NCB Foundation backs digital literacy initiatives

NCB Foundation backs digital literacy initiatives

Observer staff reporter

Friday, January 24, 2020

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CHIEF executive officer of the National Commercial Bank (NCB) Foundation, Nadeen Matthews Blair, has highlighted a need for digital literacy in Jamaica, signalling the foundation's commitment to funding training opportunities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and other non-traditional fields.

“We want to become the most impactful foundation in education, but we realise that supporting Jamaicans through tertiary-level education is not the only opportunity,” Matthews Blair, who is also the chief digital and marketing officer for National Commercial Bank Jamaica Limited, told reporters and editors at this week's Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange.

“When we look at the world and the emerging careers in tech (technology), you have persons who are not necessarily pursuing tertiary-level degrees, but who are still gaining skills that are relevant and helping them to become gainfully employed,” she said.

The CEO said that training opportunities funded by the foundation will be geared towards building the capacity of Jamaicans to work in a digital economy. She went on to list initiatives that are to come on stream, which will target at-risk youth for training in emerging career fields such as data science, software development, animation, digital forensics, and data analytics.

“When people talk about the workforce of the future, these really are the jobs that we need,” said Matthews Blair, adding that there is a lack of software developers and cybersecurity experts in Jamaica.

The bank's head of digital disclosed that a coding boot camp, which will be done in partnership with HEART Trust/National Training Agency, the Development Bank of Jamaica and other international partners, is to be rolled out.

“We are in the early stages of partnering with Alto Ventures, which is a venture capital fund out of the United States that has announced that they want to train 1,000 Jamaicans in coding,” Matthews Blair disclosed.

“We are putting up a combined US$500,000 to fund the programme, which will take 1,000 Jamaicans through a coding boot camp that they have administered in the United States, as well as in Mexico City.

“We have had discussions with HEART Trust, and we have also partnered with the OAS (Organization of American States) on a programme to help at-risk youth — some of whom are not in high school — get access to digital literacy skills so that they, too, can, over time, get back on track to becoming gainfully employed and productive citizens of our country,” she explained, adding that they are now at the point of signing a memorandum of understanding with three local entities.

“We are approaching this strategy primarily through partnerships, because we have not worked intensely in the space of unattached youth or at-risk youth for a long time, but there are a number of fantastic organisations already in Jamaica that have experience in that area,” she said. “We have been partnering with various organisations that are already in the space, and bringing together international partnerships and providing the funding to create new training opportunities for at-risk youth in emerging careers.”

The NCB Foundation, which is marking 16 years since its inception in 2003, will also be funding a robotics programme in 30 high schools across Jamaica to the tune of $5 million. The initiative will be administered by NCB affiliate partner, FIRST Tech Challenge Jamaica, a local robotics programme that has produced teams that have gone on to dominate in global championships.

Head of FIRST Tech Challenge Gavin Samuels told reporters that the programme will not only help to support this year's competitors, but will also give participants the skills needed in a technology-driven world.

“We are going to advance two teams from Jamaica to international championships, and I believe that the students who are part of this programme will go on to support the Government, Jamaica, and the world in the future,” said Samuels.

Matthews Blair said that building the digital literacy of Jamaicans will help to position Jamaica and Jamaicans to participate in a digital economy, which will boost overall national development.

“We see that the Government is now speaking about it in a serious way [in relation to the National Identification System], so we want to make sure that we help as many Jamaicans be positioned for that as best as possible.

“Not many countries have the appeal Jamaica has. When we get the resource to fund these programmes, the question is what can't a Jamaican do. It is not just about getting jobs, but also the entrepreneurial capacity that we could potentially unlock with them developing their own tech companies, or other companies,” said Matthews Blair.

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