Pablo Listingart first learned about Winnipeg while watching the 1999 Pan-Am Games on television in his Buenos Aries living room. He didn’t dream of living in Winnipeg at the time. Today, he wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else. And he wouldn’t dream of doing anything else.
The 36-year-old information technology expert runs his own web design company, but his true passion is Comunidad IT (ComIT), the non-profit organization he launched with partners in Argentina and has recently launched in Manitoba. ComIT’s mission is to help young people and marginalized populations learn computer skills – especially coding – to meet the needs of the changing workplace.
Listingart had the idea of launching ComIT while working for Microsoft in 2007 as an “academic evangelist.”
“My job was to travel around Argentina promoting the merits of Microsoft products to professors and students,” he says. “What I learned in my travels is that colleges and universities could not keep up with the economy’s demand for people with IT skills. There were young people who wanted the training, but didn’t have access. Either they couldn’t afford the education, or they lived too far away, or they had to work to help support their families.”
Listingart ultimately spoke with a few colleagues about the problem and together they launched ComIT in 2012. They designed a focused, market-driven curriculum that they could deliver without a fee for the students. For the first while, they covered their own expenses out of pocket and promoted the free classes on their own.
“We would walk through public parks handing out fliers to young people who we thought might benefit,” he recalls. “We also promoted our courses on social media.”
In short order, Listingart and his colleagues had developed nine three-month courses, students were signing up, and the IT world took notice.
“We got funding from Microsoft, Google, and other companies,” says Listingart. “More important, our graduates were getting jobs. Our first course had 10 students and eight of them found work. Our next group had 13 graduates, and 10 got jobs. It was very satisfying.”
ComIT recently expanded to Chile and is still going strong in Argentina – over 1,000 students have taken courses so far. But while Listingart and his colleagues were taking ComIT to new heights in South America, he and his wife (Solange) were considering a new home.
“We were ready for a change of pace from life in Argentina,” he says. “We considered Europe and the U.S. and it wasn’t the right fit for us. We started to look at Canadian cities and I came to explore Winnipeg. The morning I woke up in a bed-and-breakfast and experienced the silence of the city and heard the trees outside my window, I said: ‘Yeah, this is the place.’”
As soon as Listingart arrived for good in 2015, he started learning about how he could set up ComIT in Manitoba to try to replicate the success the organization was enjoying in Argentina. ComIT’s incorporation as a non-profit was approved in October 2016 and the ink is still drying on the application for charitable status.
“There are similar needs in Canada as there are in Argentina and all over,” he says. “Employers need skilled developers and coders. The schools can’t keep up with the demand, and there are plenty of driven young people who don’t have access to the training. There are people being left behind and they don’t have to be. I have no doubt that ComIT can make a difference in Manitoba and across Canada.”
So far, the Canadian version of ComIT has run one course in Kitchener, Ontario, that included participants from Dubai, Kenya, Pakistan, and other countries. In June 2017, Listingart will be training a group of students through the Information and Communication Technologies Association of Manitoba in Winnipeg, ComIT’s first local assignment.
Listingart has embraced community life since arriving in Winnipeg. He serves as Vice-President of Whyte Ridge Community Centre, coaches his son’s soccer team, and is a new Board member of the Manitoba Federation of Non-Profit Organizations. He is a networking ninja passionate about ComIT’s potential for the economy, for the community, and for the participants.
“There is no better feeling than getting an email from a student thanking me for the course and telling me they got a great IT job,” says Listingart. “I look forward to getting notes like that from Winnipeggers very soon.”
For more information about ComIT, visit http://www.comit.org/.