Inspired by Salesforce’s commitment to ‘Success From Anywhere’, Trailblazer Nell Paye is revolutionising the West African ecosystem by bringing together not-for-profit initiatives, new economic growth opportunities and net new talent.
Home to more than 350 million people, West Africa faces many challenges in keeping pace with its growing population. Unemployment is high, inequality is increasing and while the digital communications infrastructure is improving, there are still significant usage gaps.
When she isn’t working as a Business Architect in Solution Consulting at Salesforce, Nell Paye dedicates her time and money to helping communities in West Africa thrive. Based in Rhode Island, Nell has run a nonprofit since 2016, building sustainability and economic independence via traditional African commodities. However, aware of the size of the opportunity, she is now expanding her vision to address the catch-22 situation West Africa finds itself in; companies need digitally skilled individuals to boost their growth but with little investment, there’s no talent emerging from the region. And, without talent, companies can’t implement the solutions that would boost their growth.
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“Giving back and positively contributing to society have always been huge driving factors for me,” says Nell. “As well as commodity-based opportunities in West Africa, such as cashews and cocoa, there’s huge potential to train people in digital skills. It’s another route to a sustainable income without leaving their village, even if it’s remote – internet access permitting.”
Talking to universities, small businesses and other nonprofits, Nell saw there was a real appetite for people with these skills but not enough funding to bring credible programmes to fruition. “I applied for grants, but the typical response was ‘Why do you think you can do it?’. Often, people like me don’t have the pedigree to come to the table with an idea, you have to come with proof.”
“That’s one of the reasons why I set up Impact Studio L3C, a low-profit, full-service cloud computing and training boutique firm, which aims to connect West Africans with access to the global digital economy via Salesforce. Basically, I decided to set up the training pathway first and see where I could take it.”
Having already begun working with the University of Rhode Island Foundation to offer free Salesforce Admin courses to marginalised communities in Rhode Island, Nell travelled to West Africa in September 2020. “I teamed up with local partners and universities to host ‘Introduction to Salesforce and Trailhead’ courses, using existing, no-cost Salesforce training.” The programme is currently open to students from the four English-speaking West African countries (Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Liberia) and attracts a mix of men and women. To date, around 600 students have attended these sessions.
Quite quickly, Nell had more than 20 Certified individuals who were asking – What can we do now? “The next hurdle to overcome was a lack of hands-on training. We didn’t even have internships to offer them. So, I reached out to the wider Salesforce team to see if we could learn from the work being done in South Africa and leverage the knowledge that could create a true workforce initiative.”
The first thing Nell discovered was the importance of segmenting the different types of learners attracted to the training, according to need. “Out of 600 students, some had been in the field for a while but needed help accessing the Salesforce ecosystem. Others had five-plus years of experience working for international companies, knew the processes of getting visas and employment, and wanted a career change. But most were undergraduates without any work experience or ’softer’ employability skills.”
To address this, “we needed universities to run substantial courses with an accreditation at the end. The question was, would universities be interested? The answer was a resounding yes! So, we created West Africa Digital Empowerment (WADE) and decided to pilot a two-year programme with The United Methodist University (UMU) in Liberia, ensuring the course would be officially approved by university boards and the Ministry of Education. Now it’s a full associate degree programme” notes Nell.
Pillars of Success
Based on successful curriculums running in other countries, the first year of the associate degree programme gives students a full introduction to cloud computing and CRM, while the second year focuses on career readiness, hands-on experience and finding work. Over 300 people applied for just 50 places on the pilot programme and 80% of the cohort are college graduates. The course is comprehensive, ensuring students gain core Admin and Developer skills in the first year and understand the business sales cycle so that they can truly find the right digital solutions.
The Trailhead Virtual Bootcamp is incorporated into this year, and attending it was of huge benefit to students. As Nell shares “They were able to interact with people on the same journey as them but from different places, such as the US and Europe. They loved the fact they felt more advanced than some other students and were able to answer more questions. It’s given them a real glow and the belief that if they work hard, they can achieve something very special.”
In year two, we’re leveraging Career Spark, an initiative that helps imagine what’s possible in a Salesforce career. Students will shadow different jobs to discover what they’re passionate about and undertake internships which will eventually funnel them into employment pipelines. “We’re seeing such enthusiasm from students. Recently, more than half attended a Salesforce South Africa virtual career fair just for the experience, despite knowing that only South Africans would be employable. We’re also seeing the momentum build in other universities too. At least five are now interested in running this course”.
Despite having already achieved so much, Nell’s plans are showing no signs of abating. “Soon, we’ll have trained Salesforce Certified Instructors in the region, which will improve the programme’s sustainability. I’ve been self-funding so now I’m trying to figure out how to raise funds and work even more closely with partners such as Women in Tech in Liberia and YDev Academy in Nigeria. The latter has already created 26 certified individuals.”
Another issue we’re solving is that you pay for data in West Africa, so a major focus is having a physical location in Liberia that people can work from. “Our aim is to build a co-working space, with internet access that our cohorts can tap into. I’ve bought a quarter of an acre of land in Monrovia, Liberia, had architect designs drawn up and we’re now raising funds to build a Salesforce Digital Hub by May 2024. It’s hugely exciting and means we can kickstart people’s careers by giving them a physical place to be.”
West Africa allows people to work interchangeably across all its 16 countries, and Nell’s hope is that we will eventually expand across all of these. “We just need to work on the French and Portuguese translations, which are the other main languages.”
Culturally, West Africa embodies a community-driven ethos, which encourages those who have succeeded to lift up others by finding opportunities and providing hope. It means there’s a natural motivation for students to progress their Salesforce journey and bring others along with them.
“Students are already feeling a sense of accomplishment and potential, which is driving them forward. They’re so grateful for the support and feel like people are really investing in them, something they haven’t had before. Previously, if they’d even known about the scope of the digital world, it would have felt unobtainable. But suddenly, they’ve got access to 30 mentors from all over the ecosystem and senior leaders, such as Stuart Mills (VP Trailhead and Ecosystem, EMEA), showing up and taking an interest. Social capital is important in West Africa, and students really appreciate people who will advocate on their behalf. That’s why they’re so excited and telling others about these opportunities.”
Nell’s focus now is making sure the end goal is met – that meaningful employment is possible. No one wants a situation where certified people are unemployed. “There are many barriers for West African talent to be hired, so we have to work together to reduce those barriers,” Nell explains.
“Happily, Salesforce champions diversity and untapped talent, the Talent Alliance Team is dedicated to working with companies to hire newly trained candidates in specific regions, and I’m finding more ways to make the process of hiring convenient for customers. I’ve many solutions in mind, along with data insurance and security in place to support any infrastructure obstacles that companies may face in sending work to Africa, so we’re starting to have those conversations now. We’re not there yet, but together I know we can make ’Success from Anywhere’ a reality.”
Highlights of the impact to date:
- 500 participants in Introduction to Salesforce course (spread across two months in eight West African countries)
- 200 applicants for the two-year pilot program
- 50 students selected from four countries (Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria)
- 25 students currently enrolled
- 1900+ Trailhead Badges acquired by students in 7 months
- 4 Trailhead Rangers
- 14 Certified Salesforce Administrators
- 8 Certified Salesforce Associates
- 40 Tech / Career Mentors in the program
- 2000+ overall Volunteer hours
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