The advent of the mobile phone a couple of decades ago revolutionised our lives and its accelerated progression from the early ‘bricks’ to the still-evolving smart phones of today has been even more ground-breaking. However, most of us are still lagging a couple of years behind when it comes to exploiting its full capacity. These days, being able to make and receive calls is almost incidental to its other functions.

Proudly displaying the phones, from left are Gerrit Barnard, FNB Branch Manager; Angela Heslop, Chairperson Hermanus Red Cross; Delana Finlayson, CEO Hermanus Varsity Trust; Alheitia van Niekerk, FNB Business Manager; Rony Mugedi, Overstrand Learning Centre; Joel Martins, SHARP Digital and Cath Croxton, Director, SHARP Digital.

Last Wednesday saw the launch of an exciting co-operative initiative between the Hermanus branch of FNB, the Zwelihle-based NPO, SHARP Digital, the Hermanus Varsity Trust (HVT) and the Hermanus Branch of Red Cross. Based on the success of its client-based personal banking App, FNB has begun to explore the development of other Apps which will have a wider empowerment function, such as its Fundaba training course for start-up entrepreneurs.

FNB has worked with hundreds of local business owners and mentors to take them on an holistic business-education journey, from incubating a business idea, to starting, running and ultimately growing their own business. It was, therefore, delighted to link up with SHARP Digital to create grassroots accessibility to the world of digital technology.

There was great enthusiasm amongst everyone present when FNB Business Manager, Alheitia van Niekerk and Branch Manager, Gerrit Barnard handed over 10 top-model cellphones to Delana Finlayson, CEO of Hermanus Varsity and Angela Heslop, Chairperson of Red Cross Hermanus last Wednesday. The role of SHARP Digital will be to supply an ‘ABC of digital technology’ App to start users on a liberating journey to discover the wealth of knowledge available via the cellphone.

As Cath Croxton of SHARP Digital points out, only around 20% of South Africans have access to a computer and only 50% are connected to the internet. Of these, many do not have the technological knowledge to make full use of it. She was shocked recently to discover, while talking to a young student in Zwelihle that she had never even heard of Google.

Although Delana Finlayson and Johann Kruger of HVT confirm that when many of their students enrol, they can do little more with their cellphones than use WhatsApp and Facebook, they are quick to learn new technological skills. “Mobile phones are such a powerful tool,” adds Johann, “and even basic phones can do most things if the user knows what’s available and how to use it. Of course, the cost of data is still a stumbling block – it’s been estimated that some people are spending up to one third of their income on data, which is ridiculous. Access to free data is essential.”

Delana says she can foresee all kinds of applications for the students at the Varsity, including carrying out surveys amongst high school pupils to assess course preferences at tertiary level.

Angela Heslop also expressed her gratitude to FNB. The partnership between Red Cross, Food4Love and others in providing food for the needy in Hermanus during lockdown highlighted the need for more detailed information regarding the extent of the need and the logistics required to deal with it. While for admin purposes, and even data capture, paper and pen are still the default option, by its very mobility, the cellphone is the ideal solution.

Red Cross was therefore looking forward to switching to the digital programme as soon as possible. Amazingly, Angela reported that R2.6 million had been contributed by the people of Hermanus to meet the food security crisis triggered by the pandemic. Given this level of aid, it was critical to ensure that the food reached the people in greatest need and duplication was avoided.

Cathy mentioned that SHARP Digital already had an easy-to-use survey tool which was designed specifically for this purpose. One of the major advantages of this project was that the data could be directly fed into the mobile App in the field, saving time, ensuring greater accuracy and avoiding the possibility of mislaying data. As she emphasised, “Digitally challenged operators are often afraid that Apps like this will be too complicated to use, but all our programmes are super-simple. And people feel really empowered in the knowledge that they have successfully entered the digital age. Of course, there are also employability implications for them.”

There was a tangible win-win atmosphere at the launch of this synergistic partnership between a corporate entity (FNB), two NPOs (SHARP Digital and Hermanus Red Cross) and an educational institution (HVT). In the words of Cath Croxton: “Organisations working towards common goals are also a network of influence and working together can enhance impacts and drive change.”

For further information: Cath Croxton (SHARP Digital) 078 254 5693; Delana Finlayson (HVT) 082 491 9652 and Angela Heslop (Red Cross) 072 609 8655.

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