I am Thandolwethu Dlamini from the Kingdom of Eswatini. I recently graduated from Duke University with Distinction in Mechanical Engineering, minoring German and this Fall, I will be pursuing a Masters in Technology and Policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). I am a co-founder and board member of The Knowledge Institute (TKI). The Knowledge Institute is a registered non-profit whose purpose is to expand access to higher education and work experience opportunities for young people. My key responsibilities as a board member are (i) to lead partnership development, and (ii) oversee new short programs such as the 2018 and 2019 UWC short courses at Waterford Kamhlaba and the Code Afrique Coding Bootcamp in January 2020. I have also taken the lead in the development of SaSa as both developer and project manager. SaSa is an online platform which has inspired TKI to apply for the Elevate Prize.
The Knowledge Institute
One-line project summary:
Creating a one-stop-shop for accessing tertiary education in Eswatini
Present your project.
TKI recently conducted a survey on high school students and recent high school graduates and we discovered that on average, EmaSwati spend $79 in applying to local and regional tertiary institutions. Eswatini is a country in which 42% of the population lives on $1.90 or less per day. TKI’s mission is to leverage technology and resources to ease the financial burden on households, particularly regarding access to tertiary education.
As such, TKI proposes SaSa, a mobile-friendly web platform that would enable high school graduates to apply for tertiary education with ease and inexpensively. Our solution would reduce the application costs by at least $25 (money spent on transport and printing), and over time, through negotiations with local tertiary institutions, also reduce the application fees for local EmaSwati students.
This would enable more EmaSwati to at the very least, apply for tertiary education by reducing financial and non-financial barriers.
Submit a video.
What specific problem are you solving?
SaSa seeks to solve the frustrating, inefficient, costly and time-consuming tertiary education application process in Eswatini.
About 4000 high school students graduate annually in Eswatini and only 10% of these proceed to tertiary education. Eswatini’s tertiary institutions have capacity to absorb almost half of these students however this is currently not happening. Upon completing high school, students are not adequately informed about their career options and the majors their 12th Grade results make them most eligible for.
Furthermore, students only have a two month window between the release of their grade 12 results and the tertiary application deadlines. Graduates are forced to travel to travel to and from all institutions they want to apply to for acquiring application forms, inquiring about programs, paying for the application and submitting applications.
Moreover, 85% of applicants depend on the Eswatini government scholarship and 65% of applicants would not attend tertiary without this aid. Furthermore, the government only funds students accepted in specific priority programs and schools.Thus over and above spending a lot of money in applying for tertiary education, students' chances of attendance are reduced by lack of information about the scholarship process.
What is your project?
TKI creates linkages within the different sectors of the education system and between the education system and industry in Eswatini. TKI does this through a combination of advocacy within the education sector and externally with international scholarship programs, marketing, training and research. This has increased the tertiary education gross enrollment ratio in Eswatini, as well as increased the knowledge of how to access global higher education opportunities.
Furthermore, TKI is developing a mobile friendly web application, SaSa in which high school graduates can learn about and apply to multiple tertiary education institutions at a click. Through SaSa, students can find programs that match their grades, pay for applications once online using mobile money and submit. Most tertiary institutions in Eswatini require the same information hence through SaSa applicants have to fill in generic information only once. High school teachers can support their students through uploading recommendations and other reference documentation on SaSa. According to the Christensen Institute, it is imperative to expand students’ social capital in order to expand students’ access to opportunity. Consequently, TKI is also piloting a mentorship program through SaSa where verified tertiary students and industry professionals can sign up to be mentors for high school students.
Who does your project serve, and in what ways is the project impacting their lives?
Our priority as an organization is youth, particularly high school students, out of school youth and youth in the tertiary education system. The Knowledge Institute was founded in 2013 to democratize access to education opportunities for youth in Eswatini.
We started by sharing scholarship opportunities on various social media platforms and weekly on the Times of Swaziland which has a daily readership of 200,000+. We soon recognized that sharing information alone did not foster the initiative in students to apply for those opportunities. Consequently, we launched free annual boot camps where 30 high achieving high school students from different schools in Eswatini convened on weekends for workshops on leadership, entrepreneurship, academic excellence and civic engagement. These continued for four year between 2013 and 2017 and all our graduates went on to different tertiary institutions locally and internationally.
We have iterated and experimented with various modalities to expand access to opportunities since our conception due to maintaining close proximity to youth, capturing their feedback on our services via social media and surveys. SaSa, is being built to eliminate the frustrations, expenses and uncertainty that young people have to deal with, particularly during the higher education application process.
Which dimension of The Elevate Prize does your project most closely address?Elevating opportunities for all people, especially those who are traditionally left behind
Explain how your project relates to The Elevate Prize and your selected dimension.
Traditionally, students from low income households are left behind by the education system, not because there is no value in it but because their economic status excludes them from participating. When households are forced to make a decision between catering to immediate needs (food, medicines) and an investment that is likely to yield results 4 or so years later, it is often the former that wins. Thus the solution proposed by TKI most aligns with the first dimension as in reducing application costs, we are ensuring equitable access to tertiary education.
How did you come up with your project?
TKI was founded in 2013 to bridge the information gap and further support students in their pursuit of further education opportunities.
Over the past 7 years of the existence of TKI and sustained interaction with youth we have recognized a lack of systems that facilitate efficient transitions between industry , higher education and pre-tertiary education. A recent study that revealed that only 10% of about 4000 high school graduates in Eswatini end up in tertiary education. Moreover, TKI recently conducted a survey to gain knowledge about the tertiary education application experience of recent high school graduates where we learnt about the inefficiencies and barriers in the process such as cost and lack of information.
Therefore, the idea of SaSa was born as a technological solution that would connect these fragmented systems in order to not only facilitate the access of tertiary education and employment but to also track the progress of students through the education system. Currently, there is no organization in Eswatini that adequately tracks the passage of students through the education system hence there is no way to follow up on paths that different students take and provide support to those who need help.
Why are you passionate about your project?
I deeply believe in fostering equity through serving in communities that I am a part of. Furthermore, I know that empowering youth with opportunity not only empowers their own lives but positively impacts the lives of others directly and indirectly.
For instance, the amazing opportunities that I have had access to did not only enable me to create a better life for myself and my family, but I was also empowered to serve others in my community. Through TKI my contributions have helped students in Eswatini acquire scholarships worth over $1 Million over the past 7 years and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Moreover, I have witnessed the impact that our organization has had in the education system in Eswatini and this motivates me because I know that education and meaningful employment opportunities are some of the catalysts for equity.
I have always been bothered by the fact that the current education system in Eswatini does not work for everybody and I was once a victim of that system. I care about expanding opportunities to young people so that they can be empowered to pursue their dreams and together we can uplift our communities.
Why are you well-positioned to deliver this project?
The public high school education system in Eswatini has not changed since I completed grade 12 in 2011 consequently, I have direct experience of how the education system works. Furthermore, TKI has been embedded within the Eswatini education system since 2013 and we have established partnerships and relationships with institutions that have influence in Eswatini such as the MTN Foundation, the University of Eswatini and the Eswatini Exams Council.
For example, we can leverage the memorandum of understanding that was established between TKI and the University of Eswatini, the largest higher education institution in Eswatini to provide SaSa as a service to the university's student body. Furthermore, we can leverage the partnership that TKI has with MTN, the major telecommunications provider in Eswatini to make access to SaSa free without requiring the use of data.
I have garnered meaningful leadership over the past few years as we grew TKI through projects such as organizing two United World College (UWC) short courses in 2018 and 2019 as well as launching the first Code Afrique Eswatini boot camp in January 2020 where we taught about 200 high school learners how to code. I am hoping to leverage my engineering expertise such as coding and design to enable me to be effective in leading the development of SaSa over the course of the next year. Moreover, I plan to leverage the networks and resources that will be available to me as an MIT student to advance the mission of TKI.
Provide an example of your ability to overcome adversity.
I was stuck at the border at midnight between Eswatini and South Africa December 2018. I was driving a shuttle with 6 minors who were participants in the UWC short course at Waterford Kamhlaba. We had been driving from OR Tambo international Airport for the previous 6 hours and our passports had already been stamped on the South African side. However, we found the gate shut on the Eswatini side. No one was there to let us in and there was no one we could speak to even though we still had a few minutes before the official close time.
The participants were bewildered as I explained to them that one of the options was for us to sleep in the shuttle at the border and wait for the 7am opening time. However, I alerted my team in Eswatini about the predicament and they quickly helped us book a BnB 30 km away from the border. Through the support of my team and effectively communicating these changes with the participants, we spent the night in a safe accommodation. This became a wonderful bonding experience for the 7 of us and we made it to Eswatini in the morning.
Describe a past experience that demonstrates your leadership ability.
I struggled to find scholarships while I volunteered at my former high school teaching math in 2012 where I earned $100/month which I invested in tutors as I self taught for 4 AS-Level exams. Fortunately, I received a scholarship to pursue the International Baccalaureate Diploma at Waterford by the end of 2012. This experience motivated me to join the TKI founding team to support other young people like me. In 2013 and 2014 I managed the logistics of our leadership development boot camps for high school graduates.
Moreover, my passion to lead youth programs inspired my decision to organize the UWC short courses at Waterford as flagship TKI programs in December 2018 and August 2019. Each year I led a diverse team of course coordinators and we admitted 40 participants from over 22 countries. Organizing the short courses helped me develop my communication, negotiation, fundraising and other leadership skills.
At Duke, I cultivated a passion for solving global problems which motivated me to take a gap year after my junior year to work on micro-grid and solar development projects in sub-Saharan Africa. Upon return to Duke I volunteered for the Eswatini delegation in the 25th United Nations Climate Change Conference.
How long have you been working on your project?
Where are you headquartered?Mbabane, Eswatini
What type of organization is your project?Nonprofit
Describe what makes your project innovative.
SaSa is one of our innovative products at TKI as it leverages technology to address numerous pain points that youth in Eswatini experience in the transition between high school to tertiary education. For instance, students complained about how expensive applying to university is because of the need to travel to different institutions around the country in order to acquire application information and also having to go back there submit application materials and later go back to find out if you have been accepted.
SaSa minimizes the frustrations and saves applicants time and money because they can find information, apply to multiple tertiary institutions and also acquire information about their acceptance on one platform. In addition, paying for applications requires applicants to wait in long queues at different banking institutions, a problem that SaSa will solve through implementing a single payment via mobile money. Moreover, there is no system in Eswatini that tracks the progress of youth through the education system and this leads to a lot of youth being left out because of lack of follow up and understanding of the challenges they face. Another vital innovative aspect of SaSa is that it enables young people to build social capital through connecting them to mentors and peers who are going through the same process. Furthermore, SaSa is a tool that empowers high school teachers in particular to best support their students with recommendations, information and opportunities relevant to the students career interests.
What is your theory of change?
TKI envisions a future where every young person in Eswatini has access to education that unleashes their full potential and empowers them to be engaged citizens, economically and socially. The long term outcomes we seek include a 100% enrollment ratio for tertiary education in Eswatini, as well as increased knowledge of how to access the global higher education industry. Moreover we advocate for an increase in the number of local and international scholarships given to students from Eswatini.
To effect this change, TKI conducts research about universities, scholarships and other opportunities for youth and publishes the information on social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Linkedin, on our web platforms, on the national newspaper. We also conduct training and workshops for youth and teachers to show youth how to take advantage of the opportunities that we share and also develop their leadership potential.
These activities lead to outputs such as an increased number of students from Eswatini who apply to tertiary education and for scholarships locally and internationally. Furthermore, the short term and medium term outcomes include the increase in the gross enrollment ratio for tertiary education in Eswatini. Another medium term outcome is the creation of partnerships between TKI and local and international organizations within the education sector so that TKI can advocate for an understanding of the context of Eswatini youth and create more opportunities for them.
In the long term we hope for a 100% enrollment ratio for tertiary education in Eswatini, as well as increased knowledge of how to access the global higher education industry.
Select the key characteristics of the community you are impacting.
Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your project address?
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people does your project currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?
SaSa is currently undergoing beta testing with 100 high school graduates who just applied to university. When schools reopen, we will launch a nationwide campaign to get at least 1000 high school seniors registered on the platform, particularly those in rural schools. We hope to serve the entire population of high school graduates over the next five years.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
Our goal is to increase the enrollment in tertiary institutions in Eswatini from 10% to 50% over the next 5 years. Furthermore, our aim is to normalize planning for what to do after high school through a rapid roll out of SaSa in all high schools in Eswatini. Tertiary education in Eswatini is currently viewed as privilege only accessible to a lucky few. At TKI we believe now is the perfect time for us to leverage the credibility we have built among youth, various organizations locally and globally, and with the Eswatini government to provide a scalable solution.
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?
Accessing services offered via the internet can sometimes be a challenge in Eswatini due to high data costs and expensive internet cafes.
Access to devices on which to access the internet such as smartphones and computers, especially high school students who live in rural areas.
The COVID 19 pandemic has led to nationwide public school closures hence conducting outreach programs to rural schools may not be possible and also discouraged
Political buy-in for the government to allow TKI to reach out to high schools directly.
Buy in from tertiary institutions
Financial barriers that TKI has to grapple with limit our ability to operationalize our programs widely because of a limited number of personnel since we are a volunteer run organization
How do you plan to overcome these barriers?
To address internet access issues we hope to leverage our partnership with the MTN foundation in Eswatini and have the site zero rated. For instance, TKI runs the MTN Educare website for the MTN foundation and we were able to lobby for the website to be zero rated hence our partnership with MTN will be the first lever we pull to address this problem.
TKI recently facilitated the donation of 25 laptops to the Eswatini STEM foundation by a Cornell University student led organization, Code Afrique and we hope to leverage connections such as these to ensure that rural high schools that we work with have access to computers.
Training teachers on how they can support students once they return to schools is one of our primary strategies to close the gap created by COVID 19.
We hope to leverage our existing connections within the government to solicit support and allow TKI to go into different high schools. Leverage existing connections with high schools that have participated in our previous programs.
Leverage an MOU that TKI has with the University of Eswatini which is the largest university system in Eswatini and this would encourage the other smaller institutions to be involved.
We hope that Elevate Prize funding will enable us to overcome the financial barriers for the short term and the organization should be on the path to sustainability once three is widespread use of our services.
What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?
The MTN foundation is one of our partners and we support them through managing their MTN Educare website as well as creating and posting content and resources on the website.
TKI is a member of:
-International Association College Admission Counseling (IACAC): founded in 1991, an organization of 3,000 universities, high schools and NGOs from 90 countries worldwide
-HALI Access Network: an association of high schools, universities and non-profit organizations founded in Africa that work with high-achieving, low-income (HALI) students to access international higher education opportunities in 40+ countries on the continent
Regarding scholarships only, TKI is also affiliated with:
-Commonwealth Scholarship for masters and PhD: nominating agency in Eswatini (through HALI membership)
-United World Colleges: sit on the Eswatini National Committee which annually selects and awards 10 students scholarships
-Ashinaga Africa Initiative: sit on the Eswatini interview committee for this scholarship for orphans to study globally
-Allan Gray Orbis Foundation: official Eswatini marketing and recruitment partner for scholarship to study in South Africa
-African Science Academy: local entrance test facilitator for Eswatini applicants
-IACAC university members: marketing of and organizing trips for global universities to local high schools
What is your business model?
TKI’s mission is to increase the number of young people, particularly high school graduates, who pursue tertiary education and meaningful skills development from 10% to 50% over the next five years. TKI creates value for youth in Eswatini by curating accurate information about universities, scholarships, and employment opportunities as well as connecting youth with resources provided by our strategic partners with organizations that have youth initiatives. The value propositions for SaSa include the ability to multiple tertiary institutions of choice in Eswatini in one click, step by step guidance during application, seamless payment of application fees once via mobile money, information repository about individual courses in every tertiary institution in Eswatini and ability to match student grades with tertiary institution course cut off points. Furthermore, we create value for partner organizations such as the MTN Foundation and the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation through Eswatini context specific information about students as well as marketing their programs.
Our channels to get to students include national newspapers, social media, our websites and workshops.
TKI is a 100% youth and volunteer run organization with a board of directors and advisory council. Consequently, our costs are only operational for conducting outreach activities, acquiring resources for presentations and for maintaining our websites. We do not charge youth for the services we provide, instead our revenue is sourced from the support services we give to our partners such as the MTN Foundation and Allan Gray Orbis Foundation.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
TKI will achieve financial sustainability by maintaining the partnerships we have with the MTN Foundation and Allan Gray Orbis Foundation through continuing to create more value for their education initiatives and outreach programs. Furthermore, SaSa would enable us to create new revenue streams either through capturing a percentage of the application fees that would be paid to universities through our platform SaSa.
We recently conducted a study to understand how recent high school graduates navigate the higher education application process and we discovered that 70% of those who apply to tertiary institutions apply to at most 3 institutions. We believe that SaSa will enable students to apply to more institutions which in turn will increase the application fee revenue for institutions hence TKI can capture a percentage of that new revenue.
Finally, SaSa will enable us to improve our impact measurement metrics. The ability to demonstrate our impact would allow us to solicit more donor funding from institutional donors and impact investors.
If you have raised funds for your project or are generating revenue, please provide details.
TKI generates revenue from the services we offer to the Allan Gray Orbis foundation and the MTN Foundation. The 2019-2020 contract with the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation is worth $1400.00 for outreach and marketing of their scholarship program in Eswatini. The MTN foundation contract for 2019-2020 is worth $3585.00 for development, updating and maintenance of the MTN educare platform, content content, marketing and admin assistance for users.
If you seek to raise funds for your project, please provide details.
TKI intends to raise no more than the Elevate Prize money.
What are your estimated expenses for 2020?
Venue reservation: $450
Printed material: $80
SaSa Professional Web Development: $55000
Volunteer stipends: $900
Maintenance of websites: $600
Why are you applying for The Elevate Prize?
TKI's growth stands at a crucial juncture. Until now, our work has focused on information dissemination through channels such as social media, websites and workshops. However the next step in our evolution, we believe, will come through a software solution – namely, the SaSa, a mobile friendly tertiary application web platform that enables high schools students to access information about and submit applications to multiple local or regional tertiary institutions from any device with internet access. Growing the community around this SaSa will be crucial to its ultimate success. And we are convinced that the Elevate Prize Foundation's connection with influencers, industry leaders, and experts as well as Solve’s deep network of change-makers and community leaders will be invaluable in achieving these goals. SaSa would greatly benefit from the tailored media and marketing campaign aimed at amplifying our work, building recognition and a fanbase around myself and TKI, and ultimately inspiring others to contribute to expanding access to higher education in Eswatini and regionally.
The technical barriers highlighted above such as the lack of devices will require strategic partners that can donate computers to rural schools in Eswatini so that more students are able to benefit per device. Furthermore, the prize money is going to be vital in the campaign to have high schools adopt SaSa for their students to use.
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?
Please explain in more detail here.
As an incoming Masters Candidate at MIT I am looking forward to becoming a member of the Solve community. The two year duration of the Elevate Prize Foundation’s program aligns with the duration of my Masters program and this creates an opportunity for me to take full advantage of the MIT Solve resources on campus. I am excited for the professional management and development services which would augment my technical research training and make me a better leader.
What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?
We need partners that help guide us on how to grow and scale education technology solutions in the Sub-Saharan Africa context. Furthermore, we need partnerships that can help us acquire grant funding for our programs as well as figure out scholarship opportunities for the disadvantaged youth.