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The Nairobi Play Project

Nairobi Play is a creative computing initiative which supports intercultural learning and living between multi-ethnic communities.

Photo of Ariam Mogos
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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

Refugees and migrants in East Africa face several challenges to integration with new communities, including xenophobia and differences in culture and language. Host communities also often lack the skills and tools to receive people on the move and create an environment which respects and values the cultures of others, often regarding migrants as a threat to their economic livelihoods and cultural heritage. There are few educational initiatives which support skills development of intercultural competence for both host communities and refugee communities through interactive and play-based learning. Our solution to building bridges works at multiple levels. First, Nairobi Play builds community-based educator capacity in intercultural competence and play-based pedagogy, emphasizing critical thinking and the mitigation of ethnocentrism. Computing classes then give educators a platform to discuss community issues and conflicts among themselves, with students and caretakers, and to imagine and forge solutions towards a sustainable future. Second, Nairobi Play leverages communities’ shared interest in computers to offer a diverse site of encounter across traditional national, ethnic and gender boundaries. Diverse students learn both computational thinking and intercultural competence through fun, creative, and life-affirming activities. They learn with peers, express themselves, share their unique perspectives, and make cross-cultural friends, in a context where school typically does not emphasize intercultural learning, empathy, collaboration, or creative thinking. In final project activities, students and teachers explore new ways to live together while learning essential 21st century skills. Finally, Nairobi Play opens space for dialogue about cultural issues between migrant and host parents, community members, and youth, encouraging students to reflect on biases and become community leaders in changing mindsets.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

The program is currently run in Nairobi, Kenya, and Kakuma Refugee Camp, but it has been adapted and implemented to support community-building efforts in Tangier, Morocco, Tunis, Tunisia, and Algeciras, Spain by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), and will soon be implemented in other parts of Europe. The program model can be adapted for any environment in which there is tension between multi-ethnic communities and there is a need for intercultural understanding and dialogue.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Theoretically ground in critical pedagogy, constructionism and intergroup contact theory, Nairobi Play builds the bridge of intercultural empathy and understanding between Kenyans and refugees, with a focus on adolescents. Different communities have the opportunity to interact meaningfully with each other, and overcome assumptions and fears. Participants acquire new skills to manage conflicts, empathize, and take positive action, which supports a future of stability and promise.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

We are addressing the human need for connection, understanding, expression and relationship-building that can overcome fear and competition, and are critical for any stable and safe society. Through a play-based approach, Nairobi Play supports children and adolescents acquire intercultural competence in a fun and engaging way, which also provides them with a safe space to develop positive relationships with adolescents from other communities with whom they don't usually socialize. Nairobi Play also provides a platform for storytelling to engage children in perspective-taking and self-expression. This results in an artifact they create together that communicates a narrative that represents (and respects) different perspectives, which everyone contributes to through dialogue and debate. This shared experience of “making” can be powerful because all communities want to be heard, appreciated and acknowledged, which is essential for retaining dignity and hope.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

Refugee studies suggest that one of the greatest challenges for children and adolescents is mental health issues, and that this often stems from social isolation. Some of our students were newly arrived refugees with little to no friend networks to lean on, who left with friends. Our data shows that the program can bridge cultural and gender divides and that cross-group friendships can persist months after classes end. These cross-cultural friendship networks can set an example for others. The program also gives a platform for teachers to discuss intercultural issues and share their experience, both with students and members of the community. For instance, teachers have taken their work home, teaching members of the community and their children, using computational media as a platform to advocate for causes important to them (e.g., HIV prevention and drug addiction). Pedagogical and intercultural training can also ripple out into other classes they teach.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

Most Kenyans still have little or no interaction with refugees, yet Kenyans play a crucial role in determining the conditions of refugee asylum (IRC, 2018). UNHCR has stated that local integration in the country of asylum is one of three durable solutions. Despite this reality, there are few educational interventions which support integration between refugee communities and host communities (and multicultural communities in general). This project is inspired by the lack of solutions addressing this challenge and the ability of “making”, play, computing and social learning to support community-building across varied experiences and traditional social group boundaries. Our research shows that creative computing activities can distract from underlying tension and that computing affords diverse participation: computer skills are increasingly viewed as important for individuals’ economic and social mobility (UNICEF SOWC Report 2017), Kenyan and non-Kenyan alike.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

Nairobi Play serves refugee and host communities in Nairobi and Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya. Communities in East Africa are composed of a diverse mix of cultural backgrounds cutting across nationalities, tribes, languages, and religions. Ethnic tensions --whether between refugee and host communities, or within nations --are common and often co-opted for political gain. Kakuma Refugee Camp houses about 180,000 people and is located in the arid, hot desert in Northern Kenya. The camp faces everyday conflicts from overcrowding, malnourishment, tribal differences and camp-host frictions. Although refugees have no legal status outside camps, many live and work in Nairobi, our other main site for program implementation. Refugees in Nairobi are on the fringes of society and face xenophobia, police corruption, low-paid job opportunities and discrimination.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

One of the greatest strengths of our community that has made the project successful is the talented and committed group of educators running the program. They all come from refugee and host communities, and have been a core part of design and implementation. They represent the needs of students, parents, principals and community members, and their critical insights and recommendations have been used to iterate on the program design to ensure it addresses existing gaps. Our educators have also established their own communities of practice for computing and intercultural competence to improve their facilitation and lesson design. This has greatly enhanced the program experience for participants and strengthened the quality of the program. For instance, participants have demonstrated a dramatically improved understanding of game design, computational thinking and how to use storytelling to communicate personal events.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

Current project partners include UNICEF Kenya, who has funded and administered the program, and Xavier Project (CBO), who has implemented the program in both Nairobi and Kakuma Refugee Camp. UNAOC at the global level is also another implementing partner through the PeaceAPP program. A consortium of organizations based in Nairobi and Kakuma Refugee Camp will be recruited to engage in a larger teacher training session in 2020, and local and global organizations will also have opportunities to remix and add to the open-source curriculum, which will be hosted on a wiki on the Nairobi Play website in November 2019. We have a researcher at Cornell University advised by Professor Tapan Parikh, who studies and deploys programs for community empowerment. Our research, evaluation, and scaling advisor is Kentaro Toyama, an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan, a Founding Director of Microsoft Research India, and an advisor on the Digital Green project, among others.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Arriving and settling at a destination community

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Early Adoption: We have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the intended users of the idea. I have proof of user uptake (i.e. 16% to 49% of the target population or 1,000 to 50,000 users).

Group or Organization Name

Nairobi Play Project

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

The Nairobi Play Project was conceived in Nairobi Kenya (and later spread to Kakuma Refugee Camp). All of the people involved in the formation, design and implementation of the Nairobi Play Project have been personally invested in the solution due to family ties to people on the move, or having been displaced themselves. We are an informal collective of educators, activists, designers, refugees, technologists and researchers who work with civil society and international organizations to advance multiculturalism and inclusion based in Kenya, with the goal of thoughtfully scaling this work in other relevant contexts. The Nairobi Play Project has also employed its educators to design aspects of the program and conduct professional development, placing the community front and center to lead the initiative.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a For-Profit Startup or Startup Social Enterprise

Organization Headquarters: Country


Organization Headquarters: City / State


In preparation for expert feedback: What are three unanswered questions or challenges that you could use support on in these categories? These questions will be answered directly by experts matched specifically to your idea. (600 characters)

1. This project has required in-depth and high-quality teacher professional development. How can we scale it considering financial viability without losing quality? 2. Thus far we’ve conducted ethnographic field work over 2 program cycles, and our teachers have reported on the development of intercultural relationships between participants, but we’d appreciate any suggestions of feasible methods to track long-term impact. 3. We’d like to make the program attractive to parents/community members who may be opposed to intercultural dialogue. Do you have recommendations?

Did you use the resources offered during the Improve Phase (mentorship, expert feedback, community research)? (2000 characters)

Yes, working with our mentor who has lived experience was extremely helpful. They gave us positive feedback around the project’s attention to a wide range of skills development (interpersonal, intrapersonal), our play-based approach, and our targeting of adolescents, which was critical in corroborating our ethnographic field data. They also gave us fantastic constructive feedback which we are excited to incorporate, such as (1) adding more trauma focused content into the curriculum, (2) further training for refugee teachers to ensure traumatic episodes are not re-triggered, and (3) the addition of community events to magnify impact. We have also incorporated feedback from our expert which aligned closely with the feedback from our mentor and educators, such as (1) refining and codifying our teacher professional development model/expectations, (2) incorporating our program-level theory of change to highlight the short-term and long-term impacts of Nairobi Play and how we achieve them, (3) ways to thoughtfully and carefully approach and co-design with caretakers/community-members who may have intercultural biases/prejudices. These are all terrific suggestions we will move forward with, in addition to the feedback we have collected over two program cycles from our students and teachers around the curriculum, teacher professional development, program design and other issues which are important to them and affect the efficacy of the program.

In what ways would potential BridgeBuilder funds allow you to pursue your idea that other funding opportunities have not? (1000 characters)

We have been very fortunate to receive support and funds thus far, but BridgeBuilder would help us iterate on the open-source curriculum to incorporate more trauma focused content (recommended by our mentor), refine and codify our teacher training model (recommended by our expert), include more training as requested by our teachers, develop more validated assessments and conduct research which adds value to the field of refugee education and integration practice (building on published research in 2019). Project funds of $175,000-$200,000 over a 2-3 year period, in tandem with existing in-kind resources and other partnerships would support these activities. With a prior funding round, Nairobi Play forged connections to communities in Nairobi and Kakuma and developed, iterated and localized its curriculum and model, testing and validating the Nairobi Play pilot. BridgeBuilder funds would leverage and rapidly expand our Nairobi Play community, allowing us to scale the project.

What aspects or proportion of the overall idea would potential BridgeBuilder funds primarily support? (1000 characters)

BridgeBuilder funds would support the convening and capacity-building of a plethora of organizations (5-15) based in Kakuma and Nairobi through curriculum adaptations (based on organizational needs), a series of responsive teacher professional development, data SIM fees for WhatsApp and Facebook communication on a shared teacher group, support for participant transport, materials for activities, creation/adaptation of validated assessments, etc.. We will also establish and support community liaisons and develop an employment pathway for exemplary graduates to co-teach new iterations of the program to support a TOT model and further support sustainability. Moreover, BridgeBuilder funds would also cover assessment costs, including printing of survey instruments, materials (e.g. pens), students snacks for testing periods, and storage, support for on-the-ground research which covers a mixed methods evaluation, and communications to widely share-out evidence and documentation.

What are the key steps or activities for your idea for implementation in the next 1-3 years? (1000 characters)

We will convene meetings of international and community-based organizations (ex: UNICEF, Xavier Project) focused on refugee programming in Nairobi and Kakuma, to understand needs around intercultural dialogue and community-building. Through a self-selection process, we will establish a committee and work with them to review the curriculum and teacher training materials for trauma focused content, and iterate on and codify those materials through implementation. By years’ end, we will validate measures for short-term outcomes in computer and intercultural skills.We will reach 2000 students, implement community-based events to gain buy-in from caretakers, and identify and support exemplary graduates to become co-trainers to gain teaching and employment experience. In addition, we will establish community champions who advocate on behalf of the program, co-design activities, and teach the next generation of facilitators, and run an RCT with measures from Year 1. 

What will community-level impact look like over the timeframe of your idea? How will you determine whether or not you have achieved that impact? And what outstanding questions do you still have? (1000 characters)

Students will respect differences and make friends across boundaries. Teachers will discuss community issues, and the program will open a space for discussion of cultural friction. For students, we will track cross-cultural friendships developed, attitudes towards cultural interaction and computer-based professions, and educational performance relative to a control group. For teachers, we will assess quality of instruction (project-based vs. rote-based), shifts in their own intercultural biases and their ability to manage conflict in the classroom. Through interviews, we will also track community changes in program perception. In the long-term, we will work with the Kenyan government to incorporate the program model into the national curriculum by 2025. Outstanding questions: How to incorporate intercultural learning into the formal education system? How to scale community-based models while being careful of potential intercultural bias of community members?

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of roles and responsibilities for each entity). (1000 characters)

The team that has designed and implemented Nairobi Play is a diverse group of stakeholders maximizing each other’s skillsets, resources and capacities. The Nairobi Play team is a group of 5-10 curriculum designers, trainers, educators, and assessment and research specialists, who build the capacity of local organizations around creative computing and intercultural learning with support from convening bodies like UNICEF. As illustrated in the diagram, most resources whether financial or in-kind are channeled into CBO’s and implementing partners to support sustainability and to maximize impact, while the Nairobi Play team functions as a capacity-building mechanism when needed (curriculum adaptations and teacher PD training vs. community-building and implementation which CBO’s are already experts in). This partnership arrangement also magnifies scale in providing an opportunity for the Nairobi Play team to work with numerous CBO partners.

Lastly, how did you apply new learnings to your idea? (1000 characters)

Most of the feedback from our mentor and expert validated the feedback we’ve received from our participants and teachers (end users), and the current iterations we are making in response to program needs. Our mentor really encouraged us and pivoted our thinking around how to incorporate more trauma-focused content and training, and how we can lean on our community-based partners to lead on that piece while still addressing trauma in the curriculum and more in-depth sessions during teacher professional development. Our expert pushed us to be creative in how we might engage with caretakers who are not as supportive of the intercultural program goals, and to work on codifying our teacher training model. We look forward to incorporating this feedback with support from the BridgeBuilder Challenge.

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Attachments (2)


A research paper we are publishing: "Computing Educationfor Intercultural Learning: Lessons from the Nairobi Play Project", which will appear in Proceedings of the 22nd ACM conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW). ACM, 2019. Best Paper Honorable Mention.


Presentation on our teacher training methodology/codification around Nairobi Play and how we are continuously iterating on it.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Isaac Jumba

Dear Ariam Mogos 

Great reading through your updated idea. It excites me to see that that your team found the mentor and expert feedback really useful and you are already thinking of ways to integrate the same in the next coming months.
I'm curious:
1. For the Nairobi centre training, are you working only with POM or also with the locals? How do you reach out to the kids you are working with in Nairobi? Is there a potential to scale this out in other areas in Kenya?
2. How are you thinking about sustainability of the project? Could your model be used in normal schools?


Photo of Ariam Mogos

Thanks Isaac! We work directly with community-based organizations in Kakuma and Nairobi. Xavier Project thus far is our key partner, but we're looking to work with many more. Xavier Project conducts all the recruitment, they have a strong partnership with UNHCR, provide scholarships to refugee adolescents and other support. Our model is to build sustainable capacity around the technical piece of the program (curriculum, assessment, teacher PD) for these organizations that are community-run and are experts in recruitment, community-dynamics, etc, which leverages both of our skillsets and prevents overlap and a waste of resources. Our ultimate goal is to create sustainability by building on the existing ecosystem and addressing the gaps (which we would then build capacity around, rather than try to fill ourselves).

Yes our long-term plan is for the model to be aligned to the new competency based curriculum (once computer science standards are published) and integrated into the regular school day. We have had conversations with many schools who are interested in the program. The curriculum will also be reviewed and available free of charge on the Kenya Education Cloud (DLP devices) through the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, which will make it available to millions of students and teachers.

Photo of Isaac Jumba

Thanks for the quick response

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