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Ubongo Learn Anywhere Kits for Localized Kid-Centric Learning in Emergencies

Multimedia kit for crisis contexts with effective & localized learning videos, songs, activities & curriculum, adaptable to different tech.

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What problem does your innovation solve?

The UN estimates that 25 million children are missing out on school in areas of conflict and crisis. Yet education is not something that can be paused then resumed when situations settle. Early childhood and early adolescence are periods of extensive brain development, and the learning that occurs in these years sets a person's trajectory for life. In conflict and displacement situations where formal schooling is not possible, or of low quality, we need rapidly deployable informal learning.

Explain your innovation.

Ubongo’s innovation is a multimedia learning kit with localized and effective content, which can be used to facilitate learnings clubs for children in emergencies. The kits contains video, audio and text content including Ubongo’s popular edutainment programs currently watched in over 5.1 million households in East Africa, as well as a facilitator’s guide and activities for club leaders to engage kids in active learning. Ubongo’s preschool edu-cartoon Akili and Me helps 3-5 year olds learn numeracy, pre-literacy, socio-emotional skills and English as a second language, shown to have a 12% effect on kids' school readiness in just one month of viewing. Ubongo Kids teaches STEM subjects and life skills through fun stories and songs, and kids who watch it show immediate direct learning outcomes in the subjects taught. These multiplatform learning programs include over 1690 minutes of video content, 580 minutes of educational audio and songs and 36 eBooks, with content in Kiswahili, Kinyarwanda, English and French, as well as easy adaptation packages to quickly develop versions in new languages. We will first implement with children in Nyaragusu refugee camp, working with the community to form locally managed kids’ clubs that use our content both at existing sites with screening tech (like video bandas that show football matches) and in new sites with low-cost battery powered projectors. This low cost model can be sustained through community partnerships & sponsorship.

Who benefits?

We will bring educational content to almost 30,000 refugee children aged 3-15 by implementing our innovative screening clubs in the Nyaragusu refugee camp in Tanzania. These children come mostly from Burundi and the DRC, or are born in the camps to refugee parents, who mostly speak Kiswahili and Kirundi. In addition to being educational effective, our content is designed to shift gender norms, promote gender equality to audiences of both girls and boys. Our facilitator kits are linguistically adaptable and mobile, so through partnerships, a larger number of refugee children to benefit from the localized and effective learning content. In order to test the benefit of our screening clubs we will do baseline, mid-term and endline testing. Testing will include standardized assessments of literacy, numeracy and life skills, as well as focus groups.

How is your innovation unique?

Our focus is on creating the best and most effective content, which is locally relevant to kids and can help them learn, then leverage their learning to change their lives. We employ a human centered design process to create content, testing it throughout the process to ensure it is educationally effective-- and we design for scalability and adaptability to different languages and technology platforms. Our edutainment clubs have already been implemented and tested in non-electrified villages in Morogoro, reaching thousands of kids, and are broadcasting on TV and radio to over 5 million. We will adapt our kit to meet the needs of children in Nyaragusu camp, and develop a model for adaptation to other emergency situations. Most other programs edu-media focus on provision of hardware such as computers or tablets, and using open educational resources that aren't localized. We flip that model, providing localized content that can be used on any tech- from radio and TV to tablets.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

One of the key questions that we are still working to answer is how to create localized content for a multilingual population. We currently have bilingual content, but in emergencies, children speaking many different languages often need to be taught together. Another question we have relates to how we can develop content that inspires children to continue learning as they play outside of the classroom or our screening clubs? We want the learning that happens through our edutainment to be a spark for continued active group and self learning through, and we will test ways of modeling and instigating these learning behaviors through our edutainment content.

Tell us more about you.

Ubongo is a non-profit social enterprise based in Tanzania that produces edutainment for kids in Africa. One of Fast Company's 10 most innovative companies in Africa 2015, we're a diverse group of creatives, educators, techies and business people passionate about bringing kids in Africa a fun and more effective new way to learn. Core team members include Nisha Ligon (CEO - product dev, educational media), Doreen Kessy (social business), Christina Bwana (production) and Rajab Semtawa (animation).

What is the primary type of emergency setting where your innovation would operate?

  • Natural disaster
  • Prolonged displacement

Emergency Setting - Elaborate

Our primary implementation setting will be prolonged displacement, where large numbers of children are together missing out on critical educational opportunities. We also want to make our screening kits so easily accessible and adaptable that they can be quickly used in other emergency settings. Working with first responders who will help us best understand how the clubs can help bring educational material to children who are living in other emergency situations.

Where will your innovation be implemented?

We will first implement in Nyaragusu camp in Western Tanzania. As of June 2017, Nyaragusu has 134,696 refugees. (UNHCR, 2017). It was opened in 1996 to host people fleeing from Burundi and DRC, as well as some refugees from Somalia. Our screening kits will be highly adaptable to be used in various emergency settings. The kits can be used to get localized content for larger educational or edtech projects or they can be implemented by the local community themselves, as in our Morogoro project.

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

In-country Networks

Ubongo is Tanzania based, with a strong brand and network in country. Our adaptable content is already distributed on TV in 27 African countries, as well as through mobile network operators including Tigo and Vodacom. We have partnered with USAID and HDIF and are in contact with local teams from UNHCR, IRC, and other organizations working on the ground in refugee camps. Our strong local network provides us with broad insight as well as partnerships for scaling to reach more children in need.

Sector Expertise

  • I've worked in a sector related to my innovation for less than a year.

Sector Expertise - Elaborate

We are Africa's leading edutainment company, and our educational media programs on TV, radio and mobile are used across the continent, including by partners working in emergency situations. We are based in Tanzania, with partners across the continent. With this background and expertise, we are well poised to take the next step to adapt our innovations for large scale use in emergency situations, and apply our human centered design process to ensuring we create solutions that work for kids.

Innovation Maturity

  • Existing Prototype or Pilot: I have tested a part of my solution with users and am iterating.

Organization Status

  • We are a registered non-profit, charity, NGO, or community-based organization.

Organization Location

We are a non-profit social enterprise registered in Tanzania, with main office in Dar es Salaam. We also have USA registered 501(c)3 non-profit entity


How has your Idea changed based on feedback?

In response to feedback, we are planning to produce additional content specifically for children in emergency settings. This would address problems that these children face, , such as; healthy living in their specific environment, developing critical socio-emotional skills to cope with the stress of living in conflict or displacement, and helping develop resilience. We will partner with local community members to co-create this content, and build adaptable modules from it.

Who will implement this Idea?

Ubongo will undertake the creation and development of the kits with co-creation in refugee camps, with a pilot implementation. For scale up, we will provide kits to on-the-ground organizations such as UNHCR and IRC, as well as local grassroots organizations for implementation with children. Ubongo has 26 full time staff located in Tanzania who will be creating content to be used in kits, while 2 staff members will work on HCD and co-creation in refugee camps and emergency situations… as well as ensuring that kits meet the needs of on-the-ground partners utilizing them in their programs.

What challenges do your end-users face? (1) What is the biggest challenge that your end-users face on a day-to-day, individual level? (2) What is the biggest systems-level challenge that affects your end-users?

Though every emergency situation is different, most greatly disrupt a child’s education. Any missing gap in education can be very detrimental for a child’s development. One of the biggest challenges that children in Nyarugusu refugee camp are facing is a lack of education infrastructure, including buildings, teachers and resources. Additionally, even when public education is available to children living in refugee camps or emergencies, the quality of these educational programs are poor as resources, such as teachers, books and classrooms, are limited. The biggest systems-level challenge is the lack of a system to deliver quality education in emergency situations... because every situation is different! It is critical to have quickly adaptable systems to fill gaps for kids in need!

How is your organization considering sustainable growth in order to continue making an impact over time?

Through co-production funding, we work with companies and organizations who want to reach our audience and viewers with important messages. These have included Malaria No More (teaching kids to use bednets and go to the doctor if they have a fever), the UN (promoting children’s rights), the EU (teaching about clean energy) and private banks (teaching financial literacy skills). We also have a freemium model where we sell premium products (apps, DVDs, merchandise) to middle class customers in order to fun production of free content for our mass media and screening clubs audience.

Tell us about your vision for this project: (1) share one sentence about the impact that you would like to see from this project in five years and (2) what is the biggest question/hurdle you need to address to get there?

IMPACT: Ubongo’s long term goal is to provide fun, localized edutainment for all kids in Africa, to help them learn and leverage their learning to change their lives. This includes the more than 500,000 of children who are displaced or in camps. So, In the next 5 years - we would like to be the key resource for providing educational content for emergency situations in Africa. QUESTION: How do we adapt content to languages and contexts throughout the continent at low cost and massive scale?

How do you currently measure (or plan to measure) outcomes for this project?

We use a experimental and longitudinal studies to evaluate the learning performance of children attending our screening clubs on a baseline, midline and endline basis. We have conducted a randomized control trial of content in schools and a quasi-experimental trial with rural screening clubs in Tanzania, and we will apply these methods to assess the effectiveness of kits in Nyaragusu camp. Our Senior Research advisor is Prof. Dina Borzekowski, a world leader in children's media research.

What is the timeline for your project Idea? What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years?

We hope to carry out a beta implementation in Nyarugusu and test kits out to partners in English, French and Kiswahili throughout 2018. Once we learn from this initial implementation on how to best scale up our kits and reach, we plan to scale up the project during 2019 and 2020. Scaling up means undertaking more language adaptations, creating additional content for children living in refugee situations, and possibly creating an online portal for partners to access and adapt our content.

My organization's operational budget for 2016 was:

  • Between $500,000 and $1,000,000 USD

How many of your team’s paid, full-time staff are currently based in the location where the beneficiaries of your proposed Idea live?

  • Between 20-50 paid, full-time staff

Is your organization registered in the country that you intend to implement your Idea in?

  • We are registered in all countries where we plan to implement.

How long have you and your colleagues been working on this Idea together?

  • Between 1 and 2 years

What do you need the most support with for your innovation?

  • Business Development / Partnerships Support
  • Other Technical Expertise


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