Naulette sits Onja’s exam which tests computer programming aptitude. A Rotary Global Grant Application, led by District 9920 and the Rotary Club of St Johns, with the support of five of six Rotary Districts in New Zealand was approved by Rotary International in mid-July, securing the first-year funding for the Onja project, which will “utilise Madagascar’s untapped human talent” for a unique computer programming venture.
The US$101,006 grant will support the Onja social enterprise programme in Madagascar, on Africa’s east coast, where higher education is a privilege reserved for the 5-percent of people who can afford it.
“Without opportunity, most top students drop out to work low-paying jobs, their talent wasted. Onja presents a unique approach to utilise this untapped human talent, “ says project leader, Sam Lucas, a member of St Johns Rotary, a resident of Madagascar for the last two years, and a highly-qualified engineer.
“Working in conjunction with the Madagascar Education Ministry, we assess the very brightest students, who can’t afford high school or university, and identify those with the aptitude, motivation and potential to become great coders (computer programmers). Selected students will receive two-years of English and coding instruction. They will later earn a life-changing salary developing software at a sustainable outsourcing enterprise, which we are developing.
“With the work completed by a single graduate, funding an estimated seven future students, Onja has potential to spread large-scale opportunity into the world’s poorest communities,”
“All profits generated by the enterprise will be used to upskill the next wave of students, making the project swiftly self-funding. The Rotary Club of Antananarivo Ivandry will host the project,” Lucas notes. 
Through a partnership with Madagascar’s Ministry of Education and a six-month recruitment drive, 30 “talent-rich opportunity-poor” students have been identified from an initial pool of 250,000. In December 2018 they will begin studying English and Coding at Onja’s training centre in Antananarivo.
Simon Jones, Gary Key and Kevin Kevany, who formed the international committee for establishing Onja, noted special thanks to DFC Willard Martin from lead district 9920 for sharing his experience and drive, as well as John Hewko, General Secretary and CEO, Rotary International, who quickly understood the potential Onja had both in Madagascar and beyond.
Special appreciation has go to the following foundation chairs (and respective committees): Simon Manning (D9940), Trish Boyle (D9980), David Drake (D9970) and Peter Garnett (D9910) for each contributing US$5,000 in District Designated Funding to the project. They also wish to thank the Rotary Club of St Johns for contributing NZ$10,000 to the project and the Rotary Club of Newmarket for contributing US$1,000.
Onja means “wave” in Malagasy
  • After one wave, another wave follows, just like at Onja where each student 'pays forward' the same opportunity for others in their community, making the project self-sustaining. 
  • Waves start small and grow over time, like Onja's gifted students who despite their disadvantaged backgrounds will receive a complete opportunity through education and employment to grow to their full potential. 
  • Like waves of the ocean, Onja's model will connect continents, with graduates developing software for overseas clients. 
  • Waves are also important in technology and communications - essential for outsourcing and for Onja's model.