Finding jobs the easier way

2013-06-20 00:00

A WOMAN who studied for her doctorate at the University of Cape Town has landed herself a job at Google for developing a program that South Africans can use for nothing to find work, create CVs and apply for jobs — all from a cellphone.

Shikoh Gitau (32) last week received her doctorate in Cape Town for the free program, which is called Ummeli. It means “mediator” in Xhosa and Zulu and is hosted on Vodacom’s website.

Gitau was born in a poor neighbourhood in Nakuru, Kenya. A daughter of parents who are both pastors, she studied in South Africa with the financial support of a German couple, and feels that she must now do her part to help others.

She became the first African to receive the prestigious Google Anita Borg award for her contribution to computer technology in 2011.

She won that award for a cellphone-based application aimed at facilitating the use of traditional medicine. It was impressive enough to win her the award that is granted to exceptional female students in the field of computing by the technology giant. With the award came €7 000 (R93 000) and a visit to Google’s centre in Zurich, Switzerland.

While working on developing the Ummeli program in 2011, Gitau told the Expatriate magazine that she planned to use the funds to put her thesis into practice.

“Most PhDs end up on a shelf somewhere. I plan to spend the money setting up my project as a fully implemented product and donate it to two NGOs in SA fully-serviced to run for at least three years. That is, of course, after I have tithed a portion of it and spend some of it on myself and my family,” she said.

She told the magazine when she arrived in Cape Town, her studies took her to the most poverty-stricken parts of South Africa.

“I cried the first few weeks of my research because I could not understand how such a rich country let people live like that. In Kenya we are poor, but people hustle small businesses rather than wait for government incentives,” she said.

To use Ummeli, South African job seekers answer 12 questions on the program to create a CV, which is then stored as a PDF document that can be e-mailed with job applications.

Users can also create a profile to market themselves with their new CV.

Since its creation in January, the program has already registered 150 000 users. Some 18% of them have found a job using Ummeli and a further 10% were interviewed.

“The idea is to empower especially poor people in rural areas — who have limited access to computers — to find a job with something as basic as a cellphone,” Gitau said yesterday from Nairobi in Kenya.

Ummeli is available on

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