AXIOM is pleased to present today’s guest post from Tom Snyder, co-founder of Smartstainable, a non-profit organization that provides computer programming training to empower women and children affected by poverty and disease.  Smartstainable is the volunteer collaboration of Professor Susan Kiene, who teaches and studies public health, and Tom Snyder, a seasoned software engineer and professional technical instructor with decades of global IT experience.


My wife, Susan, has been doing HIV research in Uganda for over 7 years.

A couple years ago, she worked with me to develop an app for the community she works in, Gombe, to help community health workers determine malaria in patients.

I was invited to go to Gombe and work with the health workers to implement the app. Wow, is all I can say. This village of Gombe made my heart totally melt – the poverty, the smiles, and the love. Uganda has a high poverty rate, many survive off their land. And the women, they take care of the kids, the house, the land, the husband.

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I asked myself what if? What if I could get these women trained in computers and somehow allow them an opportunity to earn some money. Most of them just want to be able to have a house for their family, food on the table, funds for schooling for their children and maybe a goat, a cow and some chickens.

Smartstainable is the name of the non-profit program Susan and I co-founded. Our mission is to provide empowerment through computer training to rural women globally.

It’s quite a reach for rural communities that are computer illiterate. Yet, it is working.

We began with a $1,500 fundraiser and purchased two laptops running Windows 7 and Microsoft Office and internet access. We also provided a small lunch and a modest travel reimbursement for the team of four women for the 1st several months of training. We installed Dropbox, Skype and Gmail on the laptops to provide us a way to communicate with them and help them on their journey. We used Camtasia from Tech Smith to create videos, so these women could listen and understand my New York accent, even if they had to watch the video 4 or 5 times.

In a month, they were typing, sharing files, Skyping and sending emails on a regular basis. In 6 months, they learned html and css and with some help, built their website:

One of the memory boards fried and could not be successfully repaired. They lost power on many occasions. They even lost internet from the months of December – March. Yet, these women kept at it.

In March, 2015, Steve Kiene, from Nebraska Global, donated 4 additional computers and we received 2 others from friends and family to help feed our technology needs. Ken and Kerry Kiene gifted money to help pay for internet. Adam Gooch provided us with a logo. Sandra King gives hours and hours of time to help the women effectively communicate through proper grammar. And, Peter Ward and Sandy King, when dissolving Adapt, contributed monies from Adapt to our program in July, 2015.

With the help of some incredibly wonderful human beings, we provided our 1st Smartstainable team a certificate in Introduction to Computer Programming on July 25th, 2015.

What’s next?

The team is continuing to learn jQuery Mobile and Agile development and with help from Bill Gladwin and Sandy, they are building a mobile app, one that will help track Ebola orphan data in Liberia. This project is funded by a Yale University research team and the funds will be used for my travel to Uganda, to pay the women for their efforts in this project and to pay the women to train and mentor the next Smartstainable team that will begin on September. Another BIG WOW.

To fully engage members in the Gombe village interested in learning computers, the women have agreed to help transfer this knowledge in the native language of Luganda. Tech Smith recently donated 5 licenses of Camtasia Studio to help us create videos for this effort. These village residents, who do not speak English, will learn how to use a computer, and will learn a little English in the process.

Gombe Hospital houses the area where these women are trained. They have asked us to help train their staff, approximately 90% are computer illiterate. All of our training is provided for free. Our program going forward will offer 4 levels of certificates.

Level 1 – Basic Computer Usage. Newbies learn typing, notepad, paint (so they can use a mouse), Gmail, Skype, Dropbox and the fundamentals of files and folders. Those with English skills and who pass the Level 1 Certification project and test will be offered Level 2.

Level 2 – Introduction to using computers for proper Business Communications. Word, Excel, proper grammar are learned. Graduates will be introduced to LinkedIn. Viveka Von Rosen (A LinkedIn powerhouse trainer) has offered free LinkedIn advice and training to our students at the appropriate time.

Level 3 – Introduction to Software Testing. They will understand application flow, components, test scenarios and data.

Level 4 – Introduction to Computer Programming.

Our program provides a continuous cycle. We feed the women with knowledge and work, they then can feed this knowledge to others, making the program smart and sustainable. We ask them to answer 2 questions each day: What’s next? Who’s next? It’s true empowerment and it’s truly a global health initiative.

For those who want to help and evangelize our efforts, here is what we seek for our continued success of our pilot project in Gombe:

  • Companies and individuals to provide outsourced project work for the women. Our fees are very reasonable and are used to pay the ladies and help make our program sustainable. We do not have paid staff. Our Smartstainable group of volunteers will guide the women through each project. We will also use some of the funds to pay the women who are helping to train the next team entering the next level. We also add a small surcharge to the project costs to offset my airline fees to/from Uganda.
  • Many more working laptops with windows 7 and Microsoft office (if possible).
  • A stronger internet connection. This will cost us an additional $1,000.00 this year and $2,500 next year.
  • Surge protectors for multi-voltage and dual voltage computers with 220-240 volt power sources for our new laptop farms. This will cost us an additional $500.00 this year.
  • A group of volunteer advisors who can help us reach our goal.
  • With momentum, we want to build out from this pilot. We will not be able to use Gombe Hospital forever to house our training. Long term, we need our own secure infrastructure and environment. To achieve this, we are evaluating a startup cost per village that includes:
  • Shipping containers that will be outfitted as a secure training space for up to 16 people.
  • Solar power to power our training facility.
  • Satellite internet communications to provide a near flawless internet infrastructure.

We’d love for you to help. Please join us. Please help us answer these two questions:

What’s next? Who’s next?

-L&D Thoughts
-Article written by Tom Snyder, co-founder of Smartstainable, and posted by AXIOM.

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