Soso Luningo grew up in extreme poverty in a village near Port Elizabeth in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. Her home was essentially a small shed with a leaky, corrugated metal roof, no electricity, and just one bed. Most of her family slept on the dirt floor.
But Soso was bright and determined, and had the full support of her parents in her quest to not just to survive her circumstances, but to thrive despite the many challenges she faced.
She focused on her education and won a scholarship to a university in Johannesburg, where she also enrolled in the Cisco Networking Academy. The networking academy, supported by international technology company Cisco, provides students with opportunities to build the skills they need to pursue a career in technology.
At first, people around Soso questioned her interest in a career in technology, which had traditionally been a man’s field.
“How are you going to deal with a computer? You’re a girl,” people told her. “How are you going to fix theses things?”
But Soso persisted. She channeled their doubts into determination and earned a certification as a Network Engineer, beginning her career in technology.
“That’s when the doors started opening,” she said. “That’s when I started to actually make my life better, even my parents’ lives better.”
Her Cisco networking certification enabled Soso to land a job at a new casino that was opening near her village, where she became the first woman in the IT department, then the first female IT supervisor, and ultimately the first female head of the IT department.
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From there, Soso’s career continued to blossom and eventually she became a chief systems engineer, advising businesses and government agencies on their network deployments. Along the way, she gained the confidence to challenge both racial and sexist attitudes prevalent in South African culture. Her success has enabled her to build a more modern house for her family next to the shed with the leaky roof in which she grew up.
Today, Soso is passing along her commitment to education and passion for problem-solving to her own daughters and extended family, using education and technology to break the cycle of poverty.
But that’s not the only way Soso gives back to her community. She became an instructor at the Cisco Networking Academy, the same program that empowered her to build a better life for herself and those around her. Soso now has joined Cisco as a corporate social responsibility manager for South Africa, but she continues to mentor Networking Academy students, particularly young women, encouraging them to be bold and confident in pursuit of their dreams.
In 2017, the Cisco Networking Academy enrolled over 300,000 women and aims to increase that figure to 500,000 female students a year by 2020. By providing women with better access to education opportunities and technology training, Cisco aims to empower women, and in doing so, empower the next generation of global problem-solvers. Through the Cisco Networking Academy, Cisco is using education and technology to provide women with greater, more equitable economic opportunities.