Asha Williams

By:Ian Carter Issue: Biennial of the Americas 2010 Section:The Americas Roundtables

Opportunities for Employment Through Technology Comes from Public-Private Partnerships

Asha Williams Asha Williams is the program manager of Partnership in Opportunities for Employment through Technology in the Americas (POETA), a program designed to provide information and communication technology skills to marginalized and vulnerable populations. From its inception as a pilot program in Guatemala in 2004, POETA has formed over 200 private-public sector partnerships, which enabled it to expand rapidly without sacrificing its mission or reducing its ability to effectively serve its populations. “A key part of the program is capacity building of local organizations, to ensure strong continued local support for the program’s beneficiaries,” says Williams. In doing so, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, recognized POETA as a “star project in terms of private-public partnerships.”

At its core, POETA recognizes the importance of alternative education for marginalized populations with skills that translate directly into jobs. Williams says, “The program empowers local organizations, at-risk youth and other vulnerable populations. However, on a personal level, the greatest impact of the program is its ability to create inclusion for these young people, particularly young people who felt there was little they could achieve prior to entering the program. Oftentimes, when we speak of educational achievement, we focus on the formal school system. POETA recognizes there are too many young people out of the formal school system in the Americas who need viable chances to develop their skills. Drop-out rates are as high as 45% before 5th grade in Nicaragua and youth unemployment rates are triple that of adult unemployment in some countries.”

To address these issues, POETA is organized around five core areas of focus: POETA Centers, job-readiness training, civic education, job placement and business development, and awareness.

POETA Centers are designed to maximize the importance of technology literacy in the 21st century. By partnering with Microsoft, CISCO and others, POETA Centers educate populations in a wide range of computer skills including online research and business software programs. These centers also educate the greater communities after hours and provide internet access to unconnected populations, bridging the digital divide. Since 2005, over 176,000 community members have benefited from services provided at these centers. Since 2006, POETA has trained over 4,600 at-risk youth in job skills and since 2005, POETA has trained over 27,694 people with disabilities. Job-readiness training is provided to educate individuals who are often entering the job market for the first time. These skills include practical and necessary skills including resumé building and interviewing techniques.

POETA understands that to be successful, these populations need more than job skills. Life skills are just as important. POETA’s program includes education on conflict resolution, sexual health, and other social factors that impact at-risk youth. In doing so, POETA helps these individuals confront daily challenges and readies the youth for future opportunities. POETA has worked to create opportunities for youth in the program to apply what they’ve learned with jobs. POETA hosts job fairs and works directly with businesses to expand so that they can employ more of these individuals.

POETA reaches out to local governments and employers to show the importance of hiring from the educated, yet marginalized and at-risk population. Creating awareness of this is key to the sustainability and growth of POETA.

As the Program Manager, Williams hopes to expand the program to more countries in the hemisphere. “At-risk youth continues to be a main development challenge for many countries in the hemisphere,” she says. The POETA model is versatile and can be adapted to serve any population. Its continued success will be based on involving actors at all levels, with one common goal, the inclusion and empowerment of the most vulnerable.