Intabazwe Intermediate School near Harrismith, a large town in eastern South Africa, proudly opened the doors to its new computer center in 2016. It houses 44 new PCs equipped with the latest software and with specialized math and English tutorials. The center offers students the opportunity to learn and expand their IT skills and raise their levels in key subjects such as mathematics, for which South Africa has recently been poorly ranked on a global scale.
ABB invested R1.5 million ($115,500) in the computer center, its largest single corporate donation and part of the social and economic development commitments between ABB and South African utility Eskom's Ingula project. Ingula is a new pumped storage plant that will help meet the country's growing need for electricity - and for which ABB will supply the electrical balance of plant - and Harrismith is one of the closest towns to the project. In 2017, ABB invested a further R1 million in refurbishing the kitchen and sanitary facilities at the school as well as updating the math modules and providing further training for the educators. In 2018, ABB donated a leadership workshop to the school valued at R145,000.
Along the same line, ABB recently donated 20 virtual tutoring programs to the Ndlelehle Youth Advice and Information Center, assisting pupils from first to 12th grade to learn English and Mathematics. In just a few months, a high number of learners benefitted from the investment and gained an opportunity - otherwise unaffordable for the center - to improve their literacy level.
"Math is a gateway to engineering, as well as science, medicine and accounting," says Chesney Bradshaw, Head of Sustainability for ABB in South and Southern Africa. "If we don't provide awareness and create interest in this subject, fewer young people will gravitate towards STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers in future."
ABB also embraced "Bring the Girls to Work", an initiative aimed at exposing girls at secondary school level to a variety of career options, included the engineering world, still very much felt for man-only. The girls are informed of career options in scientific subjects, while spending a day in the university environment, experiencing all of its facets.
As part of its sustainability efforts, ABB in South Africa supports local communities where the company has operations and project sites, investing in the areas of education, job creation and health, especially in initiatives related to the company's core business of engineering. ABB in South Africa has also supported development of black business and economic upliftment of disadvantaged people for the past 25 years. The company holds regular dialogues with stakeholders in the community to align its activities with their needs and feedback. The Ingula project and Kusile power station, for which ABB is supplying control systems, instrumentation and balance of plant, are two of the largest projects in Eskom's new build program and are therefore focal points for social development projects supported by Eskom and ABB.
There are numerous other community projects across South Africa, which ABB is involved in. These include sponsoring electrical engineering students via the ABB Education Trust; piloting a project to address social and gender issues in the workplace; implementing sustainability in its supply chain and running a supplier wellness program; sponsoring a team of students in the Shell Eco-marathon; and supporting the Swiss South African Co-operation Initiative (SSACI) to offer workplace experience for technical vocational students.
ABB also encourages its employees to volunteer their time and expertise - and this has seen them painting schools, providing equipment to educational institutions and giving student presentations. Another project is Science Week, run by the Deutsche Internationale Schule Pretoria and Johannesburg with a large outreach to disadvantaged community schools. "Several of our engineers presented on topics such as robotics, solar power and project management," says Bradshaw. "It's important to raise awareness, because if we don't have talented people, how will businesses ensure their success in the future?"
Looking to that future, ABB is supporting community projects close to one of its largest ongoing projects in South Africa, Kusile, which will be the country's largest power plant when commissioned in 2020. ABB has invested in a local technical vocational college, provided computers for a youth center to support unemployed youth and is sponsoring electrical engineering graduates, technologists and artisans. "By assisting in communities where there are shortages, by contributing to education and job creation, we are providing a certain stability and a more sustainable future," adds Bradshaw.
In 2017, ABB South Africa won the corporate award for social responsibility from the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (SEIFSA), an organization that comprises more than 1,000 company members representing over 165,000 employees.
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