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There is nothing more rewarding than witnessing the awe of children when they open up a computer for the first time. What a thrill to see their eyes light up as they eagerly learn skills which could fundamentally change their future, as well as the future of their families, and even their country.

That is what I got to experience firsthand when we taught software coding – the language of the digital world – to primary school students and their teachers during Africa Code Week this past May in Rwanda.

Today’s youth are our future leaders, consumers, and entrepreneurs – and they will be driving economic growth all around the world. Programs such as Africa Code week provide the gateway to this growth. The coding workshops give these children educational opportunities that will help them become a thriving members of the 21st century workforce and a cornerstone of Africa’s economic development.

Improving people’s lives through digital literacy

Africa Code Week, which aims to empower future generations in Africa with coding tools and skills, may be one of the largest digital literacy initiatives in the world. The program kicked off in 2015 and it has already touched the lives of nearly 90,000 African children and youth.

This year, we are aiming even higher. We want to reach 150,000 additional students, plus thousands of teachers. And from what I experienced in Rwanda, I can tell that the 2016 program is off to a good start.  It was inspiring and exciting to see the happiness, concentration, and focus of the students and teachers I met during these workshops. And it was particularly humbling to witness the hope for a better future for them and their country.

A key step to digital transformation in Rwanda

According to the World Economic Forum on Africa, Rwanda is transforming itself in a big way. The country is emerging as a regional high-tech hub and boasts one of sub-Saharan Africa’s fastest GDP growth rates. It is one of the continent's most competitive economies and a top reformer in improving the business environment. Yet, as the Forum notes, there’s more work to do to accelerate development. Digital transformation is key to expanding this country’s socio-economic opportunities.

This is why Africa Code Week – and digital literacy – is so important. Young people around the world need to be taught the right skills, now, so they can thrive in the digital economy. "Today literacy should go beyond just knowing how to read and write, even beyond digital literacy — knowing how to use computers,” says Jean Philbert Nsengimana, the Minister of Youth and ICT of the government of Rwanda. “Basic literacy for the next generation should be about coding."

As timing would have it, the 26th World Economic Forum on Africa convened in Rwanda at the same time as Africa Code Week. During a session on the urgency of digital literacy, Nsengimana shared, “We are a country that is in a hurry. We are on a journey to transform its people and its economy.”  He added that the young generation – the digital natives – has the opportunity to shape the country’s digital transformation. “Having an opportunity like Africa Code week, really learning this new skill at a very tender age, so that it becomes the new standard of basic literacy – I think it is an opportunity that is unprecedented.”

Award-winning education

Last year’s Africa Code week recently won an “Education of the Future” Communication 4 Future (C4F) Davos award from the World Communication Forum Association. According to C4F, “Skillful communication teams of educational organizations and initiatives who stand out with their innovative approach to education and who can efficiently promote creativity among students are the key to a better world.”

Yes, Africa Code Week is an innovative approach – and it is certainly key to a better world.

Our long-term goal is to empower more than 200,000 teachers and improve the lives of 5 million children and youth within the next 10 years. And together with SAP, hundreds of partners spanning local African governments, non-profit organizations, educational institutions and businesses, will help make this happen.

Helping the world run better and improving lives is SAP’s higher purpose, and today’s youth are a key part of this. We are proud to help these African children become the workforce and innovators of the future. This endeavor also contributes towards the achievement of the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals, specifically goal 4, which is dedicated to ensuring inclusive and quality education for all and promoting lifelong learning.

I hope to return to Africa this fall, when the next round of workshops take place, so I can keep focusing on this cause that is near and dear to my heart.

Follow Pat Bakey on Twitter @pbakey

  This article is also available on the Digitalist!