The Code To Change: Empowering Marginalised Groups Through Technology

By Daily van Dijk, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences

Iffat Rose GillThe Code To Change is an organisation based in the Netherlands dedicated to reducing inequality by empowering marginalised groups with the necessary professional skills. At the heart of this organisation is Iffat Rose Gill, an international trailblazing social entrepreneur, activist, and the founder of “The Code To Change“. Their mission is to level the playing field and provide opportunities for those facing disadvantages within the employment market.

Iffat foresaw the disadvantages women would face in the future during the rise and embedment of technological advances without proper guidance and an educational stepping stone. After growing up in Malta, she moved with her family to her family´s native country in Pakistan. There, she was stopped by a girl of a similar age, confined to her house, who took up the courage one day to ask Iffat where she was going every single day, confronting her with the realisation that not every girl and woman was raised with the privilege of education. She responded, “isn’t it obvious you’re just going to end up cooking for your in-laws? You know you’re going to get married off to someone as is local culture. Why do you need a university degree for that? That was hugely emotionally overwhelming, and I did not know how to start to unpack that,” said Iffat while explaining where her entrepreneurial journey started.

“How unfair is it, that they don’t get the same chances”

After the guidance and financial support of her father, Iffat started her first skills centre, at the age of 18, for young girls in the neighbourhood, driven to make a change and offer the support that no one else gave outside of the cultural and societal norm. “Because in a way, I felt responsible, like how can I have all this privilege? Why? Whereas these young girls and I always say this, they’re probably even more intelligent than I am. They’re really smart. How unfair is it, that they don’t get the same chances”. Her centre became an influx of women eager to learn, develop and connect with other markets using the Internet. With the pervasiveness of the Internet in everyday working life, courses for other skills became apparent, computer skills and the tools to learn and use these with. “Between 2001 and 2004, people began realising the potential of connecting to markets in other countries through the Internet. If we could give them access, they could cut out the middleman. They can select and sell directly to those markets. So that’s how the Internet got involved. At the same time, we would need to teach them how to use the technology.” Iffat´s centre developed into a safe technological centre for women to use the Internet and turn it to their advantage. Recognising the lack of access to technology and learning opportunities enabled them not only to improve their job prospects and economic position but also to close the technological gap that could otherwise perpetuate their disadvantage in the future.

Addressing inequality in the Dutch job market

In the Netherlands, Iffat discovered that Dutch women were facing a similar problem, despite educational freedom. They face discrimination after stepping out of their professional environment for a longer period due to a variety of reasons, giving birth to and raising a child being a frequent reason. “You have a gap in your CV, that’s the worst thing ever. These women were made redundant because they could not upgrade their skills. They would not even look at these women who were functional members of the workforce before. Recruiters at the time were completely biased about this,” Iffat says that women approached her to ask her to teach them these tech skills. Iffat experienced similar discrimination by recruiters as a non-white woman and had a gap in her CV due to raising her children, despite her impressive career and has spoken twice at UN platforms. It triggered Iffat to start yet again a centre to make a social change that should be evidently minimised or even non-existent. That centre is The Code To Change and quickly grew from a start-up to a company. “Before it became a full-fledged organisation, we would teach them the right digital skills to build a website almost like a hack a phone, you know let’s build a website in three days. This would give them that huge boost of confidence that they needed because if they can do this, you know they felt like they could do anything in the world”. The Code To Change offers technological training, courses, and mentorship programs designed to bridge the gap between marginalised groups and the employment market. By enhancing the professional abilities of marginalised job seekers, the organisation aims to strengthen participants’ positions in the job market resulting in more economic freedom.

Diamonds in the rough

Many (marginalised) women are individuals who either lack opportunities elsewhere or feel ineligible to apply due to various factors, despite having the determination to do something. Financial constraints have further limited their options. However, The Code To Change distinguishes itself by not burdening participants with exorbitant fees. Through subsidies and sponsorships, the academy ensures that financial obstacles do not hinder access to its programs. Their primary focus remains on empowering predominantly women and other underrepresented genders, including individuals from refugee and migrant backgrounds. The response from participants at The Code To Change is inspiring. Such as those who come from underprivileged backgrounds often approach The Code To Change, displaying an unwavering motivation to learn and succeed. Their resilience and determination demonstrate the transformative power of education and access to job opportunities. “I don’t have a laptop but want to do this course. Because it will give me access to this job. My God, I read those stories from our applicants every day. You can’t find that kind of motivation anywhere else,” shares Iffat about one of her participants.

Expanding across borders

So far, The Code To Change has implemented its beacon of equality in eight countries and partnerships with eight organisations across Europe. It differentiates itself from companies that undertake action with a white savior complex, by listening to the needs of marginalised groups and offering opportunities to develop and guide them, instead of deeming them unqualified.