Tom Collett: Volunteer Testimonial

Realizing My Retirement Dream

I retired from SAP in 2015.  During my 15 year business development career at SAP I led many exciting projects in the emerging markets, including a rural commerce project in India, and opening SAP’s offices in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.  While working on these projects, I got to experience firsthand how IT and e-commerce can drive dramatic economic as well as social change in people’s lives.  Motivated by being able to make a difference, I started to develop a dream that I would dedicate my time in retirement to supporting IT projects in communities worldwide that face limited access to resources.

Just before Christmas last year, I returned home from a service project in South Africa to advance the quality of high school education using IT.  The project was organized by Team4Tech, a Silicon Valley-based nonprofit that helps technology companies bring to life their corporate values and leadership development goals through immersive service opportunities.  Since 2013, Team4Tech has engaged over 200 volunteers from 18 technology companies, benefiting more than 33,000 teachers and learners.

For our project, we worked with LEAP, a leading nonprofit that focuses on advancing science and math education for children in underserved neighborhoods.  LEAP operates six schools in South Africa, and their approach has produced dramatic results.  Today over 98% of the LEAP students graduate from high school compared to a national average of 70%.

Our project was Team4Tech’s fourth collaboration with LEAP, and was located at their LEAP 6 campus in Ga-Rankuwa Township near Pretoria.  The overarching goal was to set up new computers and provide training workshops for the teachers and students, to boost their performance and enthusiasm for science and math. My role on the project was to teach the teachers how Microsoft Office can be used to improve productivity by digitizing the classroom as well has make their lessons more engaging for the students.  The teachers were blown away when I showed them how to use excel pivot tables to analyze the students’ grades to help them identify problems and best practices.  They also saw huge benefits of having their lesson plans in Word and recored PowerPoint lessons.  Finally, they had a roadmap to start reducing the paper work and increase the time they can spend with their students. To quote one of the teachers:  “Our school has been transformed.  We are now a 21st century school.”

However, my most rewarding moment on the trip was teaching the learners Scratch, a programming language developed by MIT to develop basic programming concepts.  One of my fellow volunteers even showed the children how to create mobile applications.  Standing in the computer lab seeing how quickly the learners picked up Scratch, the excitement on their faces when they had completed their very own mobile app, it struck me that I was realizing my dream.  In today’s digitized world, having a basic understanding of coding will benefit many of the children’s careers.  There are over 70K IT job openings in South Africa today, and I am confident that at least one of these will be filled by a LEAP graduate.

In addition to installing computers, laptops and projectors, our team of 10 volunteers also introduced the teachers and learners to a wide range of educational software, including IXL and KA Lite.  To get them excited about technology, we also showed them how to:  1) experience virtual reality using Google Cardboard, 2) create music through Makey Makey, and 3) build their own website through WordPress.

My advice is to you is to realize your dream.  Get involved now, it will be worth it.

Please contact me at [email protected] if you are interested in learning more about my Team4Tech volunteer experience.  If you’re interested in joining a similar immersive service learning project, contact Dawn (Program Manager at Team4Tech) at [email protected] or visit their website to learn more:

Learn more about the project through this video: