‘It’s our fifth birthday – my how we’ve grown”
This July marks five years since Arjuna Costa at Omidyar saw something in David, Ignacio and I wanting to solve for the human capital gaps preventing global development initiatives from reaching their true potential. Omidyar seeded our start-up and led the charge to bring in funding from MasterCard Foundation, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Financial Sector Deepening Africa, and additional rounds from Omidyar, to prove and later scale our business. We partnered with the Fletcher School at TUFTS University, who trusted us with their brand and supported our academic rigour while coaching our students. Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors offered to house us for our first three years while we proved viable enough to go-it-alone as an independent social enterprise. We opened a tiny one-room office in Cape Town and employed our first two colleagues, Debra Roodt and Joan Snyman, who went on to establish the foundations that make us who we are today. We were joined by class coaches and community of practice facilitators from over a dozen countries who all leant in to build Digital Frontiers, and an incredible team that brought it all together.
OUR IMPACT, SO FAR
We had exceeded most five-year objectives by the end of the fourth year. We built and launched courses with over 300,000 instructional hours through 7,000 courses completed by over 5,000 unique students from 170 countries and 1800 organisations (as at Q2 2020). We’ve exceeded our 30% gender equity target (currently at 34%) and public sector target of 20% (now at 22%) and have pass rates exceeding 80%. Students have consistently rated DFI courses highly, citing improved knowledge about digital financial services; increased awareness of international examples and opportunities in the wider sector; increased confidence in the student’s ability to use their expertise to participate in conversations and apply what they’ve learned inside workplaces or communities of practice. We’ve also established in-person communities of practices in 19 countries, running over 800 in-person convenings, and a handful of these have gone on to formalise into professional bodies (associations that will outlast the program that seeded them).
INCORPORATING CGAP’S GATEWAY ACADEMY
In January 2020, inclusive finance capacity builders, funders, and other relevant parties convened in Cape Town around how best to capacitate the inclusive finance market. A key take away was that we needed less vertically integrated capacity-building organisations and more partnerships. It would be more efficient if we separated content/domain specialists (CGAP, AFI, GSMA, others) from the infrastructure and delivery of scaled skills development (DFI, Gateway Academy, others). The late 2019 genesis of this January 2020 convening kicked off several side-line discussions about what’s working and what’s not in inclusive finance capacity building. These activities contributed to DFI and the World Banks CGAP deciding to merge the Gateway Academy into DFI and form a single organisation; a capacity building specialist that would be both a school and a utility platform for other capacity builders, content partners and domain specialists. Merging operations concluded on June 30th. The result is less fragmentation, greater combined reach and impact, and reducing funding needs by as much as $10-$12million.
WHO WE ARE NOW: AN EVOLVED STATE, NEW IMAGE AND A NEW FOCUS
Over the last five years, we’ve established specialised capacity building capabilities and the ability to scale capacity building programs to as many as 180 countries. This July, we will roll out our new identity and evolved state, described below.
Digital Frontiers is an African not-for-profit capacity building specialist, focused on building human capital aligned with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. Digital Frontiers incorporates the Digital Frontiers Institute (DFI) and Gateway. DFI is a digital-first-but-blended school that delivers the teaching and administration of portfolios of courses to thousands of students in low-and-middle-income countries; Gateway provides capacity building as a service through transforming third party content into digital learning experiences and offering all the functions of administering a school, and teaching, as a service, while also being a course aggregator for training organisations through providing a market place filled with courses targeted at employers and individuals wanting to skill-up in all things SDG.
Digital Frontiers is a proudly African head-quartered institute that is well equipped to provide for capacity building needs well beyond financial inclusion. We have faculties of Gender Equality, Digital Health and Empowering Young African Entrepreneurs in planning and look forward to working with you on these.
I’d like to personally thank my co-founders, David Porteous and Ignacio Mas, who were together the creative engine and sound reasoning behind everything we’ve done. Our initial advisors and then our Board, our partner funders Omidyar (later Flourish), MasterCard Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and FSD Africa, who have been hands-on partners with support that went way beyond funding; Our partners Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and the Fletcher School at TUFTS University. There have been many more since, and a remarkable team too.
The strength of these true partnerships, whether founder, team, funder or other, has laid the foundations for much more to come.
Happy 5th Birthday Digital Frontiers, it has been an incredible journey so far, and we have a far way to go. And thank you, to everyone that’s gotten us to 5.