COVID-19 has wreaked havoc across the world, bringing nations to a complete standstill and leaving economies in tatters. In South Africa it is no different as fears and uncertainty abound about what to do about the pandemic and how to get it done.
In the midst of this, Matie alumni and brothers, Malan and Philip Joubert, are connecting government and the tech community through their company, OfferZen, by “identifying community and government projects that can make a difference" in fighting the pandemic and minimising the expected economic impact. OfferZen, an online tech marketplace, has access to over 90 000 software makers in South Africa.
“I believe that the tech community has unique abilities and a willingness to help fight the health and economic effects of COVID-19," says Malan.
Project Unlockdown brings together volunteers from the tech ecosystem to work on projects designed to tackle the impacts of COVID-19 and implement an effective post-crisis economic response.
The Vulnerability Mapping project was one of the first initiatives. Volunteers from the tech community collaborated with the South African SDG Hub hosted by the University of Pretoria, who was developing a health-map of communities that are particularly vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19.
“Professor Willem Fourie from the University of Pretoria, a fellow Stellenbosch University alumnus, reached out to me on LinkedIn," explains Malan.
“His team was working on a project to build the Vulnerable Communities Map and needed extra developers on board to make it happen. We put out a quick call to the founders group and the OfferZen community, and soon hundreds of people volunteered."
The map helped identify where COVID-19 would have the most devastating impact by identifying the most vulnerable communities - in particular where those individuals with pre-existing illnesses reside.
When the Office of the Presidency heard of OfferZen's involvement in the project, they invited them to Pretoria and asked the company to assist government in its fight against the pandemic. Since then, OfferZen has helped identify projects that could help the government's ability to respond to the crisis and assist in connecting tech community members to relevant government partners.
“The government realised how critical it will be to collaborate with local tech companies and developers in this time of crisis. And the community stepped up to help."
As developers and entrepreneurs, they know the tech industry well. Malan and Philip both studied engineering at Stellenbosch University (SU).
“This fight includes raising awareness and galvanising support in the tech community, recruiting and coordinating volunteers for these projects and then connecting tech community members to relevant government parties."
“We've set up a dedicated team that can do this and that identifies community and government projects that can make a difference and helps drive them to make an impact," says Malan.
Other than the Vulnerability Map, Project Unlockdown has been working on supporting several other projects including the Rapidly Manufactured Medical Equipment project which aims to bring the community together around the manufacture of masks, protective equipment and supporting the National Ventilator Project.
The Economic Impact project is gathering and collating real-time economic data to give indicators on the economic impact that the virus and lockdown are having on our companies and sector.
“We're also supporting the Helpful Engineering initiative – a global community of over 16 000 engineers from across the globe sharing their learnings and helping each other fight COVID-19," Malan adds.
Project Unlockdown has drawn volunteers offering services such as coding, data analysis and access to data sets. Volunteers from the legal, regulatory and business arena have also joined the call.
“We would not have been able to mobilise Project Unlockdown so quickly without the voluntary efforts of South Africa's tech ecosystem. They really stepped up during this crucial time. We're proud to be a part of this community," Malan concludes.
Photo: Maties alumni and brothers, Malan (pictured) and Philip Joubert, are connecting government and the tech community through their company, OfferZen, to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic and minimise the expected economic impact. (Supplied)