Geek. Google it and the most flattering definition you’ll find is someone who “engages in computer-related tasks obsessively or with great attention to technical detail”. In today’s world we all are - to different degrees - “geeks”. We spend our days with screens, swiping and scrolling our way into the future. Working in the field of technology can be a great opportunity for young people - but a lack of accessibility means that the digital world is a step too far for many. At Yo!Fest we look at the digital divide and at ways of making technology available to all. We interviewed the founders of MolenGeek, an IT incubator situated in Molenbeek, the much-maligned neighbourhood in Brussels, to understand how they are making technology, entrepreneurship and innovation accessible to everyone.
Molenbeek. What is with little doubt the most infamous neighborhood in Belgium – if not in Europe. It’s been called the 'jihadi capital of Europe', the face of Bruxhell, the Islamic State of Molenbeek. But, scratch beneath the surface, and you discover a melting pot of creativity and entrepreneurship.
Rooted in the community of Molenbeek, MolenGeek, a social enterprise and digital start-up incubator, has become a European success story. Founded in 2015, MolenGeek has already trained hundreds of young people with coding, computing skills and professional development.
MolenGeek is the brainchild of Ibrahim Ouassari and Julie Foulon, two friends and techies, who initially paid for the project out of their own pockets. Ibrahim explains how it all began.
“I dropped out of school when I was 13. I learned coding on my own and later started my own companies,” Ibrahim says. “I don’t want people to think that I am the exception to the rule, I believe that if I did it, anybody can.”
MolenGeek is located in a converted office building in the heart of Molenbeek. The space, which is open seven days a week, is regularly filled with young people spending long hours hunched over their laptops. The working area hosts over 100 young people a day. For the amount of people present, it’s surprisingly quiet. They are all focused on their screens.
With its bottom-up approach, MolenGeek’s mission is to build an inclusive tech movement, making technology and entrepreneurship accessible to all. About one thing Ibrahim is clear, MolenGeek is not a charity or a place where young people from disadvantaged neighborhoods are “saved or rescued”. All those joining the MolenGeek community must be motivated and ready to work full-time on developing their e-skills.
“We are entrepreneurs first. You see those sofas at the entrance? People barely use them, they come here to work on their projects, not to relax,” Ibrahim explains.
MolenGeek is living proof that there is a real need of engaging young people - many of who have been failed by the education system - and teach them valuable skills.
The startup has drawn the attention and financial support of both the Belgian government and tech titans like Google and Samsung. MolenGeek has also recently scaled up in Europe with a first project in Italy "The Padua Tech Station by MolenGeek".
Do you think that we can keep up with the digital revolution in a way that leaves no one behind? Do you know of projects making technology accessible to all? If yes, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.