It's not everyday you join Mark Zuckerberg as a co-investor, but that's what happened for us at Aera VC this week.
We are really excited to be an investor in Andela and the founders Christina Sass and Jeremy Johnson. Led by CRE Venture Capital, the $40 million round is a milestone on two fronts: it's the largest venture round ever led by an African VC fund into an Africa-based business, and it creates significant momentum towards unlocking the talent pipeline on the African continent.
Andela's investors are supporting a new type of education for the global digital economy. We recognise that traditional systems are not necessarily producing the skills we will need, at the scale we will need them, and that the African continent and its enterprise ecosystem have immense potential.
The Andela model is to find talent, wherever it exists across Africa, and create world class coders for a global market. To date, 800 people have been identified, and the number is growing all the time.
The model is supported by findings from the World Bank's Human Capital Project. The Bank launched the project last week following a study that found investment in people is an essential step in boosting economic growth. The Bank also found that STEM infrastructure built by homegrown talent is, and will become even more, important to resilient, globally competitive economies.
As the New York Times described, the animating idea behind Andela is that "Africa has plenty of smart people, but that they too often lack the preparation for and pathways to gainful jobs - the missing ingredients that Andela can provide".
In what ways could the Andela model apply to New Zealand?
How much talent is there hidden in our low decile schools, in the regions or spread across the many islands of our Pacific neighbours that we have yet to discover and unleash, because they don't 'stand out' in the school system, or aren't provided with the conditions to?
This is important for our country. Quite often, the traditional school environment stymies the creativity and skills of the types of people who can become great developers, artists, entrepreneurs and inventors. While New Zealand is making some headway towards changing this, the teacher shortage crisis in Auckland shows just how far we have to go.
It's overdue that we work alongside our teachers to design, create and celebrate the many alternative pathways to enabling young people to flourish as themselves. Rethinking how kids are 'taught' or learn, will realise the potential of New Zealand to lead digital and creative transformations of the future. We will also go much further in realising the potential of young people who might otherwise be held back by circumstance or boxes they are forced to check.
Local education innovator Frances Valentine is trailblazing and recently launched the "NZ Talent" campaign - a call to arms advocating for companies to consider applicants that do not hold a formal qualification. I absolutely love this initiative and it sets the tone for brighter futures for so many people both young and old.
NZ Talent recognises the growing demand for contemporary skills that are often learnt outside of conventional education programmes. Dozens of New Zealand businesses have already supported the initiative by signing up and pledging to change the conversation about what it means to be talented in 2017.
Amazing lives will spring from passion that is enabled by what makes each of us individually so unique and powerful as people. Andela is a great example of unearthing this innate talent which is distributed equally right across the world, but where opportunity is not. It's great to be a part of it.
Derek Handley is a Kiwi entreprenuer based in New York. Last year he launched venture capital network Aera VC aimed at investing in start-ups trying to tackle social problems