The lockdown has turned out to be a collective challenge, forcing all of us to adapt and reshape our everyday lives and activities in response to this new situation.
Nonetheless, as it is often the case, the crisis has hit vulnerable people disproportionately hard.
It was therefore crucial for organisations specialising in employment support aimed at these groups to find ways of overcoming obstacles and continuing to offer their services to the best of their abilities.
The Societe Generale Foundation visited three organisations it supports, in France and in Africa, to check in with them and find out how they have adapted so they can continue offering employment support to vulnerable people: Social Builder, Konexio et Simplon.
Lockdown hasn’t kept them down
While these have been particularly challenging times for everyone in the sector, there was never any question of cancelling training courses or abandoning these at-risk groups for the entire duration of the lockdown.
The emergency had to be managed. There was no way that we would go through the whole selection process and commit to supporting these women to just give up in the end
Emmanuelle Larroque, founder and CEO of Social Builder
The Societe Generale Foundation is a partner in its flagship programme, Women In Digital, which offers training for jobs in the tech industry to women at risk of social exclusion in Seine-Saint-Denis.
Her company has therefore tried to maintain all training modules when possible. And the women taking part in the programme have risen to the challenge: there have been no dropouts from Social Builder courses. These women are continuing to invest in themselves and their future careers.
Something similar has happened on the other side of the Mediterranean, where Simplon, a priority partner in the Foundation’s Africa programme, offers coding courses in many countries, including Senegal.
“There have been plenty of difficulties, but motivating our learners was not one of them”, as Bouna Kane, Simplon’s Director for Africa told us. Indeed, the participants themselves urged Simplon to keep the programmes running. Part of the training therefore continues online. This also required much generosity and support to put in place the conditions for online learning.
Providing the equipment and the connections
However, online training is a solution which has not been easy to put in place, and which does not apply across the board. The first obstacle to continuing training online is that many participants don't have computers.
That was the case for Konexio, an organisation supported by the Societe Generale Foundation, which provides digital skill training for refugees in France. Its co-founder, Jean Guo, found herself facing a dilemma to which there is still no clear solution. To maintain training, Konexio, like several other organisations, decided to send equipment to its participants. But how to make sure that this equipment was not contaminated when it arrived through the post? To date, there is still no satisfactory answer to this question.
On top of this, Simplon was faced with the issue of internet connections. Learners in the suburbs of Dakar reported that they did not have any money to spend on daily internet passes. How to stick with the programme in these conditions? Simplon therefore put in place a twofold solution to this problem. First, they contacted major telecommunications operators to ask them to make data available to learners for free. Secondly, where that was not possible, they requested exceptional financial support from their partners to cover the cost of daily internet passes for their learners. It took some logistical planning, but it was crucial to avoiding dropouts.
A hidden reality
However, it would be simplistic to believe that motivation and an internet connection are all it takes.
And even though Social Builder, Simplon and Konexio all work in digital integration, the difficulties they face are very different.
For the co-founder of Konexio, which works for digital inclusion, the situation could not be clearer: “People who weren’t online to start off are now even more excluded… the situation is making inequality more entrenched.”
Sending equipment is a good solution for some people in the target groups, but it is not helpful for those who do not already have the basic skills. If you do not speak the language or you do not know how to use a computer, there’s no way to get started. Konexio has therefore had to suspend basic skills training courses.
These can only be delivered in person and will have to wait for the end of the lockdown and for training spaces to reopen.
People who weren’t online to start off are now even more excluded… the situation is increasing inequalities
Jean Guo, co-founder of Konexio
Social Builder, an organisation supported by the Societe Generale Foundation, helps women find jobs in Tech. The issues it is facing appear to be very different too. Indeed, their target groups often have their own equipment and connections already.
However, a closer look reveals many social and family-related obstacles. Not all partners are supportive of training. Emmanuelle Larroque, founder and CEO of Social Builder, told us about the issue of homes with only one computer. When both parents have to work remotely, and there is also schoolwork be done at home, many women have to settle and follow the training on their smartphones.
As she explains this hidden obstacle to us, Emanuelle laments not being able to do more to offer psychological support to participants, taking into account the realities of family life. Where possible, they work with other organisations to deliver those kinds of services. “We don’t have the resources”, she explains. “I take a holistic approach - I always think a person’s actual circumstances should be taken into account.”
The other major issue faced by Social Builder is finding jobs. How can they continue promising women opportunities to connect with businesses when nobody is hiring?
“We are going to work with our partners in companies to develop online internships and online company visits, so they can keep on mentoring but a bit differently to what we initially had in mind. We’ll have to innovate!”
After having learned about the situation and the actions put in place by these three actors of the area of professional integration, we will be discussing the lessons of this confinement and the best practices of these actors in a second article entitled: Professional integration will never be the same after this confinement – very soon on our website.
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