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OMGTech! wants to boost the number of kids in tech from underrepresented communities

Vaughan Rowsell and Zoe Timbrell’s charity OMGTech! has kicked off another year of its mentorship programme called Mana Tangata, with 30 kids from around the country taking part in this year’s cohort. The aim of the programme is to help kids from walks of life that aren’t well represented in the tech industry get a foot in the door.

The aim is to address digital inequality and tech sector diversity by pairing up kids from underrepresented communities with tech industry heavyweights, who will act as mentors during a six-month programme.

Kids that are participating in this year’s cohort come from as far afield as Timaru to Kaitaia, are aged between 14 and 17 years of age and have been nominated by their community to be a part of the programme.

Diversity was also a key focus for this year, with 75 percent of the participants identifying as Māori or Pasifika, as well as an equal mix of girls and boys.

With the help of their mentor, they’ll undertake a project that could help their community by using technology.

Timbrell says the Mana Tangata is new and improved, with the success of last year’s programme enabling the programme to grow by 50 percent this year and get new companies on board.

Rowsell says the companies and mentors on board for this year are an incredible representation of New Zealand’s tech industry.

“This year’s mentors are incredible and are from Trade Me, MYOB, Spark, Vend, StretchSense, Xero, Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, Nomad8, Unleashed, Vista Entertainment, AUT and the list goes on. It’s amazing to see so many in the sector wanting to give back to help the next wave of innovators,” he says.

One of the mentors, Keoni Mahelona from Māori not-for-profit organisation Te Hiku Media, is creating a te reo Māori version of voice-activated assistants like Siri so people can ask for directions and search for things in their native tongue.

Rowsell says by having mentors like Mahelona on board, the kids are inspired by people with the same cultural roots as them, while it also shows them they can take their stories and influences into the tech industry to create new products or programmes.

Nikora Ngaropo, who also runs the Young Animators mentorship programme, says his cultural background brings a lot to the mentorship experience.

“My journey, influences, passion and being Māori. How a dream, a goal, a wanting to leave a legacy and taking and creating the opportunity to influence the next generation of animators, creators and designers,” he says.

The 2018 Mana Tangata programme launched last weekend on 27-29 April and is themed around sustainability and community. It’s being held at Papatuanuku Kokiri Marae in Mangere, Auckland.

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