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9 Provinces. 9 Digital Learning Hubs.



Not everyone has access to the internet.

This fact is not a surprise.

But what may be a surprise is that 50 percent of the world’s population — 3.9 billion people — lack internet access.

And of the world’s 195 countries, only 29 have affordable internet access.

CDA Middle East and Africa  Director Dima Kandalaft.
CDA Middle East and Africa Director Dima Kandalaft.

This digital disparity creates a gap between people who have access to the internet and people who don’t. As a result, the latter experience more limited education, career, and life opportunities.

Cisco’s corporate purpose is to “power an inclusive future for all.” We are committed to leveraging our technology and our network of industry partners to help bridge the digital divide.

To help accomplish this, Cisco’s Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) program partnered with the government of South Africa on a series of initiatives.

Launched in 2022, one initiative was the creation of digital learning hubs in South African libraries. These libraries provide digital access and IT learning opportunities for underserved communities.

CDA Middle East and Africa Director Dima Kandalaft gives us the scoop on these new digital learning hubs and why they matter.

Q: When did CDA come to South Africa?

A: It was September 2019. Cisco announced it would invest $9.2 million to transform the country’s digital economy through three pillars: IT job creation, skills and talent development, and national cybersecurity.

Besides the digital learning hubs, we’ve invested in these pillars by opening Cisco EDGE Centers. We’re also integrating Cisco Networking Academy courses in all 50 Technical and Vocational Education and Training Colleges in the country.

And we’re providing telehealth solutions to the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, the third largest hospital in the world.

Digital learning hub launch in  March 2022.
Digital learning hub launch in March 2022.

Q: Can you tell us more about the digital learning hubs?

A: With the National Library of South Africa (NLSA), we created digital learning hubs in nine libraries across all nine South African provinces.

We’ve equipped the digital learning hubs with Cisco technology, including computers, Room Kits, and Webex. At these hubs, community members can access all Cisco Networking Academy courses — from cybersecurity to the Internet of Things — so they can prepare for a future career in tech.

We’ve also trained librarians, so every learner who walks into the library can receive guidance to succeed.

Our aim is to reach an additional one million students over the next five years through our Networking Academy and initiatives such as the digital learning hubs.

Q: Why libraries?

A: When most people hear the word “library,” they imagine a quiet space for reading books. Many people don’t go to libraries anymore because all the information they need is on their smartphones or home computers.

Digital learning hub in  KwaZulu-Natal Province.
Digital learning hub in KwaZulu-Natal Province.

However, underserved communities in South Africa experience multiple digital gaps — not everyone has internet, the devices to access it, or knows how to use it. These libraries, which are free and accessible to all, are essential spaces for digital learning hubs.

These hubs provide access to technology in disadvantaged communities and give community members the opportunity to learn the necessary IT skills to become employable in a technology-driven market.

Q: What was the implementation process like?

A: We signed an agreement with the South African government in September 2019 and were eager to dive into the project immediately. Because of COVID-19 lockdowns and vaccine delays, we started installing the digital hubs in May 2021 and launched them in March 2022.

It wasn’t easy to resume after lockdown. But transparent communication between the NLSA and our team kept the project going.

The most rewarding part was the feedback from learners at the end. Our team in South Africa spoke to a few of them — some who were connected to the internet for the first time and others who learned new skills from Cisco Networking Academy.

It showed us the positive impact we made here and that our work had purpose.

Q: Are there any plans for future projects in South Africa?

A: As of now, we’re hoping to expand our Cisco EDGE Centers to new provinces. We even have plans to create a cybersecurity training program for government employees.

But Cisco’s dedication to giving back doesn’t stop with CDA in South Africa. Be sure to check out more of our initiatives around the world.

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