An interview with Liza Wisner of Powerup

What was the impetus for starting Powerup?

We interviewed Liza Wisner Of Powerup (also known as an Apprentice season 10 star). Read about how her non-profit introduces children to technology. Liza came here from Narobi Kenya on a golf scholarship, and still plays once a week.

I started Powerup because as I was going through my business, Texas Techies Organization, I found that the kids who couldn’t afford computer classes were the ones that needed them the most. And so I started working with different organizations in the community to get funding so that they could get computer classes and that’s how Powerup was born and we just started teaching the classes for free for the disadvantaged community.

What exactly does Powerup do?

PowerUp stands for “Providing Opportunities Where Everyone Rises Up” and was formed in 2010 in response to an increasing demand for the inclusion of information and communication technology as a compulsory subject in all education curricula worldwide and for the facilitation of recruitment of teachers and provision of the necessary technology equipment to education institutions all over the world.

Our mission is to ensure that all children—especially those at risk of being left behind—have the resources and the opportunities they need to grow up healthy and lead productive lives.

Does Powerup operate only domestically or abroad as well? What about in your Native Kenya?

It actually got launched in Nairobi, Kenya in 2010. It kicked off really big and huge and then of course when I came back to the United States we filed a form 501(c)3 and yes we are now operating abroad and in the U.S.

How does children being comfortable with technology help the world?

One of the things that I have been able to do as a mother to my wonderful children is provide them with opportunities where they can know how to learn more and enjoy learning. I really believe that children who have access to technology end up having higher learning skills, they learn at their own pace; they don’t have to wait for the teacher to tell them what to do next. The computer kind of goes at their pace, they learn faster and they enjoy learning because kids love technology nowadays.

How do you hope to help the world with it?

Children for me are the most valuable resource we have and I think they are completely underestimated, because we think about them as being too young and that they can’t learn. And for me I feel like it’s an opportunity for us to see how we can empower them to learn faster. Instead of thinking that because they are in kindergarten they can’t learn how to animate or they can’t learn how to program, we have to think that children are advancing so much faster and we have to advance in the same way and in the same breadth. They might have the solution to end poverty, to end people living in disadvantaged communities, not having access to technology. Also, for me I feel like it’s an opportunity for economic development

Where do you see Powerup in 5 years from now?

In 5 years from now, we are planning on having annual PowerUp trips to Kenya, where we take interested individuals with us to provide the opportunity for them to see the impact that their funding is making in the community.

I plan on having mobile computer labs, one here in the U.S. and of course we already have one in Kenya, we have a solar powered bus that travels around teaching kids computer classes. But the plan is to have one operating here in the U.S. and this mobile computer lab would be a stepping stone for rural and disadvantaged communities where children may not have access to the latest technology. They might be able to catch a glimpse of what their life might look like or inspire them to live beyond the area that they live in.

Regarding technology for children, which is more important, software or hardware availability?

For me, I feel like it is hardware availability. Software, I mean, all you need is a computer and internet access and now there is web based software and it does not necessarily have to come pre-installed. So, I feel like it is hardware.

What do you think of MOOCS like KhanAcademy.org, udemy, etc.?

Those are amazing; they are going to be the future of learning. Children don’t have to go to school to be taught the skills, they can learn the skills at home and go to school to collaborate, work as a team, solve problems; no more of the teacher standing in front telling the student how to do a certain problem, the student may already know how to do that. Let’s now work as a team on how to solve a problem using those skills that they already know.

How can people help out Powerup?

The most important thing we need is donations, we are only able to teach the classes based on how much funding we have, sometimes we get funding to keep the classes going for three months, sometimes for six months, it just depends on how much funding we have. We only use students, who come and teach the classes and of course we have to buy the technology for the communities that we are serving. For example one of the areas that we serve is Metro Ministries and we provide a mobile computer lab for them and that requires us to spend money buying the technology or any hardware upgrades that they need in their facility so that we are able to teach the classes.

You came to the U.S. on a golf scholarship yes? Do you still play?

I sure do, in fact every Monday afternoon we have a ladies business networking golf group that we get together and it’s almost like doing business with golf. If you always wanted to learn how to play golf you can come and join our ladies group.

Also through PowerUp there is an initiative for distilling the myth of golf as a rich man’s game. We believe that golf provides a lot of learning opportunities for children, especially if they learn the skills of golf, they can learn how to be patient, how to wait for the great opportunity that life may provide them; golf teaches you a lot about respect and we feel like it may provide a platform for children that may not have the opportunity to play the sport.

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