Digitally empowering the youth – Palesa Mahlatji

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Palesa Mahlatji a tech enthusiast, is taking the digital world to disadvantaged communities.

As an award-winning social entrepreneur, Palesa is passionate about youth empowerment and focusing on improving the quality of education for South Africa’s youth – offering them access to skills training in technology.

Palesa is determined to succeed despite any challenges life may throw at her, with the goal to empower the youth to think progressively so that they can equip themselves with the knowledge and skills necessary to secure and create employment opportunities.

“I am a business leader whose potential was recognized by the Red Bull Amaphiko Academy, whose team has assisted me with mentorship and skills to grow my business. Through the Academy I have been able to design a customized roadmap for my journey as an entrepreneur and for Priyo Tech,” she says.

Palesa is currently working with schools and communities in rural and peri urban areas, introducing them to technology, using a portable solar lab in a bag that provides them with ICT skills and learning equipment, such as laptops and tablets, and also a solar charging station that works even if the school does not have electricity, through her company Priyo Tech.

“My objective is to create “smart classrooms” that use the internet of things (IOT) to empower teachers to improve the quality of education by providing them with ICT skills and digital equipment that they need to integrate ICT successfully within the classrooms,” she says.

Photo: Provided

“Priyo Tech will soon be launching our solar backpacks called SLIAB bags that will be used to power cellphone devices. The backpack comes pre-installed with three types of charging options –  you can use solar renewable energy, Qee wireless charging and the normal USB and power bank storage. This backpack allows users to stay connected whether they are travelling and at an airport, shopping at the mall or camping outside. Furthermore, the SLIAB backpacks will allow students who use tablets or ipads within the classroom to stay powered up,” Palesa added.

In addition to Priyo Tech, Palesa and her team have started a Non-Profit Organisation Yakhi’iphupha (Nature A Dream), which aims to empower young people with skills and knowledge that will make them employable by connecting them to online opportunities.

Life has not always been easy for Palesa. 3 days before her final high school exams, she was involved in a car accident that almost claimed her life and dreams. After surviving the near fatal crash and returning to school, Palesa had to dig deep within herself and rely on her knowledge to make sure she passed, as the lack of school infrastructure and the shortages in teachers overwhelmed the educators to help her catch up. Although she passed, the experience is etched in her memory and shifted her perception on life.

Photo: Provided

“Before the accident my whole focus was to finish studying, get my matric (grade 12) qualification and start building a successful career for myself. The accident opened my eyes to the difficulties that confront one when you are left behind at school, and the thought of repeating Grade 12 really scared me.  My teachers tried to support me, but I realized that the type of pressure that teachers face doesn’t allow for them to accommodate the special needs of each and every student, especially as they work with limited to no resources.  It was disheartening to say the least,” she says.

“After I completed high school I struggled desperately to find employment and was often advised to apply for opportunities online.  I had never had the opportunity to learn to use a computer before, and this really drove home how the current education system does not equip students from disadvantage communities with the necessary digital skills that they need to compete adequately within the job market,” she added.

Through her life experiences, Palesa found her passion for youth empowerment and could assist with solving the issue of unemployment in South Africa.

“In 2015 I resigned from my job in the banking industry and started up a number of development initiatives. I soon realised that trying to equip students to overcome unemployment once they had completed High School was not as effective as equipping them while they are still within the education system,” she says.

“This gives them the necessary tools to give them a fighting chance to beat unemployment, while still at High School is much more effective.  The reason is that it affects a mind-shift within the individual to look to the future with more than one option in mind. It spurs the individual to plan ahead and weigh up options other than studying at university and opens their mind to the real possibility of creating employment opportunities,” she added.

Photo: Provided

Palesa has had a great 2018, being selected as part of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Mandela Washington Fellowship and having an opportunity to go to the U.S, to going to Morocco to represent South Africa at the Start up of the year Africa competition where she won the PWC Jury Award. And she isn’t doing. Palesa was selected as one of the emerging entrepreneurs to watch out for in 2019 by African women innovation & Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF), many more wins that she is only grateful to have had the opportunity to have had.

Through all the highs and lows, Palesa says the best failure she has experienced was partnering with the wrong people when she first started her business, because it taught her to never take things at face value, always question and think strategically.

Palesa has a great and no doubt successful future ahead of her, as she focuses on preparing students for the jobs of tomorrow by providing them access to opportunities that exist beyond their boundaries, through technology.

“I want to improve the quality of education in public schools especially for rural and peri-urban areas by empowering teachers with the ICT skills and digital equipment that they need to create smart classrooms that meet the pace and expectations of today’s world.  This can only succeed through educators who think innovatively, creatively, an independently. This in-turn will empower students.  Most importantly we want young people to start thinking about how they can create employment opportunities for themselves instead of looking to be employed,” she says.

“In the next year and 5 years’ I envision Priyo Tech as a multi-national company that provides access to technology  – with a specific focus on integrating technology into the goods that we use every day. I envision Priyo Tech impacting 10 000 schools, and equipping 150 000 students and teachers with ICT skills and the digital equipment that they need to become part of the digital age – all through the solar lab in a bag by 2022,” Palesa says.

Photo: Provided

Aluta Continua! We are behind you ‘mbokodo!