UCT alumni triumph in social impact challenge

Three University of Cape Town graduates who met while studying information systems at UCT are among the winners of Google's first Impact Challenge for South Africa, earning them US$250 000 in funding for their career guidance technology.

Unathi September, Lebogang Diale and Rudzani Mulaudzi met while studying information systems, graduating in 2011 with honours. They have worked together on Gradesmatch ever since, first as a voluntary project to provide important career information to learners in rural and township schools, and since 2016 on a full-time basis.

We enable learners to make well-informed career decisions, says September.

The Gradesmatch app, where learners can enter in their subjects and marks and be linked to suitable tertiary institutions and qualifications, is just the start. The team now intends to expand into Africa and become a primary source of career guidance and financial aid.

Operating out of Gauteng, Gradesmatch is currently training facilitators for a new Cape Town office in 2019.

Project snowballed

What started as an attempt to give information to learners turned into a much larger project. It expanded from facilitating applications to exposing learners to different career fields.

During their honours year, September, Diale and Mulaudzi worked on different projects, but they had a shared interest in assisting learners with their career decisions, and Gradesmatch became an important post-graduation project.

The environment in our honours year created our working relationship, says September. You get to understand each other, how you work and the skill sets that you have.

But their business didn't take flight as soon as they graduated. Diale studied further, while September and Mulaudzi found jobs in investment banking and management consulting respectively, needing to build up some capital.

They continued to work part-time on Gradesmatch on a voluntary service basis. Finally, in 2016 they were able to commit to the project full-time.

All we cared about was the learners getting information. But when that became unsustainable, we had to find a way to scale it up, and technology was a natural thing for us to do, because that's what we studied, says September.

African expansion

Gradesmatch is also expanding into Africa; initially into Ghana, Namibia and Nigeria. The team has big plans and with the funding secured from the Google Impact Challenge they plan to reach 25 African countries, while improving the platform's technology.

The Gradesmatch app was launched as part of the Western Cape Education Department's Apprentice Game Changer programme and is targeted at high school learners.

To use the app, learners must register their details and answer questions about their personality traits and career goals. This information is carefully analysed to produce career choices, qualification programmes and a list of universities that offer these.

If the learner does not meet the requirements for university entrance, then Gradesmatch finds an alternative such as a diploma or Further Education and Training (FET) qualifications.

Source: The University of Cape Town