Nelly Cheboi, Augustana College class of 2016, has been named to the prestigious Forbes’ 2022 “30 Under 30” list for social impact.
CEO and co-founder of TechLit Africa — which redistributes recycled technology to build computer labs in African schools — Cheboi received the following email from the business magazine:
“We received tens and thousands of nominations — your achievements, recognized by our editors and expert industry judges, now place you in the world’s most impactful community of young entrepreneurs and game-changers.”
On its website, Forbes noted that the Chicago-based TechLit Africa has served 4,000 students and 20 teachers, building 10 computer labs in rural Kenya. It is currently working on the next 100 computer labs.
Cheboi, 29, grew up in a poor rural village in Kenya, landed a full scholarship to study computer science at Augustana College in Rock Island, and later built a school in Kenya, Zawadi, where she started TechLit Africa.
“Circumstances forced me to raise my younger sister when I was just nine years old,” Cheboi wrote in her bio on the company website. “I wanted to change the narrative of kids growing up in communities like mine. I want to fix poverty, and for good this time.
“Through hard work and determination, I landed a full scholarship to Augustana College, in America. Coming to the United States and studying computer science gave me the platform to accelerate my impact,” she wrote. “As an undergrad, I invested all of my income from various campus jobs into my community back in Kenya. I built a school, Zawadi, there and later started TechLit Africa.”
“Our program is unique because we teach classes that are relevant; we hire local teachers to make sure of it,” Cheboi said. “We train our own teachers to run the computer labs in their own community, who meet every day to improve their classes. We are unlocking a world of opportunities to these kids. They will be inspired to take on a dozen careers: they will have the skills to tap into the global economy straight from the village.
“This is my life’s work because I know first hand how awful poverty is,” she wrote. “We plan to do this for the whole of rural Africa, positioning ourselves to 10x our growth year after year. TechLit is my opportunity to fix poverty, and for good this time.”
“We believe that the internet could lessen African poverty, but rural Africans lack digital skills and computers to gain from the digital economy, even though developed countries have an abundance of used computers,” the TechLit Africa site says.
In 2022, it plans to open another 100 computer labs in Kenya to serve another 40,000 students.
In 2016, Cheboi said in an Augustana profile: “I did not have enough information when I picked Augustana four years ago, but to this day I know it was the best decision I have ever made. This is because I have had fun in the classroom, and the professors are very personable, intelligent and enthusiastic. Furthermore, the students are liberal and open-minded. Aside from academics, the coaches are phenomenal, and this is an exceptionally beautiful campus.”
Forrest Stonedahl, assistant professor of computer science, said then: “Nelly embodies the exploration and growth possible at a liberal arts institution, studying a wide variety of subjects (some in great depth) before discovering her passion for computer science during her junior year.
“Nelly’s cheerful positive attitude brightens the classroom, and she doesn’t hesitate to ask questions, demonstrating her naturally inquisitive mind,” he said. “I also had the pleasure of collaborating with Nelly on a research project last summer, which involved building/programming a team of robots to cooperatively search for targets. Given her combination of skills and self-confidence, I expect an exciting future awaits.”