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Building Bridges for Student Success

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Jeff Skoll says, "The term 'flux' is commonly used to connote significant change, confusion or even chaos. It is the persistent backdrop against which social entrepreneurs pursue large scale change."

The theme at this year's Skoll World Forum is "Flux: Seizing Momentum and Driving Change." There are many pressing social issues commanding the discussion here in Oxford this week, but I see one sector in "flux" that desperately needs our attention: education.

With outdated curricula and teaching methods, students around the world are graduating without the skills and work experience that employers demand. According to a recent High Flyers Research report featured in The Guardian, recruiters say that graduates with no work experience have little or no chance of being offered a position in their intended field.

At NetHope, we created NetHope Academy to help computer science students in emerging economies bridge the gap between their formal education and the IT workforce. The program teaches skills -- both in the classroom as well as on-the-job -- to a class of qualified candidates during an intensive six-month program. After passing testing and completing interviews, NetHope Academy interns undergo a "boot camp" of skills development before being placed in an IT internship with a private or public sector host organization (quite often a NetHope member NGO).

The impact is profound. One year after graduating from NetHope Academy in Haiti, Emmanuella Stimphat says, "NetHope Academy encouraged me to be courageous and determined and to make sure to learn more and more every day. I know it has helped me get the job I have today." NetHope Academy graduates in Haiti earn an average annual salary of $14,000, which is 12 times the country's GDP per capita of $1,200.

As part of our Clinton Global Initiative commitment to action, NetHope will extend NetHope Academy to Africa and Latin American to reach 1,000 new interns over the next three years. In this month alone, we launched NetHope Academies in Kenya and Rwanda. In June another NetHope Academy will start in South Africa, and later this year, we will start a NetHope Academy in South Sudan.

We cannot do it alone -- alliances with educational institutions as well as in the private and public sectors enable us to provide each student with a deep skill set and meaningful work experience. In each country, our partner educational institutions help us identify the very best candidates. Universities like L' Ecole Supérieure d'Infotronique d'Haìti allow us to use its computer labs at no charge so that we can accommodate even more students. Thanks to funding from Accenture Foundation and the Accenture's US Citizenship group, and learning curriculum from Microsoft and Cisco, we have been able to develop a program model that can be easily extended to other geographies for even greater reach and impact.

With the right connections and resources, we can prepare our youth for great success. For example, at Ashesi University College in Ghana, students are carefully selected to complete a rigorous four-year program that includes a mix of liberal arts and business education. Ashesi has a dedicated staff that works closely with the business community to place every student in an internship. The result? A remarkable 97 percent of Ashesi University graduates land jobs after graduation.

The effectiveness of the NetHope Academy model is clear: Offer skills, training, support and professional development to bright, hardworking women and men, and organizations in the private, public and humanitarian sectors will hire them at attractive wages. This not only improves the lives of students and their immediate families, but it also catalyzes a fundamental societal change.

NetHope is a small but agile organization in comparison to large educational institutions. Like a start-up company, we have created an innovative model in NetHope Academy and have shown its effectiveness. Educational institutions must recognize that their role no longer ends in the lecture hall. In the high-tech economy, it is critical that graduates have strong IT skills training combining support and resources to place them in internships and get good jobs. With their size and scale, educational institutions have the power to multiply the value of the emerging workforce well beyond the capacity of what NetHope Academy can do alone, reaching hundreds of thousands, even millions of bright, young students. Together, these young technologists will build their country's 21st-century economy and solve many of the most pressing problems that have evaded previous generations.

This week, 29 young men and women interns will graduate from NetHope Academy in Haiti while 75 students will begin their internships in Kenya and Rwanda. We welcome you to congratulate them on the NetHope Facebook fan page.