Mahlatji powers youth with Solar Lab In A Bag

Technology entrepreneur Palesa Mahlatji displays her gadget, Solar Lab In A Bag, to pupils.
Technology entrepreneur Palesa Mahlatji displays her gadget, Solar Lab In A Bag, to pupils.
Image: Supplied

It has taken just over five years for tech entrepreneur Palesa Mahlatji to perfect her portable solar computer lab that has become the most sought-after gadget for rural and township community schools.

The innovation, called Solar Lab In A Bag, has been Mahlatji's dream since completinghigh school in 2007, was perfected through trial and error. She missed her matric classes after a horrific car accident.

Today she is the proud founder and innovator of Solar Lab In A Bag, which provides youth from township and rural schools with computer access and training.

With the help of corporate sponsors and donors, the youth are given laptops and tablets, as well as a portable solar charging station for those without electricity.

Mahlatji says the equipment facilitates IT training, empowering learners to complete school work, put together CVs and access job opportunities or bursaries. "In my final high school year, I missed a lot of school days. Teachers were trying to help me catch up but it was difficult. Being in a public school with little or no facilities that could help me study and catch up was hard and, to make matters worse, I was recuperating from the accident," explains Mahlatji.

"I struggled to catch up. I asked myself why is this happening? Fortunately I passed, but could not pay for university."

Mahlatji, 29, says wherever she went for assistance or to apply for a job, she was advised that she must submit her applications online. That's when she realised computer illiteracy was her downfall. "Without computer literacy, I was stuck. I felt dejected. Compounding my predicament was that I had no knowledge of drawing up a CV."

The tech guru says she fortunately landed a job in banking and worked while studying for a BCom degree in marketing management. She graduated in 2015. She decided to quit her banking job that year to start Yakh'iphupho, an initiative aimed at upskilling and training pupils in basic computer literacy, digital innovation and IT.

When Mahlatji, who grew up both in the Limpopo and Eastern Cape provinces, resigned, her bank manager was lost for words but she was determined to realise her high school ambition. "That's when my instinct told me I should run a business empowering young people in life skills, the latest in the digital world and how to gain university entry, even arts and culture. But Yakh'iphupho ran at a loss. I lost R65,000."

Mahlatji says she had to downgrade her lifestyle. In 2017, she joined Amaphiko Academy and YGap/Spark International Accelerator, still ambitiously determined to empower the youth by upskilling them.

She was awarded the 2018 Young African Leaders Initiative (Yali) Mandela Washington Fellowship, which gave her the opportunity to learn about business and entrepreneurship in the US. Mahlatji has received numerous awards and accolades, with her company Priyo Tech, which produces Solar Lab In A Bag, honoured with the 2018 SAB Foundation Innovation and Development award and R400,000 to grow the business.

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