Jonathan Mativo

Ashoka Fellow
headshot_-_jonathan_mativo.jpg
Kenya
Fellow since 2014
ICT for Development Kenya
This description of Jonathan Mativo's work was prepared when Jonathan Mativo was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2014 .

Introduction

Jonathan has created a model that brings technology education to communities through village-level training camps and a two month curriculum that has allowed him to reach over 16,000 people in less than three years. Jonathan has designed this program to suit the needs of his target population - the underserved rural populations – and shaped it with a view that technological literacy is a critical skill for the future. Through his carefully thought-out curriculum, Jonathan is also working to demystify modern technology among people who would otherwise be afraid to embrace it as a tool for finding solutions to their own challenges. Ultimately, his purpose is to influence social change in underserved communities through the use of technology.

The New Idea

Jonathan has created a model that brings technology education to communities through village-level training camps and a two month curriculum that has allowed him to reach over 16,000 people in less than three years. Jonathan has designed this program to suit the needs of his target population - the underserved rural populations – and shaped it with a view that technological literacy is a critical skill for the future. Through his carefully thought-out curriculum, Jonathan is also working to demystify modern technology among people who would otherwise be afraid to embrace it as a tool for finding solutions to their own challenges. Ultimately, his purpose is to influence social change in underserved communities through the use of technology.

Jonathan’s approach to delivering Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) training has allowed ICT4D to become self-sustaining while providing higher quality programming than other mid-level institutions that are often located in urban areas. ICT4D charges a meager Ksh 1500 ($18) for its entire program, compared to the Ksh 5000 ($60) going rate for basic IT training offered by alternative for-profit colleges. In addition, by bringing learning to the community, ICT4D helps learners save on the additional costs of transportation, food and accommodation.

An indicator of the high demand and potential impact for ICT training among an underserved, rural-based population segment is the fact that each one of the 38 learning camps organized thus far has attracted an average of 150 learners of varied ages, careers and literacy levels. The program has so far trained over 16,000 individuals across three counties and Jonathan hopes to provide the same to millions more across the country and region. At the end of the two month learning camp, ICT4D organizes a “graduation” ceremony where learners are presented with official certificates. This serves as a powerful gesture for demonstrating the value of education (epitomized by a graduation ceremony) to people who would otherwise have to travel out of urban areas in order to experience it.

Jonathan believes that technology can and should act as a tool for empowerment. ICT4D aims to demystify technology through its curriculum and training model which enables learners as old as 68 and as young as 13 to sit in the same classroom and learn from each other. Demystifying technology allows learners to adopt new ways of doing things, become drivers of their own self-education and eventually take control of their destiny. With this in mind, Jonathan has incorporated in his model critical aspects of mentorship and entrepreneurship training to enable the learners move beyond the training into economic empowerment. As a result, the program has seen close to 300 young people obtain formal employment after graduating, and some have even managed to start their own ICT-related businesses with the aim of generating income.

Jonathan’s platform serves the purpose of providing opportunities for learning and self-education with regards to other critical aspects of society, such as civic education. By incorporating the new constitution into the training materials for his program, he was able to provide this critical resource to people who would have otherwise faced difficulties accessing it. This, for him, reinforces the core idea of providing information and technology as tools for development - both economic and social-political. This is made all the more compelling by the fact that Jonathan is providing an easy-to-adopt learning model and targeting out of school individuals through provision of flexible learning hours.

The Problem

Technologically-disempowered rural communities are often unable to make informed choices due to lack of proper access to information. As a result, the poor are seen as recipients of development rather than co-creators of solutions to their own challenges. Additionally, the rate of unemployment continues to rise, with employers citing lack of basic and important skills from both young people as well as older generations. However, simple technology training can help these individuals not only find jobs, but also become self-employed by starting their own enterprises.

At the macro level, technology continues to change rapidly, which makes it increasingly difficult for rural populations to catch up with the rest of the country. This results in what is now commonly known as the great “digital divide.” This divide is far greater between rural and urban areas than between the older and younger generations simply because the latter is easier to solve with the right incentives for learners while the former requires a strong commitment to serve rural areas and a model that is set up for both scalability and sustainability.

Lack of “technology literacy” among majority-rural population is attributable to the inaccessibility, unaffordability and general mismatch of existing training models to meet the needs of underserved populations. Technology literacy has become a critical skill in the modern economy, yet a majority of rural populations in Kenya have no viable access to suitable learning opportunities. To curb the youth unemployment problem in the country and Africa in general, it is important to reach the vast majority of the rural poor population and provide them with solutions that are both accessible and affordable to them. People in rural areas are particularly left out, as most of technology training is provided in urban areas. With more than 60% of the Kenyan population being rural-based, the country will continue to face disproportionate development if people have to migrate to urban areas to access even basic skills such as computing and relevant opportunities thereafter.

The high cost of ICT training makes it unaffordable for the majority of the rural poor. Travelling to nearby town centers comes with added costs such as transport, food and even rent. Young people are often forced to migrate to urban areas after completing their high school education in order to obtain relevant computer skills. Moreover, other training programs incur huge start-up and operating costs, which are then passed on to the students. ICT4D model utilizes various cost-reduction methods to ensure that the majority of the rural poor are able to afford the training.

Although the government is well aware of the problem of the digital divide, its approach to solving it through the Laptop Project has been quite unsatisfactory. The current administration came into power with a pledge to provide every first grade child with a laptop. However, the project has failed to take off due to corruption allegations in the tendering process. In addition, the government has failed to the train teachers to teach the first grade students. It is unsurprising, then, that quite a number of learners taking the ICT4D courses are primary school teachers who see it as a form of preparation for their upcoming role as trainers.

Private colleges and training centers operate on their own calendar while expecting learners to adapt accordingly. Jonathan learned this first hand in his initial attempt to set up a permanent ICT center at the beginning of his program. By failing to recognize the need for villagers to attend to other needs, particularly farming, the program failed to take off, forcing him to close shop. It was not until he came up with a model that operates around the community calendar that the program finally worked.

The Strategy

ICT4D employs the strategy of using mobile learning camps to bring ICT education to rural communities. This ensures that the students face no extra costs such as transport and accommodation, making the course fee highly affordable. In addition, training classes are structured into six, two-hour sessions between 8am and 8pm. This makes it easy for learners to attend the ICT training classes without compromising on other duties and obligations. The program runs for a total of two months, after which the team moves to the next village which allows him to reach as many people as possible.

At a cost of Kshs 1,500, ICT4D’s course is far below the average rates charged in urban and semi-urban areas (at least Ksh 5,000). The organization is self-sustaining while serving an average of 180 students per location. Jonathan hopes to create incubation centers in locations where they have hosted a learning camp in order to nurture local talent who have ideas to improve their communities.

Another unique innovation in Jonathan’s strategy is the use of a microchip which enables him to serve 12 students with one computer processing unit attached to 12 monitors. This dramatically reduces his startup and operating costs, as well as enabling him to move his equipment between locations. To this day, Jonathan has had no theft cases for any of his equipment. In line with the strategy for keeping the cost of the program low, Jonathan requires that the community to provide a location for the training camp, usually at a church or local school. This ensures that he does not pay any rent and that his equipment remains safe.

When Jonathon takes the program to the next village at the end of two months, he brings with him at least two students on board who become trainers for the next village. This ensures that there is continuity in the program and also creates employment for some of the young people who undertake his training. Through a partnership with a private college in Nairobi, Jonathan is able to provide valid certificates for each of the learners.

Since its inception three years ago, ICT4D has trained 16,327 people in the three counties of Makueni, Kilifi and Machakos. Out of these, 287 have found jobs in the formal sector and a few of the young people have started ICT-related businesses in their communities. This, however, is not where he started. The first iteration of the ICT4D model involved setting up permanent structures and a curriculum that took three months to complete. This model failed, as the high start-up costs required for permanent structures pushed the tuition cost for the program to 4,000 shillings. In addition, Jonathan realized that three months was too long a period for students to remain focused, which led him to reduce the duration of the program to two months. Through various innovations and experimentation, Jonathan managed to come up with a working model that has enabled him to focus on scaling it to reach thousands of target underserved populations.

Beyond ICT training, Jonathan is even more excited that through his work, communities are better informed and empowered to come up with solutions to their own problems. One such example is a group of young people in Makueni County who learned about banana tissue culture from the web and have gone on to create a business developing the product for sale to farmers. He is also happy to see other institutions lining up to support their work, including International Labour Organization (ILO) which provided a grant to train children rescued from child labor in Kilifi County. The Owen Baya Foundation also sponsored 292 people from the county to take the ICT4D course. The Governor of the Kilifi County has made a commitment to support the scaling up of the training to reach the entire county. Another diaspora donor from the Kwale community co-sponsored a training camp for 273 people in her village.

More recently, the County Governments of Makueni and Kilifi have adopted the ICT4D approach towards the roll out of ICT capacity building in their respective counties. Jonathan is confident that with additional support he will be able to put the necessary systems in place to continue scaling his program as well as adding strategies for increased sustainability. Ultimately, Jonathan hopes to set up ICT4D centers in other countries across the region where he realizes that the same problem of technology illiteracy exists.

Jonathan’s vision is to have all students who have graduated from primary and high school levels obtain training in ICT skills within the first two months of leaving school. This would provide them with a strong base for their next phase in their schooling careers and ultimately prepare them for successful work life.

The Person

Jonathan was born to a family of seven children; his parents were school teachers. Being a below-average student, he failed to perform well in his eighth grade examination and had to repeat the year. On the second attempt, he scored a point less than the previous time much to the dismay of his parents and brothers. As a result, Jonathan enrolled in a local school, where, through hard work and dedication, he managed to qualify for university, setting a record for best performance in the entire history of the school. Jonathan attributes his high school years as the most pivotal in his life, where he learned how to harness his inner strength against pressure from naysayers and prove that he can achieve whatever he puts his mind to. He also believes that paying attention to the needs of others and being willing to help them played a critical role in helping him to focus on the things that matter -particularly education.

Upon finishing high school he started the first ever youth group in his community, mobilizing the young people to engage in gainful activities – mainly, scripting of role plays and acting in schools. Thereafter he joined the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology to study computer science and Information Technology. While there, he continued with the tutoring program for both primary and high school students back in the village, which he would mainly do during the holidays. He would operate a mobile training program reaching out to three groups in the village every day. He mainly focused on Mathematics, which the majority of the students found difficult. Jonathan came up with a strategy to demystify the subject for teaching eighth grade mathematics to high school students. In one of the schools Jonathan was able to tutor a student who earned the school its first A-grade in Mathematics. Nevertheless, Jonathan was getting concerned that many young people remained in the village without any future prospects due to lack of employable skills.

In his final year of university, Jonathan got a job with the National Health Insurance Fund as the in-house IT administrator. He rose through the ranks before switching jobs to work with Plan International as a field officer. He realized that he was never asked for a certificate in order to get hired to this job which emphasized to him the need for practical employable skills. Although his job required him to be in the office most of the time, Jonathan would occasionally accompany other field staff to meet community members where the organization worked. It was during such trips that he became aware of the problem of technological illiteracy among the rural dwellers. Being the entrepreneur he is, Jonathan decided to introduce the idea for ICT for Development to his employer Plan International. The idea, however, received lukewarm acceptance, which prompted him to quit his job and go into a private consultancy as he tried to launch the idea on his own. He worked with the Ministry of Health as an independent consultant trying to influence the use of mobile technology in management of maternal healthcare. There, he also experimented with various iterations of the model used to deliver quality ICT training for the majority of the underserved rural population.