Pay it forward: Future Black leaders panel
The Future Leaders panel at the event, which took place earlier this month, was chaired by Colorintech co-founder Ashleigh Ainsley, speakers featured included IBM cyber security services client lead Christopher Achiampong, and Hidden Genius Project cofounder Brandon Nicholson.
The Hidden Genius Project was founded in 2012 by five Black male entrepreneurs/technologists who were, according to its website, “unnerved by the dramatic juxtaposition between the high unemployment of Black male youth and the plethora of career opportunities within the local technology sector”. To address this, the founders established a program to connect young Black males with the skills, mentors, and experiences that they need to become high-performing entrepreneurs and technologists in a 21st century, global economy.
Nicholson explained that his organisation has a number of components as part of its aim to trains and mentors Black male youth in technology creation, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills to help transform their lives and communities.
“Our core component is a cohort based programme for boys and young black men in high school. They spent 13 months with us about – 800 hours overall – learning the fundamentals of computer science and tech business entrepreneurship, and then how to integrate that into leadership issues of social and community service.”
The programme also looked at better identity development. And key, according to Nicholson, is the experience which culminated in people building their own projects, such as software and business projects, full stack web, or mobile applications. “Ultimately what we’re trying to do is really pursue what they love, and then find ways to leverage their skills, resources and networks to get there.”
The Hidden Genius Project then has a number of additional components which were brought in so it can reach a much broader group.
“When we think about the why behind what we do, we see this great opportunity with black male youth in our community,” added Nicholson. “We believe that we work with them, intensively and holistically and compassionately to benefit the entire community, entire society.”
How does this work? Nicholson said that the aim is to make people the intersection point across certain areas, such as sports and technology, or through workshops focussing on robotics. These are facilitated by young men who have been through the Hidden Genius Project, taking on leadership roles.
“They pay it forward by inspiring other young people of all backgrounds, and we’re really proud of that,” he added. “
For Christopher Achiampong, his route into tech came via sport. A promising footballer, Achiampong was signed for Arsenal as a youth player, until a serious injury curtailed his plans. Instead, he signed up for IBM’s apprenticeship scheme. He is now cyber security services client lead at the computing giant.
“When you look at the amount of people facing various levels of student debt, it is important to look at other ways,” he said. “Some of these firms offer fantastic degree apprenticeships or access into employment. It is getting increasingly competitive. So these schemes offer another route into tech.”
For young, ambitious black people looking to break into tech, Achiampong said it is important to “follow trends” and keep up to date with how the industry is developing, because tech moves so quickly.
“Tech is sexy, it does not discriminate, and it is the future,” he concluded.
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