Umuzi - launching high-potential young people into 4IR careers

Umuzi gives high-potential young people from vulnerable communities hard & soft skills to pursue high-value digital careers in the 4IR.

Photo of Gilbert Pooley
0 7

Written by


  • Yes, I fulfill all of the eligibility criteria.

Initiative's representative name

Gilbert Pooley

Initiative's representative date of birth


Initiative’s representative gender

  • Man

Which eligible market are you based in?

  • South Africa

Where are you making a difference?

South Africa: Gauteng Province, Western Cape Province

Website or social media url(s)

When was your organisation founded?


Focus areas

  • Reskilling and upskilling the workforce

Project Stage

  • Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways) 

Yearly Budget: How much capital do you need to accomplish your proposed project?

  • $1mil - $5mil
  • $1m pilot to scale to train 1,000 developers across Africa

Organisation Type

  • Non-profit / NGO

1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed

We ran township photography workshops from 2009-12, helping youth document challenges. The major issue was unemployment. Our aha moment was the dire need for high-quality tertiary education leading to high-value careers. Inspired to provide alternative routes to these careers, we developed a pilot for 50 youth: accelerated, high-quality education & work experience at a top employer, offering photography & graphic design. Another aha moment was the high employment rate of graphic designers vs. photographers, teaching us to be demand-driven & link each training opportunity to an employer. This led us to the high-growth tech sector. The ±200 youth on our program are now web developers, data scientists & data engineers, based on market demand.

2. The problem: What problem surrounding employability or financial capability are you helping to solve?

Youth unemployment in SA (55.2%) was a crisis even before COVID-19. 6m, mainly black youth are unemployed. More are under-employed in low-value jobs. Current youth programs focus on training low-skill, low-value roles & don’t lead to rewarding careers. Most programs are shut due to social distancing. Umuzi has pivoted to remote learning and is preparing to scale to support 1,000 talented Africans to help rebuild their economies through Covid-19.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Umuzi supports high-potential, un-/under-employed young people improve their employability & enter the job market in tech & creative sectors, with particular focus on full-stack web development, data science and UI/X. Our 12-month program includes a competitive selection process based on aptitude not marks. It includes technical skills training, building real software in product teams & work experience at a leading employer. Trainees also receive counselling support, life skills training, job application & entrepreneurship support. Due to COVID-19 we've pivoted to a completely remote learning model giving all recruits a computer, internet access, and data. Work experience is also delivered remotely through distributed development. This has opened up new opportunities. No longer is our model limited to in-person training of 200 learners in South Africa, currently sponsored by our employer partners. We want to take our remote learning experience and scale to reach talented young people all over Africa, especially those outside of main cities who don't have access to high quality learning opportunities that can lead to high-value tech careers.

4. How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solving the problem?

We are demand-lead: our learning pathways are based on current industry talent needs, the tech-stacks of our employer partners, and industry best practice making it easy for our grads to get top jobs. Pushed by COVID-19, we pivoted to remote learning. Our existing Agile practices, collaboration using Github, and decentralised structure made it easy to adapt. We are now poised to offer our program to anyone with internet, and are planning to target high-potential Africans continent-wide. We're looking for partners to help us scale to prepare African youth to support their economies to recover from COVID-19 with an injection of tech skills.

5. Employability: how is your organization or project teaching people to develop the skills that they need to survive in the future job market?

Umuzi feels much more like a first job than school. We pay trainees a stipend, which covers basic living costs. In addition to the technical skills outlined above, we provide life skills training, counselling, and accommodation, in a holistic package of support. After initial technical skills training, trainees learn on the job, working in multi-disciplinary teams on live projects. Our teams use Agile and Design Thinking in addition to the technical skills they learn as full-stack web developers, data scientists, UI/X designers. Finally, they spend three months with an employer gaining work experience, usually at one of the leading South African financial services employers. We measure our success on how many are made full time offers. We're proud this is over 80%! Amazing considering the program is only 12 months, most applicants are unemployed and have never coded before Umuzi.

5a. Please describe which future-oriented skills your organization is focused on fostering and how you have measured / plan to measure progress

Umuzi supports unemployed young people to access digital careers. Each trainee chooses a career track: full-stack web development, data science, data engineering, business analysis and user experience / interface design. All career tracks include practical training in Agile and Design Thinking. The program is blended: some self-driven online learning to build their capability to learn independently, plus peer and manager mentoring. We've found that working in multidisciplinary product teams, building real software, is the best preparation for current jobs and future careers.

7. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

There are traditional universities and bootcamps in South Africa. What makes us different: - our free tuition and stipends make the program accessible to everyone - we target unemployed young people with no prior experience. Our aptitude & personality selection tests allow us to identify talent based on potential, not prior eduction - funded by employers, we understand their needs and focus on the most in-demand skills - trainees learn technical, conceptual & professional skills by building real software in cross-functional product teams, unlike siloed bootcamps and university departments

8. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

To date Umuzi has benefitted more than 500 un(der)employed young people since 2014; over 80% are currently in high-value jobs. In 2019 alone, Umuzi supported over 180 unemployed young people to access digital careers, including web development, data science, business analysis and user experience design. The starting salaries for our alumni average ±R96,000-240,000 p.a. ($6,500-16,200) and climb rapidly to R300,000 p.a. ($20,300), or more, within three years. This means >R5 billion ($340m) of additional income for these young people, and >R2 billion ($135m) of additional income tax revenue for South Africa. COVID-19 pushed us to pivot to remote learning. This expands our potential beneficiaries from South Africans to anyone with an internet connection. We plan to use our remote learning capability to scale African wide to help 1,000 Africans a year access high-value tech careers.

9. Financial Sustainability Plan. Can you tell us about you plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?

Employers pay Umuzi to train young people in the sought-after skills we have described. 90% of our income derives from this activity. Our business model is sustainable due to the continued and growing need for talented employees with digital skills. Medium to long-term we plan to diversify our income from Income Sharing Agreements (alumni pay once they get a job), recruitment fees (employers pay hiring fee), and retain our best talent to offer professional Software Development services. We're piloting these and their showing promise to potentially reduce our employer training costs significantly.

10. Team

Umuzi is led by joint MDs, Gilbert Pooley & Andrew Levy, & a senior leadership team of 4 who manage partnerships, people, operations & finance, products, & tech training. Our decentralised management structure enables a great deal of autonomy and agility. Each function is supported by a team of managers, mentors, product owners & admins. We hire many of our alumni who form about half of the 40 full-time staff. As we grow we will continue prioritising diversity by gender, race, background.

If you selected “yes” to any of the categories above, please explain how being a member of this group has impacted you and your work?


How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Search engine

11. Bring it to life: Please walk us through a concrete example of how your solution will solve the problem you’re trying to address

Jojo grew up in Orange Farm, a township community South of Johannesburg. He loved to watch motorbike stunt riders thrill crowds in his community with their daring tricks. While still at school, he apprenticed a local mechanic. He loved to get his hands dirty fixing bikes. Unfortunately, after finishing school, Jojo didn't have the funds to go to university to pursue engineering, and planned to fix bikes to get by. Luckily a friend introduced him to Umuzi. He applied and despite being one of the youngest applicants with no prior coding experience, he scored well enough to get into the data science program. 12 months later, he finished the program and was hired full-time by Umuzi. Now he's one of our Python experts and splits his time between mentoring new trainees and building software for Umuzi's application portal to help other talented young people find Umuzi and get into the program.

12. Skills Matching: HSBC Employees will have the opportunity to offer skilled-volunteering. If matched, which of the following skills would you be most interested in receiving?

  • Planning & Strategy
  • Project Management
  • Program Design
  • Research
  • Board Development
  • Staff Development
  • Marketing Strategy, Design
  • Multimedia
  • Web/Mobile Development

13. Financial Sustainability – funding breakdown: please list a quick breakdown of your funding, indicating an estimated percentage that comes from each source.

earned income (product or services sales, licensing, franchising, consulting, financing, etc.) 90%

foundation or NGO grants 10%


80% of our income comes from companies buying training programmes: they pay us to recruit, train, and place young people into high-value tech roles.


10% of our income comes from companies buying Design Thinking and Software Development services from us.


10% comes from foundation grants (TK Foundation) 

14. Financial Sustainability – please tell us more about how you plan to fund and scale your project over the next 12 months.

Companies currently pay R125,000 ($6,900) per learner (R42,000 learner stipend, R83,000 training fee). We believe we can reduce this total cost to R80,000 ($4,425) per learner through remote learning (a pivot forced on us by COVID-19). We are piloting an Income Sharing Agreement and Recruitment Fee model which generate ±R60,000 ($3,300) per learner in income after the program, once the learner has a job (we've adjusted this based on our 80% success rate). Thus, we project we could get our costs of producing an employable junior developer / data scientist to about ±R20,000 (just over $1,000) per learner. The ROI is ridiculous when you consider developers can easily earn $100,000 pa. We want to roll out this model to 1,000 high-potential Africans across the continent in the next 12 months, and are looking for $1,000,000 in funding.

15. Growth Strategy: What are your main strategies for scaling your impact?

We plan to scale using our remote learning model. We will select the best talent using our aptitude and psychometric testing suite, and deliver a blended model of remote learning and local support through a partner network of coding bootcamps. 

We will offer partner employers the option of either hiring our successful graduates directly, or we will offer to manage them in distributed development teams. We will target South African, Africa, and international employers, as our junior developers will be familiar with remote working.

16. Activating changemakers: How are you giving people the power to control their own destiny and support other people to become changemakers in their communities?

Umuzi recruits participate in industry hackathons and meetups. They bring much needed diversity (race and gender) to what is typically still a white male dominated tech industry in South Africa. 

Our alumni are our best advert. They are passionate ambassadors who introduce Umuzi to their new employers, who, impressed with their skills, are often willing to financially support more young people through our program to add to their staff.  

Our alumni are also ambassadors for a brighter tech future in their communities.

17. Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions, if any, has the project received so far?

African Leadership Initiative (Aspen Global Leadership Network):

Gauteng Premier's Service Excellence 2019


Business Arts South Africa:


18. Tell us about how collaborations and partnerships would enhance the scalability and impact of your project

We leveraged employer partnerships to grow in S.Africa. We want to supercharge this to scale across Africa through partnerships with African coding bootcamps, and international tech employers keen to access affordable and high-quality African coding talent. Andela was playing in this space, but their VC-driven model led them to drop the junior training, and focus on more profitable experienced developers. Our non-profit structure, and our ability to partner with employers, gives us the edge.

Finally - Your Selfie Elevator Pitch: Share a 1-minute video that shares a quick summary of the problem you would like to solve, how you’ve chosen to solve it, and the impact you hope to see.

Selfie video link: I'd like to recognise Andrew Levy, my founding partner and co-managing director. Not sure how to add him to the Team.

Evaluation results

1 evaluation so far

1. OVERALL Evaluation:

Yes, absolutely! - 100%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 100%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

3. Does this entry have SOCIAL IMPACT?

Yes, absolutely! - 100%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

4. Is this entry VIABLE financially and operationally?

Yes, absolutely! - 100%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%


Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 100%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

6. FEEDBACK: Highlights

IMPACT POTENTIAL: You use specific numbers and evidence to describe what your project has achieved so far (or plan to achieve in the future) – and you have a concrete plan for future impact. You have specific tools for measuring impact. - 100%

QUALITY OF INNOVATION: You have a great understanding of the problem, have researched existing solutions, and have developed unique, thoughtful solutions - 100%

FINANCIAL AND OPERATIONAL SUSTAINABILITY: You have given a great deal of thought to not just the idea itself but how to make it work operationally and financially in the present and future; your plan is specific and you value sustainability. - 100%

CHANGEMAKING ACTIVATION: You have a good plan on how to activate changemakers and empower them to innovate through your product or programming - 0%

Other option - 100%

7. FEEDBACK: Areas for Improvement

IMPACT POTENTIAL: make sure to provide specific instances of your social impact (or how you plan to measure impact) – it may be helpful to describe the beneficiaries, the main activities/products, and provide evidence of (or plan for) impact evaluation - 0%

QUALITY OF INNOVATION: make sure to describe how your solution is unique and innovative – it is helpful to include the research you have done on past solutions and how your solution is different from (and/or builds upon) these. - 0%

FINANCIAL AND OPERATIONAL SUSTAINABILITY: make sure you have provided descriptive information about your financial sustainability plan. Where do the funds come from now and do you have a concrete plan for future sustainability? - 0%

CHANGEMAKING ACTIVATION: make sure you describe your plan for how to empower others to become changemakers through your programming, service, or product - 100%

WRITING STYLE. Try to be concise, descriptive, and specific. Avoid jargon. - 0%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 0%

Other option - 0%


Join the conversation: