The 10,000 Hour Initiative

People often ask me how I ended up working in technology and software development despite having gone to Art School. I learned at a very early age that it’s not what you study, or your chose profession that makes someone especially good at something. It’s passion. The amount of time you spend doing something even when there’s no obvious reward for doing it. I spent hours hacking away on an IBM PS/2 (my families first computer) as a kid and never once thought about growing up to develop software, at least not until many years later, after I was out of school. At the same time, I probably spent as much time on my hobby (usenet, in chatrooms, hacking Dos and taking apart my computer) as I did the things new I wanted to do (at the time art). What’s made me somewhat good at these thing isn’t explicit training, it isn’t credentials, it’s passion…to do it regardless of the reward.

Appfrica Labs I try to spark people’s passions for things by giving them time, resources and facilities to explore while also giving them a job doing what they love. There, I largely work with recent graduates and university students facing a bleak job market and few opportunities. With our new 10,000 Hour Initiative we intend to do the same for grade-school students.

What is the 10,000 Hour Initiative?

Appfrica’s 10,000 Hour Initiative is aimed at offering a space for younger people to pursue their passions alongside professionals working in the field. The concept is very much inspired by the 826 National Project, which offers kids in the U.S. an after school hours community center where they can work alongside professionals who act as tutors and mentors. The name comes from Malcom Gladwell’s OUTLIERS, where he theorizes that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice for anyone to become truly exceptional at doing something. Of course we want to help offer those hours.

In Africa, prior to (and even at) University there’s a lack of this type of voluntary mentorship. Which is unfortunate because it’s not what we learn in school that makes us great, it’s what we learn by using that knowledge outside of school. That’s where ideas are born and that’s where students find the motivation to do more than what’s asked of them

Fostering a Culture of Apprenticeship

Instead of attacking this problem with my limited resources as most institutions would, my goal has always been to approach Education by maximizing existing resources. Instead of creating institutions from scratch that require enormous resources and high overhead (rent, security, staff etc) the 10,000 Hour Initiative would identify talented individuals and create co-working and co-learning spaces (dubbed 10K Spaces) for them at existing institutions and businesses. The program would allow youth to interact with other peers as well as trained professionals who could tutor and mentor them, helping them to improve their skills, while exposing them to new technologies, ideas and fields they may not have been aware of.

The goal is to encourage the spirit of entrepreneurship, apprenticeship and creativity prior to attending university. Hopefully this will ultimately result in students who are even better prepared to be the leaders of tomorrow. Likewise, it allows working professionals to take these kids under their wings to show them what’s possible.

Anatomy of a 10K Space

This is my own wish for the Africa’s education system, and as such I intend to devote my own resources to it. The first space will be at my office in Kampala where I’ll encourage students interested in programming, new media and blogging to come by after school hours to spend a bit of extra time either working on their homework or learning new things from myself and my staff. Here they’ll have access to our staff, our internet connection, books, our computers and other resources that they can experiment with.

Other institutions who wish to get involve would mentor these kids in their particular area of expertise. The mission is not to ask for money to do this. Anyone can do this with what they’ve already got. Any office suite or company can put in extra hours allowing their staff to participate as time permits, without any support. We’ll start with our facilities and encourage more to do it as we go.

If you want to know more about Appfrica’s 10,000 Hour Initiative or to get your company involved please email me at [email protected]

Photo By: TeachAndLearn (Fazeka High School, South Africa) used under the Creative Commons Attribution License

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About the author: Jonathan Gosier is a UI designer, software developer and writer. He currently lives in Kampala, Uganda where he incubates and invests in East African entrepreneurs as the CEO of Appfrica Labs. He's also a TED Fellow.
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