Netherlands | Social entrepreneurship

New knowledge, new opportunities

20 September 2021 14:00

Rising unemployment and at the same time an urgent shortage of personnel: the Dutch job market contains both extremes. Codegorilla has found an elegant solution to those two challenges: training people who have trouble finding paid employment to work in the IT sector.

Diem Do from Code Gorilla

As the end of her studies came near, CodeGorilla’s founder Diem Do felt despondent about what lay ahead. “I didn’t see a future with a degree in Public Administration, but in the Asian culture dropping out of college isn’t an option. So I spent a lot of time worrying in my garret apartment. Sometimes I’d daydream about making my own website or app, but I didn’t know anything about programming. That’s when I decided: now’s the time to learn! With the help of online tutorials, I taught myself the basics of programming.”

A desperately needed intermediary

Diem wanted to share her knowledge with people who could put it to good use. So she brought it up with the municipal government, where she was doing an internship at the time. They suggested some names from the ‘granite file’ - what they called the list of long-term unemployed residents, who the city believed were impossible to get moving. But the 14 people selected all proved the city’s assumptions wrong. They not only learned how to program, they also found jobs.

It became increasingly clear to Diem how she could help people who have trouble finding paid employment. So she decided to help them build a better future for themselves. That resulted in the creation of CodeGorilla, a social enterprise that trains people as junior coders and programmers, then introduces them to an employer. There are plenty of jobs in the IT sector, but the social enterprise is desperately needed as an intermediary. “Companies mainly recruit young, well-educated people with the right work experience. If there are enough candidates for the job, then they don’t have to settle for people with gaps in their resumes or experience working in a different sector.”

Affinity with IT

CodeGorilla puts job seekers through a four-month boot camp to bring them up to the basic level. Participants learn the programming language that is most in demand at the moment. They can also work on their social skills and clear other obstacles on the path to paid employment. “To determine whether the participants have an affinity for working in IT, they are asked to study at home for a month and then go through a selection procedure”, Diem explains.

What’s CodeGorilla’s secret? “We take people seriously. We don’t treat them with kid gloves. We try to be a good employer by connecting with our employees. For example by eating meals together. One thing I’ve learned from my Asian background is how food can bring people together. Sharing a big meal means even more to people who’ve been living on government benefits for a long time.”

“90 percent of the boot camp participants go on to paid employment”

Ties to regional businesses

One of the reasons why CodeGorilla can have such an impact is its expansive network. The social enterprise has close ties to the regional business community and the government, where more and more of its participants are finding jobs. As a result, 90 percent of the boot camp participants go on to paid employment. “That’s exceptional, considering the high unemployment levels in the north of the country. Fortunately, we can rely on a regular group of clients, especially larger SMEs in the region.

Growing and flourishing

Four years after the first boot camp, Diem still has big plans for CodeGorilla. This year, the enterprise started a work training project for people who need more than a four-month boot camp. The new program pays more attention to people with visible or invisible employment challenges. The first two participants have already begun, and another eight will join them in the fall. That’s also when the social enterprise will begin a partnership with the national government. They also have plans to expand from the north of the country into the east. “We’re not running blind”, Diem assures. “Our goal is to become part of the ecosystem there too. Right now we’re studying how to make that happen.”

Diem has noticed people start to flourish at CodeGorilla. “Now that they have a job, they can take other steps in life. Starting a relationship, forming a household, buying a house. That wasn’t possible when they were unemployed, either because they lacked the money or the self-confidence.”

CodeGorilla - Story of Femke Petter

CodeGorilla and Rabo Foundation

Rabo Foundation provided CodeGorilla with a loan to scale up. Diem: “Rabo Foundation really recognizes the value in our impact story. Their critical questions about our application helped us strengthen our business model. And with an additional donation from Rabo Foundation, we can reach even more people by purchasing loan laptops, lesson materials and headphones.”

Why Rabo Foundation supports CodeGorilla

By supporting CodeGorilla, Rabo Foundation can help build a more inclusive society and greater self-reliance. Social enterprises like CodeGorilla, which put society’s interests ahead of the market, need more time to become economically independent. By offering CodeGorilla a loan, they will be able to scale up the two-year program over the next five years and expand their activities to the eastern part of the Netherlands. And with our one-time donation, we can give more people access to the CodeGorilla boot camp.

Three tips for entrepreneurs from Diem Do

  1. Make sure you’re thoroughly familiar with the financial figures, or find someone to help you draw up a liquidity and exploitation budget. You have to be able to recite your revenues, costs and taxes in your sleep.
  2. Be careful in building your network. Relations management is vital, especially in times when you don’t have to contact people for business as often.
  3. Stay flexible. Pivots are important for staying calm and organized and building a routine. Don’t hold desperately to processes or business models if you notice they’re not working.

Social enterprises such as CodeGorilla create fair employment opportunities for people who like to work, but have difficulty finding a job. The work towards an inclusive labor market. We see social entrepreneurship as the norm and inspiration for other companies.