When Felix met Anne – Bringing the ReDI School Concept to Sweden

August 11, 2022
By Magdalena Wernefeldt

She had the concept, he had the right mindset, the city of Malmö had the localities and the Coca-Cola Foundation had the money. ReDI School of Digital Integration is welcoming its first students in Sweden in a few weeks. It all came about because Felix met Anne through A World of Neighbours.

Felix Unogwu is working round-the-clock. At the end of August, the first 55 women will begin various courses in basic digital skills, data analytics, and user experience/ user interface design. And starting in September, another 40 women and men will embark on a highly specialized Cyber Security Education offered in partnership with Microsoft.

The school is located only a five-minute walk from Malmö Central Station, at the Minc, a startup house established by the city of Malmö in 2002, overlooking the port. The Minc, boiling with business ideas and the incubator atmosphere, connects several companies as well as Malmö university, with other creative people.
– It is the perfect place to be for us and our students. First, because it offers opportunities for collaborations, and secondly, our target group is not used to being here, and it does something to your self-worth and confidence. It’s going to be a psychological journey. Not only for them but also for us, says Felix.

Stretching out a hand
He says it is like a healing process has started. He is working harder than ever, but sleeping better and feeling happier.
– When I came to this country, I was in a refugee camp, with no access to education and long hours of being in the camp, feeling scared and unwanted. A cloud of fear, nobody there stretching out their hands. When I see these people, it is like stretching out my hand to myself, many years ago, saying: You know, there is a way.

We look for people who are excellent at gathering people together, who can get the most out of people. It needs to be a value match, a mindset alignment.

It was during the third cohort of AWoN Network Program a year ago that Felix Unogwu got to know Anne Kjaer Bathel and learned about the ReDI School which she started in 2016, in response to the refugee crisis.
– I and many others wanted to help, but we made the mistake of not asking the refugees what they needed help with.

She then met Mohammed. He had studied three years of computer science in Baghdad but after fleeing his life was put on pause.
– I thought, this can’t be. If you ask any leader of a startup company in Berlin, the one thing that they are looking for is somebody that can help them program the next app. And here we had Mohammed, who just wanted to get on with his studies and get a job. That is when the idea came to mind: What if we were to start a school for refugees teaching them how to code?

Training fatigue
Today ReDI School is providing migrants and marginalized locals free and equitable access to digital education by bringing in experts who teach for free, on a volunteer basis.

Felix listened to her presentation and his mind started to spin.
– I spoke with a lot of people to find out more about the issues they are facing. One of the first things they tell you is that they have been taking lots of training and by the end of the training nothing really happens. Lots of them have “training fatigue”, and some feel they have only been babysat.

So, he asked: Can we start a ReDI School in Malmö?

Three happy people taking a selfie.

What Anne Kjaer Bathel is looking for when starting up a new ReDI School is first of all a mindset.
– Does this person see integration as a two-way process? As a collaborative process? At the core of ReDI School is cooperation. We look for people who are excellent at gathering people together, who can get the most out of people. It needs to be a value match, a mindset alignment, Anne says.

No doubt, Felix was a value match.

“They are all looking for staff”
The second issue is funding. To start up a new ReDI School at least 300 000 Euros are needed to finance the first two years.
– We need a secretariat and core staff, to build the crew. Felix already had good connections to the city of Malmö. My role is to empower Felix and the team to do a good job. I guess I always have the fundraising hat on and can help open doors, Anne says.

In this case, she opened the door to the Coca-Cola Foundation, who stepped in, willing to put in the money needed.

– This opened a new world to me. They gave us the grant but also introduced us to other companies saying: “We know people at IKEA, we know people here and there, why not bring them in?” They are all looking for staff, says Felix and continues:

– We have a saying in ReDI School – win, win, win. What you get is happier citizens ready to be employed, companies that find the employers they need, and the city receives more tax money. Triple wins!

Future tech students, volunteer teachers, ambassador, mentors and partners met at the ReDI School Malmö info event at Minc in July.

Integration accelerates
The ReDI School is a package. It has a fully developed and tested concept and branding. It comes with methodology and curriculums that can be adapted to the local setting and not the least, colleagues, and meetings.
– We are like a family, says Felix, who meets with other local heads every week to strategize and deal with all issues.

The ReDI School offers courses at different levels. Computers for everyday life (digital literacy) are courses to prepare those who have no or very little digital skills, for a job where they will use computers.
– With the confidence, we see growth in them, integration accelerates, and they go on to nursing schools and other fields, says Anne.

Computers for work in the digital field are on the other hand highly specialized and the ones studying these courses have a background in engineering or math. For them, data science is a logical next step.

Potential for big innovation
When Microsoft heard ReDI School was opening up in Sweden, they got in contact, ready to invest money for the school to open up a Cyber Security Track.
– I think this area is super interesting. Because of the migrants’ experience of living in high insecurity, I see the potential for big innovation, says Anne.

The target groups are reached through a whole range of actors and spread fast by word of mouth.
– I got a call from someone asking me when this will start in Gothenburg. There is a huge need for this, says Felix.

– We have a saying in ReDI School: “Nail it before you scale it”. Having an idea is one percent of the job, implementing it is 99 percent, so I think right now my role is to stand on the brake to not go too fast! Anne says. And smiles.

ReDI School of Digital Integration

Founded in 2016, ReDI School of Digital Integration is a non-profit tech school providing migrants and marginalized locals free and equitable access to digital education. ReDi Schools offer students high quality coding and basic computer courses in combination with a unique career- and mentorship program, which includes the chance to collaborate with tech companies, startups and digital industry leaders.

The aim is to provide students with valuable digital skills, a growth mindset, strengthened career skills and a strong network of tech professionals to help create new opportunities for all.