PFP-IDE Alum Sarah Wang’ombe Creates IT Career Pathways for Kenyans with Disabilities

AUCD Professional Fellows alum Sarah Wang’ombe is creating new opportunities for people with disabilities to build careers in Kenya’s IT sector. Sarah, a Program Officer at Sightsavers, plays a key leadership role in the IT Bridge Academy, an inclusive professional development initiative that trains young Kenyans with disabilities for tech-oriented career paths. IT Bridge Academy students undergo training to become certified as Cisco Certified Networking Associates and Certified Technicians. IT Bridge Academy graduates receive a globally recognized certification and become eligible for targeted internship and job opportunities at major companies in Kenya.

The IT Bridge Academy trains Kenyans with diverse disabilities who are interested in tech-oriented careers, and administers a globally recognized official Cisco certificate program which Sarah and her partners have made accessible and disability-inclusive. The IT Bridge Academy’s program for aspiring CCNAs and CCTs lasts nine months, and ends with a final certification exam. Sarah and her Sightsavers team have designed IT Bridge to ensure students have all disability accommodations needs met throughout the training process, an issue that prevents many students with disabilities who are passionate about IT from pursuing careers in the field.

After graduating from the IT Bridge Academy, individuals with disabilities will move on to three-month internships at Cisco and other multinational corporate partners, including Safaricom, Kenya’s largest telecommunications provider. From there, they will transition to full-time careers in diverse IT-related fields, including cybersecurity, computer engineering, online education, and business management. IT Bridge’s first cohort of 40 students with disabilities began their training in March 2021, and will begin their full-time internships in January 2022.

Poster of IT Bridge Academy students in Nairobi, Kenya
Poster of IT Bridge Academy students in Nairobi, Kenya

In addition to Cisco professional certification, the IT Bridge Academy gives students with disabilities the opportunity to learn key professional soft skills, including lessons on job readiness, career management, and hands-on lab exercises. The Academy’s instructors are trained in inclusive education and have a classroom support professional to support both teachers and students, thanks to a partnership Sarah and Sightsavers established with the United Disabled Persons of Kenya (UDPK).  The government of Kenya’s National Industrial Training Authority (NITA) has provided IT Bridge Academy with a training center in Nairobi, and the site was officially opened by Kenya’s Minister of Labour in the spring of 2021.

Kenya's Minister of Labour Simon Chelugui opens the IT Bridge Academy training site in Nairobi, Kenya.
Kenya’s Minister of Labour Simon Chelugui opens the IT Bridge Academy training site in Nairobi, Kenya.

Sarah plays an essential role in the IT Bridge Academy, which is historic for many reasons. She and her team at Sightsavers developed IT Bridge with a broad coalition of major private companies, international donors, Kenyan government agencies, civil society organizations, and disability rights groups. In addition to partnering with Cisco on the IT certifications, Sarah and Sightsavers have engaged the global consulting firm Accenture so that IT Bridge students can obtain lessons in business management skills remotely by completing its international online learning program, Skills to Success, for free. IT Bridge students will also have unique opportunities to access individualized mentorship from Cisco employees. Furthermore, Cisco has committed to creating new professional development and hiring opportunities for individuals with disabilities in Kenya.

The Norwegian Embassy to Kenya's Royal Counselor Kjell Erike Brekke praises IT Bridge and discusses Norway's commitment to supporting inclusive employment.
The Norwegian Embassy to Kenya’s Royal Counselor Kjell Erike Brekke praises IT Bridge and discusses Norway’s commitment to supporting inclusive employment in East Africa.

Sarah and her team have also secured international sponsorship and diplomatic support for IT Bridge from other countries, including Germany (BMZ-Bund), Norway (NORAD), and the United Kingdom (UK Aid). They are confident that the IT Bridge Academy can be scaled up and replicated across Kenya, as well as in other parts of the world. They have already laid out a framework to do so eventually, and are working closely with their corporate partners at Cisco and officials at Kenya’s Ministry of Labour to examine how IT Bridge programs and lessons can support people with disabilities elsewhere.

IT Bridge’s supporters are excited for the potential to expand the initiative throughout and beyond Kenya, as it is well-aligned with a growing number of similar programs around the world. Its graduates’ success will strengthen the case for more inclusive employment in Africa’s private sector and will encourage more programs that open new pathways for people with disabilities to build technical careers and pursue advanced education.

To learn more about the IT Bridge Academy:

Sarah Wang’ombe participated in the 2020 PFP-IDE Virtual Fellowship and was mentored by Dr. Peter Smith, executive director of the Centre for Disability Employment Research and Practice (CDERP).