When we first saw it, the initiative painted a positive picture of hope. One that offered the youth of the Northern Province, a chance to change their lives. Since then, Uki has evolved considerably having produced many graduates. Further, the initiative has expanded its footprint having opened a second branch to accept more students. Yet, as it evolved, the initiative continues to offer the same promise of hope to its students. 

Revisiting the origins of Uki

Uki is an initiative by the Yarl IT Hub in partnership with the ITEE FoundationGiZ, and the LBR Foundation. For the past 8 years, it has operated as a non-profit social enterprise focusing on education, technology, and entrepreneurship. It does so in the form of a coding accelerator for the youth of the Northern Province. 

It began as a solution to a heavy problem plaguing the Northern Province and the country as a whole. Several students with a passion for IT didn’t pursue a career in the field. This was despite having passed their A/L’s with flying colours. Having investigated this issue, the Yarl IT Hub identified many of these students couldn’t afford a degree to enter the industry. Meanwhile, the IT industry even today is hungry for talented fresh recruits. 

Thus after a series of struggles to gain funding, find the right people, and secure a venue, Uki was born. At the time, there were 45 applicants from all walks of life. A heavy percentage of them were women eager to build a better life for themselves. Following a strict short-listing process, 15 students were accepted into Uki as its initial batch. For them and the future students of the programme, it’d be on a full scholarship. 

Through the 6-month programme, these students would learn the technical skills needed for full-stack software development. In parallel, they’d also learn a host of soft skills to thrive as leaders in business. By inculcating such skills, Uki aims to empower its students to take their 1st steps into the IT industry. So how successful has it been towards this goal? 

Measuring the success of Uki

Since it’s humble origins, Uki has evolved. Over the past 2 years, 110+ students from the Northern Province have graduated from Uki. The initiative currently operates 2 branches since the opening of its new centre in Kilinochchi. On the 14th of March 2020, it will be opening another branch in Jaffna, thereby increasing its footprint to 3 branches. Currently, its existing branch Jaffna is running its 6th cohort while the Kilinochchi branch is running its 2nd cohort. 

At these branches, you’ll find 25 students per batch. An increase from the original batch of 15 students, when we first saw the initiative. Alongside these students are full-time lecturers in the form of 1 lead lecturer and 1 assistant lecturer per batch. Each of these lecturers has a Bachelor’s degree in IT or another software-related field and have at least 1 year of industrial experience. 

Through their collective efforts, the initiative’s curriculum is being constantly updated to account for the rapid pace of technological change in full-stack web development. Outside the classroom, Uki has signed MoU’s with several companies in the IT industry. Through these MoU’s, its students get the chance for an interview to receive a 6-month internship. This is in line with Uki’s original vision of giving its students their 1st step into the IT industry. 

Due to these partnerships, Uki has a proud track record where 95% of its students have gone onto pursue a career in the IT industry. Many in the remaining 5% chose to resit for their A/L examinations and were accepted into state universities. Furthermore, after going through the programme in full, some of its students were inspired to start their own companies. At the time of writing, 4 Uki graduates are running their own startups, with 3 of them having secured seed funding. 

What’s next for Uki? 

As Uki looks towards the future, it’s plans are to simply expand its footprint islandwide. The Yarl IT Hub shared with ReadMe, that an online delivery mechanism is in its works. Its model of operation is expected to be slightly different. Further, the Yarl IT Hub also welcomes organizations keen to franchise Uki in other provinces and beyond Sri Lanka. 

Of course, while looking toward expanding its footprint beyond the Northern Province, the Yarl IT Hub stated they will maintain a strict monitoring process. Its sole purpose is to ensure that each branch offers its students the skills they need to enter and succeed in the IT industry. Something, which one can argue, the initiative has been extremely successful in doing since its inception. 

Its success is evident when one looks at its heavy success rate of its students gaining internships. Many of which have transformed into full-time careers in the IT industry. With many of these students coming from low-income backgrounds in the Northern Province, it’s no secret that the opportunities Uki offers are life-changing. Ultimately, as the initiative expands, it continues to paint a positive picture of hope to help many low-income youths to take their first step into the world of IT. In turn, transforming their lives for the better.

Read the rest of the article here at ReadMe Sri Lanka