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Opening young minds to new possibilities

Opening young minds to new possibilities

Being part of something that makes a big difference to people's lives is a privilege that not everyone gets to experience. That's why at Thoughtworks we’re so lucky to have opportunities to contribute to social impact programs in our communities. This past year, I’ve been involved in not just one but two exciting programs for young people that Thoughtworks is supporting in Romania. 


The Girl Power Network, that helps village girls build their social skills in traditional rural communities across the country, and the coding and robotics club CODE Kids were both conceived by the Progress Foundation. This is a well-established Romanian NGO that aims to facilitate access to education and raise the economic level of the population in remote areas. It pilots local initiatives in education/training, e-inclusion and community development – and then scales them up at national level. 


Sisters are doing it for themselves


The reality is that dated ideas of gender roles and expectations are alive and well in remote corners of Romania. It means that some young rural girls can face all sorts of obstacles in their development and are often victims of verbal or physical violence. The Girl Power Network project is the Progress Foundation's response: an initiative to change girls' mindsets, to teach them about their rights and enable them to become whatever they want to be. Above all, it teaches them how to make their voices heard, both for themselves and other people in need.


We invited Thoughtworkers to volunteer and share the message that women are equal to men – from the position of women with technical know-how and responsibilities or as men advocating for equal rights in the workplace and the home. They visited Girl Power’s library-based girls’ clubs across the country. Our target, happily achieved, was to support 50 girls from 10 settlements across Romania through donations and sponsorship. 


Thoughtworks also helped by donating technical equipment to libraries that were in need and sponsoring those items we couldn't donate. These donations have helped the young girls learn the basics of using technology. 


Let's get coding


In similar ways, we've supported the CODE Kids coding and robotics library clubs that the village girls were also encouraged to attend. Led weekly by dedicated librarians, CODE Kids offers rural boys and girls access to modern technology such as robots, 3D printers and drones. And it gives them the chance to gain practical programming skills, improve their English, develop teamwork skills and learn about leadership, active citizenship and communication. 


The children's digital skills are developed in a fun and practical way, with about ten beginners in each library progressing through the levels on Code.org with the help of their trainers plus apps and animations on the scarth.mid.edu platform. Building on the first beginner’s course, the second year sees the children participate in STEM activities, developing applications on AppInventor, learning about electronics and programming on Arduino kits and building and programming robots. 


Alongside competitions, hackathons, camps, study visits and internships, the children also develop through workshops and activities focused on leadership, active citizenship, communication and advocacy. Thoughtworks supported the clubs through hardware donation and sponsorship, and also the time and expertise of volunteer Thoughtworkers who presented and judged advanced student projects at regional science fairs. 


An exciting opportunity to appear on Romania's 'I Like IT' TV show is just one example of how CODE Kids has opened doors for some of them in ways they could never have imagined. 


Romania's biggest coding movement is here to stay

The innovative CODE Kids formula has been a huge success, becoming the biggest coding movement in Romania. Now active in 33 counties, the program has taught coding to over 4,600 children and created five million lines of code. CODE Kids was named the winner of the emerging Europe awards trophy in the Education for the Future category. Progress Foundation has signed a partnership with the Authority for the Digitization of Romania, with CODE Kids now recognized as a model of good practice at national level.

So, what's been the overall benefit for Thoughtworkers? 


I know firsthand that the childrens’ abilities, and development of both technical and soft skills, have impressed all our volunteers. They've enjoyed being able to talk with and motivate such disadvantaged young people – experiences that have transformed the way they now perceive them. Many are enthusiastic to work on further similar projects to make an even greater impact.


Both of these projects highlight that you can never have too much support from private industry in social endeavors. I'd advise anyone who wishes to get involved to do so in any way they can. Donated and upgraded technical equipment will always be needed as well as sponsorship for travel, accommodation and other necessities. Above all, the sharing of stories of growth and empowerment to support children's development is warmly welcomed. 


We're delighted to be continuing our partnership with Progress Foundation in 2023, sustaining the Girl Power Network and CODE Kids project and finding ways to promote their work for the benefit of rural communities, together with the Romanian Ministry of Research, Innovation and Digitalization. 


There can be no better gift than opening young minds to new worlds.


Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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