GATHER Alumnus Previews Chicago to Mthatha Robotics Collaboration

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Senior Advisor, Communications and Development

The Goldin Institute was thrilled to welcome GATHER alumnus Dieudonne Allo from South Africa to our hometown in Chicago September 29-October 1, a visit that fortuitously coincided with a visit from Ceasar McDowell, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has been a senior advisor to the GATHER program since it was first conceived.

Dieudonne was in town as part of a whirlwind tour of the United States that took him to New York City and Philadelphia to meet with entrepreneurial incubators as part of his fellowship with Red Bull’s Amaphiko Academy.

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In Chicago, he spent time with Peace Fellow Jacqueline Moore to talk about their international collaboration bringing together young people from their respective programs in robotics, STEM education, and entreprenuership. Goldin Institute staff put together a reception for both Jackie and Dieudonne as well as for Ceasar with a select guest list that included Peace Fellow Gloria Smith, John Zeigler, director of DePaul University’s Egan Office of Urban Education and Community Partnerships, DePaul Professor Lisa Dush, who is conducting a professional evaluation of GATHER, and Goldin Institute Founder and Board Chair Diane Goldin.

Dieudonne spoke about the history of his organization, the Global Leading Light Initiative (GLLI), which he founded in 2014 on the “concept that every person has a light.”

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Based in Mthatha, a town in the Eastern Cape province, the GLLI hosts a variety of workshops and training courses, including Iziko, a community and school-based parenting program aimed at building healthy child-adult relationships. Dieudonne explained, however, that they were in a poor town in one of South Africa’s poorest provinces, such that economic reality undergirded many of the issues they are trying to address.

“As much as we want kids to have this light, the parents are under pressure of poverty. Through GATHER, we learned that their problems are not technical, they are adaptive. When you solve something, something else comes up.” -- Dieudonne Allo

Dieudonne continued, "It was necessary, therefore, to intervene early as well as consistently, to provide opportunity as well as skills."

To that end, the GLLI recently launched a tech academy for young people this summer with special funding from the South African government. They received 333 applications, and were able to select only 6 young people, who are currently in the midst of their curriculum. The students are being trained in digital skills and entrepreneurship as well as learning to act as mentors.

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When Dieudonne mentioned the tech academy to Goldin Institute Executive Director Travis Rejman, Travis thought to connect him with Peace Fellow Jackie Moore, who has a quarter-century of experience working for the finance industry supporting systems software and currently has dedicated herself to training young people in robotics.

Jackie and Dieudonne met on-line, discovered areas of common interest, and decided to work together to facilitate conversations between their respective groups of young people. They are jointly applying for funds to bring Jackie to South Africa to provide training to the students in the tech academy face-to-face, which Dieudonne thinks will be inspirational, particularly to the young women in the program.

“I’m very excited. Being a woman of color doing robotics – it’s not common.” -- Dieudonne Allo.

Jackie said her collaboration with Dieudonne was based on a shared commitment to making sure young adults, in particular, have programs that provide them with a bridge from childhood to adulthood. She was excited to create a robotics team that was physically located around the globe.

“The Big Picture vision is for young people from Chicago and young people from Mthatha to recognize their similarities. If one person in one city can do it, a similar person in another city can do it. We’re not taking American values to South Africa or South African values to America, but to see that teens are teens.” -- Jacquelyn Moore

Jackie continued, “No city is superior to any other city.”

Travis said the collaboration between Jackie and Diedonne realized one of the goals he set for the Goldin Institute’s fellowships:

“It’s great to have a global GATHER Fellow working with a Chicago Peace Fellow, a fulfillment of all our hopes that as the alumni network grows, there would be ways to meet, work and grow together. It’s a dream come true for Diane and me.” -- Travis Rejman

That sentiment was echoed by Ceasar McDowell, who teaches urban planning and community development at MIT and coordinates cross-department initiatives that leverage technology for community engagement. Ceasar advised Travis at various stages of GATHER’s development, and understood that its success was the result of tenacity and continuing adaptation.

“It’s not often you see a set of digital tools of embedded with the principles of community.” Ceasar McDowell.

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