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Empowering Refugee Youth + Working to Create Job Opportunities in DSM

Empowering Refugee Youth

June 25, 2021


In 2010, Nancy Mwirotsi founded Pi515 to serve refugee youth throughout Greater Des Moines (DSM) by teaching them technology skills, coding and critical thinking to help them become innovative and empowered for STEM-field careers. 

In the Beginning

During the latest Small Business and Startup Stories DSM podcast, Mwirotsi shares how she wanted to work with refugee youth so that they would have opportunities to tap into their potential. The journey was not easy. She says it’s okay to dream big, but know it can be difficult to execute your dream.  

Growing up, Mwirotsi wanted to be a designer, air hostess, lawyer and more, but always she wanted to innovate, which she attributes to her father. She saw him build businesses, which he made look so easy, but looking back, she realizes that it wasn’t an easy path for him. He taught her to count money, keep a spreadsheet and told her, “Girls can be anything.” 

During the podcast, she reflects on learning through hardship and how it teaches you a lot: resilience, grit and determination. 

Tech Skills in DSM

For Mwirotsi, showcasing a side of Africa you don’t normally see was important to her, and she began talking with different friends in the tech sector, considering ways to teach STEM in a different way. Mwirotsi explains how it’s youth who are adapting quickly and innovating in technology. To help them develop and find success, Pi515 allows them to learn through bumps and rough patches. Mwirotsi listens to the participants in the program in order to empower them.  

Data + Smart Cities 

This summer, Pi515 is hosting a month-long challenge around SMART Cities.  Through connections with large companies and discussions about smart cities, youth will understand and experience what can happen in Iowa and is happening in smart cities across the world. She says youth hold the key to what the future will look like, and we must allow them to think critically and encourage them to produce technology.  

Participating students will be invited to pitch their solutions at the end of the course in front of well-known social entrepreneurs, innovators, and industry leaders. Finalists will receive a cash prize to be used to further their personal and educational goals. Sponsors include the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers and Startup City Des Moines.    

If you’re a part of a DSM organization, you can join the Pi515 movement of growing young minds and creating jobs for them within the region. Reach out to Mwirotsi about providing internships or apprenticeships and consider your company’s hiring practices when opening up opportunities for youth and new graduates. 

Listen to the entire podcast above or watch on the Partnership's YouTube channel

Inspired by this Startup Story? Subscribe to the Small Business and Startup Stories DSM podcast and check out upcoming events, videos and other free resources dedicated to helping startups and small businesses accelerate success in Greater Des Moines (DSM). 

Startup Stories DSM

Startup Stories DSM is a podcast featuring conversations with entrepreneurs who share both their victories and failures on their paths to success. It is produced by the Greater Des Moines Partnership.