing Trust and its supporters.
Many thanks for taking the time to read about my experience with the Turing Trust. Please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any further questions about my research or my work with the Turing Trust in general.