A few weeks ago, the winners of the Re-Invent category of the Santander X Tomorrow Challenge were delving into the need to transform traditional business models. Today we talk to the five winners of the Re-Skill category about new ways to work.
The Re-Skill category encouraged employees and businesses to adapt to innovative ways of working in new environments. It received 401 projects or 18% of all submissions to the Santander X Tomorrow Challenge, Banco Santander's global contest for entrepreneurs.
One of the winning projects was Ada ITW, a not-for-profit organisation that works to make sure women in Latin America receive a stable, regulated and fair wage working in computer programming. Even though its primary focus is women, it promotes diverse talent.
María Celeste Medina, CEO of Ada ITW, explains that her motivation to create this project stems from her childhood. "I've lived with technology at home since I was young and taken it for granted as a tool for creating and working, like my mother did. Although we didn't have much money, my parents made sure there was always a computer at home. But when I went out into the world to further my education and specialise in programming, I wasn't expecting the barriers and prejudices women faced in IT. In fact, I was the only woman on my university course”.
That was when Medina decided that, if she wanted to see things change, she would have to join the fight. “When you begin a social project, you have no idea what you might find. You don't know the community or the barriers you might come across beyond your field of action, and you have to wear many hats at the same time: director, administrator, teacher, supplier, saleswoman… We wanted to reach women with limited resources, but we hadn't considered travel distances, the limited or near zero Internet access, and the possibility of having a computer at home. We also had to fight prejudice and stereotypes. Would we manage to place a woman in the job market after she completed her studies with us? Would the world give her that opportunity?”.
Ada ITW suffered the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic just like any other company. However, according to Medina, it also moved quickly to reinvent itself and set new priorities. “While the pandemic made the disaster worse, it also sped up changes that were already happening, including digital transformation and telecommuting, and it is incredible to see so many women students getting ahead in their careers today. Their stories of perseverance. Seeing how many of them are now employed is an inspiration that can overcome any pandemic”.
Another winning project was Arcux, an e-learning business specialising in architecture, design and construction. There is currently no online platform where construction and architecture students and professionals can acquire industry-specific skills; Arcux is designed to fill this need by supplementing university education and on-the-job training. Its business model is based on the sale of individual courses or annual subscriptions.
Edward Jesús Espinoza, CEO at Arcux, explained how his own needs led him to discover this market niche upon realising he still had a lot to learn after earning his architecture degree. “When I began to look for more training, I was surprised to discover that most courses weren't taught in my city, but in Lima; and the ones taught in my area were far below the standard of what was being taught in the capital or in other countries.”
Espinoza created Arcux “with the dream that, regardless of their university, construction professionals will find in us the perfect partner to help them be competitive in the market, work more efficiently and have a positive impact on communities’ development and sustainability".
Arcux’s journey began just two years ago and, already, more than 60,000 students from 25 countries have benefited from its courses. The pandemic doesn't seem to have slowed its incredible progress either. “For businesses like ours, the pandemic has been an unprecedented challenge; working fully online isn't easy but it does have many benefits for employers and employees. Now we know working remotely thrives in almost every industry. This changes the rules of the game, and whoever can make the most of it will always have a competitive advantage over organisations that do not incorporate it into their DNA”.
BEDU is a training centre for individuals and businesses. It offers blended and online courses that aim to enhance users’ digital and technological skills so they can find better jobs in the digital age. They have created a 360° training solution, which includes programming, critical thinking, business design and other disciplines.
Lilia García, CEO at BEDU, and three founding members, Moís Cherem, Raúl Maldonado and Jorge Camil, have more than ten years' experience in running projects to close the digital gap in highly vulnerable parts of Mexico. They explain that, "despite technological progress and the advantages of education in this field, most traditional schools don't use this technology to their benefit”.
“We started in 2016 and, although the hardest part has been changing the belief that online education is still substandard or lacks the same value as traditional learning, the more than 3,000 students who have graduated from our programmes and found their first job in tech prove that it isn't true. I'd say these results alone are what give me the greatest satisfaction: people changing their lives through education.”
As for the effects of the pandemic, Lilia explained that “[it] has accelerated the digitalisation of industries as well as reskilling for new careers. Against this new backdrop, we’re teaching a wide range of skills in high-demand areas, such as web development, data analysis and user-friendly product design and English to fill the demand for workers and, at the same time, help people find their speciality. This is where entrepreneurs can contribute the most. We need a lot of talented people who are brave enough to tackle the challenge facing humanity."
Zapiens Technologies is a platform that makes learning new skills and concepts easier and resolves queries quickly. If companies want to retain internal talent, they must constantly reinvent themselves and step up their activities in both digitalisation and “soft skills”.
Aurelio Jiménez, CEO at Zapiens, said: “We used to work in management and change consulting. Back then, one of our customers had trouble creating a balanced sales team: some agents were highly competent and others less so, even though they performed the same tasks. In search of a solution, we designed a methodology in which the more competent people could share their skills with others using post-its. [It was] a simple idea that worked perfectly, so we decided to take the plunge and create an app to digitalise the process and make it more fun, and here we are today.”
For Jiménez, the pandemic has powered digital transformation globally and put soft and digital skills on the same level of importance. For entrepreneurs, he believes that "some market opportunities from February 2020 no longer exist, but many others are starting to mushroom in response to needs created by the new situation. At Zapiens, we have seen growing interest in our software because employees and teams now need to learn new skills remotely. That’s why we are such a perfect fit for our customers".
Filmpedia is an audiovisual library organised by theme, skills and subject. It helps teachers, instructors and HR managers gain expertise and refresh their skills, especially “soft skills”. Essentially, it's an attractive, visual, 21st-century library that significantly promotes learning.
Miquel Cerdá, CEO at Filmpedia, understands how hard it is to be an entrepreneur and that it means working long hours and weekends, in addition to a lot of uncertainty. However, "it is all worth it when you see the idea works. I'll always remember the time I saw how a 14-year-old student wearing headphones with a total couldn't-care-less attitude changed her behaviour completely after seeing a short film. She went from not even thinking about participating to raising her hand and starting debates. Things like that make it all pay off."
In Cerdá's opinion, the crisis caused by covid-19 highlights the importance of "sheer resilience and interpersonal and emotional education”. “Uncertainty, change and global problems are here to stay and we have to tackle them as people and professionals. We must develop soft skills and audiovisual aids are key. Our aim is to take advantage of the power of storytelling in films, shorts, documentaries and videos, where we can discover other lives and realities and empathise with them. Audiovisual aids are taken as layered content through which many skills and abilities can be developed”.
“What makes us get out of bed every day is doing our bit to effect positive change in the education system. We firmly believe in the power of education and culture as catalysts to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). And that's what keeps us going. From the students we help better understand a subject to the teenagers who see reflections of themselves in a film, or the teachers and families we help drive children and young people’s personal and professional growth”.