ONJA - International Rotary Foundation Grant Project
Naulette sits Onja’s exam which tests computer programming aptitude.
'Onja' literately means 'waves' 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.
The Rotary Club of St Johns is very proud to work in close collaboration with Onja, a social enterprise in Madagascar teaching capable youth to code (also known as computer programming) and giving life-changing work through a sustainable enterprise.

In Madagascar higher education is a privilege reserved for the 5% of people who can afford it. Without opportunity, most top students drop out to work low-paying jobs, their talent wasted. Onja has a unique approach to utilise this untapped human talent. It assesses the very brightest students who can’t afford high school or university and identifies those withmotivation and potential to become great coders (computer programmers). Selected students receive two years of English and coding instruction and later earn a life-changing salary developing software at Onja’s outsourcing enterprise. 100% of profits generated by the enterprise will be used to upskill the next wave of students, making the process swiftly self-funding.  
With the work completed by a single graduate, funding an estimated 7 future students, Onja has potential to spread large-scale opportunity in the world’s poorest communities.
Through a partnership with Madagascar’s Ministry of Education and a six month recruitment drive, thirty “talent-rich opportunity-poor” students have been pinpointed from an initial pool of 250,000. In December 2018 they will begin studying English and Coding at Onja’s training centre.
Sam Lucas (left), the founder of Onja is a member of Rotary St Johns and attributes much of the project’s early success to the club: “Over the past year we’ve benefited heavily from the commercial, fundraising and management expertise of the Rotary Club of St Johns who have played a pivotal role in refining our project and building critical support within Rotary and beyond.”
A Rotary Global Grant application for the project received support from five of six Rotary Districts in New Zealand (D9920, D9910, D9940, D9970 and D9980) and was approved by Rotary International in July 2018. Our club and the Rotary Club of Newmarket also committed funding.
As a part of the partnership between our club and Onja we provide ongoing oversight to help meet project objectives. We are thrilled to play a role in helping talented students in Madagascar gain access to well-paid, fulfilling careers and look forward to continuing to actively assist the project.
Onja Website - https://onja.org/
Onja Video (2017) explaining concept - https://vimeo.com/209855616
Page Stories
It's been another exciting and demanding three months. Thanks to many of you, momentum continues to build, and we take another step closer to getting the school open!
It has been a busy three months since my last correspondence and I have much exciting news to report!
Key Progress
Student Recruitment
Overwhelmingly, our major focus over the past few months has been student recruitment. In total, 66 students sat our aptitude exams and undertook a 30-minute personal interviews, conducted in 5 separate districts.

The students invited to attend the exam sessions were those who had received exceptionally high grades in lower or secondary high school (especially in Maths), but who can no longer continue studying. These students represent the top 2-3% of their peers.
Most students traveled quite a distance to attend the exam sessions, and so we reimbursed their travel costs. Local schools provided classrooms for the exam sessions and also as a secure place for students to stay over two days and three nights. We provided food, and everything else students required while they stayed with us. 
From this process we have identified at least 12 students who we are confident will be a good fit for our programme. After years of work and dedication from our staff and supporters, this is a very exciting stage to be at, and we are looking forward to introducing the students to you soon!  Click Read More to see more photos and the rest of Sam's email.
Currently I am on the road with two others, conducting exam sessions in 4 districts. We have completed the first one and are preparing for the second one now. 
In the first district we stayed at a church. This is me with the pastor and his family.  I forget how much bigger than most people I am until I see photos! Simon (Jones) will be a giant here!
Marcelline (left, below) helps with the exams and interviews and Germane (right) is cooking for all of the students during the exam sessions. This photo was taken after we had been in the van for 12 hours overnight. The road was terrible and I was amazed a van like that could actually do the job. 
Doing the exam.

Another two months has passed and I am still in Antananarivo, however we have made some good progress, and I (finally) leave for Mahanoro today!
Key Progress
Simon's presentation: I think most will know that Simon presented Onja to the club and high power Rotarian visitors. I'm told Simon worked his magic and the visitors want to see Onja happen. That should give our grant proposal a good boost! Thank you everyone and in particular Simon for going out of your way to make that happen.
St Johns Commitment: Thank you for openly and thoughtfully considering the project, and for being some of the very first people to recognise its potential. This is very rare in a space I have found to be pretty sheepish (both in the way people and entities follow one another, and are overly adverse to measured risk). St Johns has committed to investing 15 NZD over 3 years. It is a real milestone and I cannot thank you all enough. 
Club member Simon Jones took the floor to tell our guests about Sam Lucas and his Onja project.  We can report that Simon's presentation generated some strong interest and comments from special visitor John Hewko (General Secretary of Rotary International and The Rotary Foundationand some of the other influential Rotarians.
Hi All
Since the last update almost two months ago now I have been stuck in Antananarivo, the capital city, mainly waiting for information from the government.  It's been a little frustrating but has also given me a chance to work on many of the smaller things that I have not got around to doing. 
Key Progress: 
  • Hiang, one of our former web teachers in NZ has improved our website onja.org so that we can now accept donations.  This was much more work than I anticipated and Hiang did a great job.  She is a computer science graduate currently looking for a job in IT in case anyone knows of any openings!
I recently spent five weeks in the San Francisco Bay Area (which includes Silicon Valley). As you will know, this is a spot renowned for its technology innovation/startups. It was more-or-less the same price for me to travel to Madagascar via San Francisco, compared with flying directly to Madagascar and with a friends couch to crash on, I figured I might as well make the most of the opportunity to talk with some foundations and wealthy individuals.  I am now in Madagascar, and have been here for about one week.
Key Progress: 
  • I, Faso and Fita (two Malagasy friends involved in Onja) met with Mr Dimitris Skourtelis, the president of the 'Rotary Club Antananarivo Ivandry', a very well respected club in Madagascar. Mr Skourtelis very quickly understood the potential Onja has to create rapid and large scale opportunity not only in Madagascar but throughout Africa and immediately offered his club to act as the Host Sponsor for our project - an offer we are absolutely honored to receive. We also attended a club meeting last night and were very well received by the club. They are very impressive, managing several large projects, and has extensive experience with International Rotary Grants.
‘Onja’ as an organisation is committed to unlocking opportunity to the world’s poor on an unprecedented scale.  Onja is a social enterprise empowering gifted students to code their way out of poverty – Highly intelligent teenagers from extremely poor communities learn to code, increase their earning power by a factor of 25, and later pay forward education...
Ben Lucas is the Founder of Onja and joined St Johns Rotary recently.  He spoke of his vision and the club also became a supporter of this and is exploring whether a Rotary Foundation Global Grant is possible.  The following is a copy of two recent emails that provide the club with an update:
This is a small update for Rotary members to track Onja's progress. I intend to send one out every few months, detailing our progress and key challenges. 
Key Progress: 
  • I presented at 5 rotary clubs in New Zealand over the past couple of months, and am now a member of the st Johns club! 
  • We are now working towards an international rotary grant through the st Johns club. Rotary New Market have quite extensive experience in creating international grants and have indicated their willingness to help out where needed. 
  • I spoke about Onja at my local church too, and a professional videographer who heard me speak offered to help. He made a this short video to supplement the crowdfunding video: https://vimeo.com/209855616
  • We've almost completed a 25 page proposal that we can serve as a base for the international grant proposal, and for information for donors.
  • I had a little bit of time off in New Zealand, and managed to go surfing once a week or so!
Key Challenges: 
  • I've just landed in San Francisco, the idea being to continue fundraising here. I'm hoping to speak at rotary clubs and also talk with companies, and individual donors. I have very little in the way of connections to kick this process off. Simon Jones is working on a connection through rotary, but if anyone else has any personal connections to rotarians, or other people around San Francisco who might just be a lead to something then please let me know!
Many thanks to you all, 
Sam is a clever, qualified engineer who is focussed and passionate about supporting disadvantaged young people in Madagascar. Sam is the founder of Onja (translated as ‘waves’ in the Madagascar language of Malagasy),a non-profit organisation that teaches English and computer programming to Madagascar's high achieving, disadvantaged young people then offers them outsourcing work. Sam had previously volunteered as an English teacher in Cambodia five years ago and saw no employment opportunities for young people.  One year after this, Sam and two former students and Sam’s friends set up web sites for the international market. 
So why Madagascar? The country is twice the size of New Zealand with 22 million people with 92% of the population living in extreme poverty.  The country has low costs and good internet meaning it is reliable and affordable.  Sam lived in a rural Malagasy village for a year and now speaks Malagasy.