Build the bridge is a series of articles that showcases international entrepreneurs who foster business collaborations across the world.
WeThinkCode_ is a non-profit organization with the mission of developing the next generation of South Africa’s digital talent. In partnership with School 42 in France and the United States, WeThinkCode_ schools train young people to become tomorrow’s digital problem solvers by providing them with in-demand skills.
After launching WeThinkCode_ in Johannesburg, French and South African co-Founders Camille Agon and Arlene Mulder just opened a new school in Cape Town this year. We had the pleasure of hosting Camille last year on stage at La French Touch Conference Paris.
Following our panel discussion on the future of education last January, we wanted to know more about Camille’s organization, and what led her to launch a business in Johannesburg.
What sparked the idea of launching WeThinkCode_?
I was working for the Breteau Foundation in South Africa, which supports and demonstrates the positive impact of digital education. While working there, I learned a lot about the challenges of education. At the same moment, I also heard of School 42 ‘s concept which was being launched in Paris.
During my time in Johannesburg, I saw a huge potential in opening such schools in South Africa. On one hand, Apartheid’s inheritance led to an increase in the unemployment rate, with up to 40 million job-seeking young workers domestically. On the other hand, the city is home to a very innovative economy and industry, which have been willing to digitalize their businesses, without finding skilled employees. Thus, I thought a model like School 42 would work really well here: it could bridge the gap between the unemployed youth who have the potential of becoming software engineers and companies seeking talented knowledge workers. I strongly believe that if we train youth with in-demand skills, finding a job won’t be such a problem after graduation.
Why did you choose to open the school in Johannesburg out of all cities?
We started in Johannesburg and opened a campus in Cape Town this year. For our model to work, we needed to find companies who could sponsor students. Johannesburg is South Africa’s economic hub, where our biggest sponsors have their headquarters. As a result, the city appeared to be the obvious choice to connect with companies and bridge the skill gap.
With your experience of launching a business abroad, could you share your development strategy with our readers? How would you explain your success?
First of all, our co-founder being South African, she largely contributed to our success. As I am French, having her on board helped a lot to step into the country’s market & culture.
WeThinkCode_ is a non-profit company founded on a sustainable model. We partner with companies that are looking for digital skills and would be interested in hiring our students. They pay a sponsorship amount to WeThinkCode_, and in return, students will go to work in the company for a minimum of one year. That model makes the school tuition-free and accessible to any students.
We have been extremely lucky to build partnerships with many organizations including media companies, large companies who sponsored our students and local organizations who helped us train our students. Additionally, the social impact of what we are trying to do is really relevant in South Africa today.
I think the key to our success is that what we’re working on real issues – education, unemployment, the skill gap – for which we managed to find solutions and build strong partnerships.
Do you have any advice for French entrepreneurs who have the ambition of expanding internationally?
My advice is to create partnerships with local organizations, find local people who really believe in what you do, most importantly who believe in the value that your company will bring to the country. WeThinkCode_ did not just create a need, we responded to a local need by providing a solution from abroad. Hence, you need to know the dynamics of the country you are going to, such as the geopolitical, economic, and social dimensions. Nowadays, there are too many businesses in the world, some of which are not relevant for the local population. Your business needs to fulfill an existing need, especially on the African continent.
How would you define the French Touch in conducting business?
I would say that French people are very straight-forward. We directly bring our objective(s) to the table, what we exactly want to achieve, how we can do it, and who we can meet to help us achieve our goal(s). In short, French entrepreneurs go straight to the point.
What’s your entrepreneurial dream?
I would like to give everyone the opportunity to meet their full potential. I feel like today’s education system is not meant for all for people to develop their full potential. It’s always linked to what you’ve done, or who you are. I would like to create a network of schools providing different skillsets that would enable youth to meet their full potential, and for them to have a more positive impact on the world.