Ahmed Ismael

For as long as Ahmed Ismael can remember, he’s felt the need to give back to his community. Whether it be monetary resources or just his time, giving is something that has been instilled from a young age, through family, school and religion. Ahmed Ismael received the 2009 Inyathelo Award for Exceptional Philanthropy.

He established the Siyafunda Community Technology Centre in 2006 which, 

  • educates communities by providing access to community technology centres (CTC), 
  • empowers communities by providing affordable e-learning CTC centres and 
  • e-connects communities by providing free access to Internet and email

The success of the Siyafunda CTC model - six centres operate in Palm Ridge in Alberton, Wattville, Nigel, Tsakana, Daveyton and Katlehong on the East Rand with two more centres to open shortly - and his continuing efforts to provide skills and training to previously unemployed and unskilled people, have contributed to Ismael’s nomination for the prestigious Inyathelo Philanthropy Award for Exceptional Work in Philanthropy.

Now in their third year, the Awards recognise South Africans whose personal contributions have made a sustainable contribution to the communities in which they are active.  Philanthropists are nominated by their peers and members of the communities in which they work and by the non-profit organisations that they support. Nominations are made for a particular category such as Women in Philanthropy, Youth in Philanthropy, Philanthropy in Health and Excellence in Philanthropy.

“I feel humbled at being nominated for this award,” said Ismael. “It’s important for the success of Siyafunda. It raises its profile, integrity and credibility and I hope, will encourage others to start projects such as this elsewhere.”

He said that although many challenges have been faced since inception, Siyafunda’s success stems from its commitment to work from grassroots level and with people from all walks of life. 

Ismael notes that in South Africa at present there appears to be limited facilities to explore people’s potential. 

Yet, he says, “We at Siyafunda have had grade 11 drop-outs who, through our e-learning programme, have gone on to achieve a 97% pass rate. We’ve also had a cleaner who attended e-learning classes in the evenings and, after passing with good results, was promoted to a personal assistant.”

The centres are a hub of activity with the elderly, youth and unemployed attending classes. Siyafunda’s pass rate is high with most students graduating with outstanding results. An astounding 88.9% of their students have achieved between 85-90% for the Microsoft exams.

“The potential in South Africa is incredible. All one needs is to be given a chance. We ensure that every one of our students get the most out of our classes and get that chance to reach their potential,” says Ismael.

He added that due to South Africa’s historical past, the vast majority of communities don’t have access to basic information and communication technologies such as internet and email. The CTC model aims to bridge this digital divide.

With a staff complement of between 30-35 employees in all six centres, CTC has also assisted in job creation.  This has extended to the people that they have trained. More than 100 people who had previously found it difficult to get employed found work once they had been trained. 

Siyafunda also trains people in entrepreneurial skills. To achieve Ismael’s vision for the future- he wants the centre to move from being solely dependent on donor funding - a computer fix-and-repair centre and an affordable bulk SMS service for the community is now on the drawing board.

“Without the backing of partners such as Ekurhuleni Municipal Executive Mayor; Mark Lamberti, Chairman of Massmart; Mahpum Nxumalo/Sunil Geness for SAP Africa; Microsoft, Netgen solutions company, Cisco and ACCSA, we would not have been able to serve as many people as we have,” says Ismael.

Now Siyafunda is looking for new partners so that it can rapidly expand into more areas to reach the needs of communities and tourists for the 2010 FIFA World Cup and beyond. “Anyone can get involved.” Ismael says. “It’s more important than ever now, with the current financial meltdown, that we all get involved in projects such as Siyafunda which helps our communities.

“I also think it’s essential that the youth have a sense of accountability and get involved in philanthropic activities. More schools should get involved with social projects. This will instil the right values, virtues and responsibilities in the youth. I was taught in my school that, ‘we have been created for the benefit of humankind; we are not here for ourselves’, and was encouraged to participate in various school community programmes. This extended into my adult life where I have always taken six weeks paid/unpaid leave for community service.”