In South Africa, and particularly in the Eastern Cape, most schools are not equipped with computers for learners to learn to become computer literate. The youth unemployment rate currently sits at 53%, but if SA’s young people are to become employable, they need to become digitally literate.
This is where Ululo Empowerment Technologies comes in. Based in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro, the training academy provides high-school learners, largely unemployed young people among others with accredited computer literacy programmes.
The founder of the company, Bukelwa Mlilo, says she was raised by her grandparents and chose to spend most of her free time helping them manage the little shop the family ran out of their home in King Williamstown, rather than playing with her friends.
“I’ve always had a passion for business. I eat, sleep and breathe business. Computers are my like my babies; I love IT so much,” she says recounting how she once saw a university student struggling just to type on a computer at an internet café.
“It’s so tough for kids in the location. They don’t have the time, money or facilities to practice and become familiar with basic computing.”
Bukelwa believes that people thrive when access to technology, knowledge, and empowerment meet and she aims to create this link so that learners reach and exceed their expectations.
And so, named after her first child and son Lulodwa, who was stillborn, her company Ululo was born.
Bukelwa was given her first business break by KwaMagxaki High School in Port Elizabeth. The school allowed her to train their grade 11 and 12 students in computer literacy. “They gave me an empty lab, paid me to train the kids, and each received a certificate after completion,” says Bukelwa.
Since 2014, through her registered and accredited business, she has trained about 700 people and students having started with just seven, and has set up an additional training facility where she offers a National Certificate in IT: End User Computing; basic and advanced computer training and a certified course in Secretarial and Office Administration Skills. Ululo employs one permanent and one casual trainer and an administrator.
Her biggest challenge, however, is cash flow. The majority of her learners are unemployed and many cannot afford to pay the monthly fees, which are already at a rate reduced for affordability. “It’s difficult to get schools to hire me to teach their students because many don’t charge fees – the parents are unemployed too so how will they pay me?” says Bukelwa.
But she says she is not giving up on her baby. She has stepped up marketing on Facebook and every night pens letters to various companies seeking funding and assistance. “If I could get corporates to sponsor my students or bring Ululo in to train their employees, I believe we will turn a corner.
As one of the participants selected to be part of the SAB Foundation Tholoana Programme, Bukelwa has received invaluable support, encouragement, and confidence from her mentor Jeremy Barton. “In less than a year, Bukelwa has grown her computer training business from sharing a school classroom to her own training centre in a popular Port Elizabeth shopping and business mall. More than 100 students have enrolled, and her first graduation ceremony is planned for early in the New Year,” says Jeremy.
“Learning about the reality of running a business has been an eye-opener. Through the programme I’ve developed something as simple as the confidence and manner in which to approach businesses for funding and start conversations with corporates,” says Bukelwa. Both Telkom and the NYDA (National Youth and Development Agency) have assisted with supplying Ululo with laptops and computers.
The Tholoana programme offers intensive skills training workshops, face-to-face mentorship, and access to funds and markets. Entrepreneurs are upskilled in all aspects of running a successful business – from costing and pricing, marketing & PR, to financial management and human resources. Since starting on the Tholoana programme, Bukelwa’s business turnover increased by 84%.
The new mother of Bonolo, her second baby, both figuratively and literally speaking, says she is determined to build a brand and a legacy, not just for her daughter, but also for her family who have been a huge support and the community her business serves. “I’m someone who prays a lot and I know that God will show me the way.”
For more information about Ululo Empowerment Technologies, contact Bukelwa Mlilo or call her on 0720280875.