Q&A: Project Lead Irena Bakić

Project Lead Irena Bakić spent a hundred days on the road to coordinate CodeBus Africa in ten countries. Now she answers questions about the initiative’s outcomes and next steps.

The CodeBus Africa 100-day tour had three key goals: to support equal opportunities in technology, to build local capacity for youth tech education, and to boost cooperation between Finnish and African innovators. Have these goals been reached?

The goals for this project have been met and exceeded. I especially hoped to see a lot of girls involved and to truly change their preconceptions about what they can be and do. The instructors interacting and connecting with the youth all day puts them in the best possible position to positively influence them, so I’m really happy we had a lot of female instructors that translated to powerful role models to the youth.

I was positively surprised to see that the local tech hubs also had a strong drive to work for the betterment of the gender gap issue. It wasn’t just a goal pushed from our end, but the partners personally saw the low amount of girls in technology as problematic. I guess I had some prejudice stemming from how prevalent hard values are in the Finnish tech and start-up world, but our local partners proved me wrong with their compassionate approach.

Could you tell more about what kind of value CodeBus Africa delivered?

The value we created together is, first and foremost, human. Facilitating rewarding learning experiences through team teaching, forming global partnerships and collaborating to introduce more youth to technology, and co-creatively building tools with the hubs for their continued use are some of the main things. A few of our partners had long wanted to cooperate with local schools. Now they have a new tool and the in-house know-how to utilize it.

But what stands out most for me is the value we’ve offered the youth. We’ve provided hundreds of youth with the opportunity to explore technology in a safe and encouraging environment. Hopefully having a first or at least an entirely new kind of touch to technology has opened their minds to see that they can learn anything.

How would you estimate the success of this project and what would you contribute it to?

Speaking subjectively from the project coordinator’s point of view, I think all 45 workshops were successful. Despite a lot of challenges behind the scenes, any issues we had never disturbed the flow of the workshops. The feedback from CodeBus’ instructors and partners has also been very positive.

The primary indicator of CodeBus’ success is the children’s reactions. As the students’ first beats and melodies started forming, you could see them laughing and smiling together and slowly starting to move to the music. To see that joy of discovery taking place right in front of you is pretty amazing. The youth would also return from recess much earlier than they had to. At times, it was even hard to get them out of the class. And when they worked, they were highly focused. A lot of teachers commented that it was something quite special.

In a lot of ways, this project has been a leap of faith to all its beneficiaries. While basic preparations had been taken care of, the intense 1-2 week periods of daily challenges really required trusting each other and trusting that things will work out. What enabled the success of this project was that we had a cohesive team. A uniform sense of the project’s goals allowed teaming up to happen really quickly in each country, and the strong team spirit carried everyone through.

Now that the first chapter is over, what are the next steps for CodeBus Africa?

On the Finnish front, we’ll spend the next few months writing project-related reports to help us plan the future of CodeBus Africa. We’ve surveyed our partners to get an idea of what their hopes are. In the fall, we’ll have more discussions about the next steps with them. We’ll also be having discussions with our sponsors on whether they wish to continue to support this project.

Right now, Tunapanda is creating an open source digital version of the creative coding workshop curriculum, which all our partners can give feedback on. It’s a new aspect to co-creation and the next concrete step for our partner tech hubs in what comes to CodeBus. Many other African countries have also shown interest in the initiative, so coming up with a way to share our knowledge and teaching materials even to places we cannot go to is another thing that’s ahead. I think technology can play a central role in the solution.

How will partnerships with African education and innovation actors be maintained?

During this intense tour, we managed to form very strong ties to our local partners, and we’ve stayed in touch through social media. I feel like it’s every day that I’m chatting with someone on WhatsApp or Facebook. A strong team spirit is still present.

In the fall, many of our partners will be attending the Slush conference in Finland. It’s a chance for the partners to meet each other and exchange experiences and ideas. I hope meeting face-to-face can lead to a more interlinked connection between the different partner hubs.

On this note, CodeBus Africa’s social media quiets down for the summer. Thank you for following this year’s most exciting adventure in technology, and stay tuned for more in the fall!