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Why Comics? Educational Charity: Using Comics to Meet the Contextual Needs of Displaced Children's Education

Our educational innovation uses comics to inform displaced children about health, human rights and protection, targeting girls.

Photo of Benjamin Dix
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What problem does your innovation solve?

Displaced children face educational disruption and vulnerability. There's a lack of collaboration between emergency education specialists and tech-savvy communication experts. WCEC combines both, with a wide network, excellent geographical reach and pedagogical innovations, to address: Hygiene: Public health, feminine hygiene Protection: rights of children/girls, gender based violence, psychosocial Rights: Rights of refugees and internally displaced, Geneva Conventions, right of returns

Explain your innovation.

Current humanitarian needs and massive on-going displacements increase the need for emergency education, but a gap exists in appropriate resources linking sensitive, vital topics and remedial education. WCEC use arts-based educational resources to transform learning, for self-directed or teacher facilitated learning. Our ethnographic literary comics are embedded with age-appropriate interactive contextual multimedia links and our free lesson plans are open to access online, download or print. Arts integration in education incorporates cognitive activities shown to improve long-term memory (Rinne et al 2011) and critical thinking (Abrami et al 2008). Students identify with the true stories ensuring relevance and providing emotional support. WCEC has reached over 27,000 schools in 30 countries by Sep 2017. Our innovation is to adapt this format for camps with refugee/displaced children, working with award-winning non-profit PositiveNegatives and Coventry University, UK. The comic format is accessible for any age, language, literacy level or learning ability and complements existing curricula. Children are well-placed to pass on critical information to others: hygiene, self-protection and rights. Specific resources for girls around sensitive subjects will reduce vulnerability. WCEC has pilot tested in over 600 schools in 27 countries and feedback from students teachers and parents is overwhelmingly positive. All our work is freely available on our website and social media.

Who benefits?

The main beneficiaries are tens of thousands of refugee children in Zaatari aged 10-18 who attend school irregularly, or not at all. Children suffer massively in conflict: increased vulnerability in displacement, sexual violence, reduced physical and psycho-social coping skills, and increased stigma for girls. We adopt a ‘whole child’ approach to education to benefit socially and emotionally. UN Security Council Resolutions and Geneva Conventions are rarely understood by civilians, much less by children, and there are no procedures for conveying such information appropriately. Awareness on gender-specific factors and health in emergencies is lacking. Education reduces the impact of interruptions caused by crisis; WCEC enhances awareness of hygiene, self-protection and rights, particularly for girls. Other beneficiaries are teachers and family members. Stress, disruption and lack of resources make teaching difficult, and our downloadable and printable materials address this.

How is your innovation unique?

Comics engage children more than books, fitting around camp duties for self-directed or group study, with/out a teacher or formal learning space. Our comics are based on ethnographic research, using individual stories to convey wider issues. Students identify with the comics, embedding psychosocial learning impact. Our asset-based methodology is culturally and contextually relevant and can be applied to a range of emergencies. For teachers, we provide lesson plans and guidance notes. WCEC supplies both remedial and contextual materials, with low equipment, expenses or expertise requirements. Resources can be viewed online/offline, on a projector or as a hard copy, complement existing camp education, and are easy to take-up for NGOs and educators. Comics are understood by children of mixed abilities, and meet both remedial and contextual education needs for displaced children, especially girls. WCEC adheres to international teaching standards from INEE, UNICEF and Save the Children.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

1/ How will we effectively monitor, access, take-up and impact in a refugee camp setting? 2/ What are the most culturally sensitive methods to teach children difficult and complex topics, in disruptive and challenging environments? 3/ How can behavioural change among children displaced in camps be effectively measured and assessed? 4/ How can we adapt this idea in future to address the needs of non-static refugees? Particularly in terms of initial research around educational needs and M&E. 5/ When creating resources for other emergency settings how will we efficiently connect with new partner organisations for distribution?

Tell us more about you.

WCEC, UK registered charity 1172791, based at SOAS, Uni of London, is the charitable arm of PositiveNegatives (PosNeg), a non-profit that produces literary comics, animations and podcasts around social and human rights issues. Our team is 90% female, all with relevant Masters Degrees. Collectively we have over 30 years’ experience in international development, communications, art and design. Coventry University (Cov Uni) is a sector leader in crises and emergencies research and education.

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

  • Natural disaster
  • Armed conflict
  • Prolonged displacement
  • Extreme drought

Emergency Setting - Elaborate

Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan houses around 82,000 Syrian refugees, and is a highly insecure environment for children to grow up. Crime, violent demonstrations and general instability all threaten children’s education, compounded by site-specific additional risks. Raising awareness of women and refugees rights is a contentious issue. We will coordinate with local stakeholders and sector specialists like child trauma experts. The tight boundaries of the camp allow us to efficiently conduct M&E.

Where will your innovation be implemented?

Of 660,000 Syrians registered with the United Nations in Jordan, 226,000 are children aged 5-17, and over 80,000 of these did not receive a formal education last year (HRW 2016). With the successful implementation in Za'atari, we will partner with wider stakeholders to adapt our educational resources to other refugee environments. WCEC and Cov Uni have the strong international networks, geographical reach and sector experience to implement such partnerships.

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

In-country Networks

Our team have previously worked for the UN, INGOs and academic institutions in various development projects internationally, including Za'atari, and have a vast network of colleagues that can disseminate the work. We will coordinate with the following: Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE), UK Forum for International Education and Training (UKFIET), SOAS, LSTMH, Care International, ActionAid UK, Oxfam, UNHCR, IoE, NPA and ACTED.

Sector Expertise

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

Sector Expertise - Elaborate

WCEC Founder & Director Dr Benjamin Dix worked as Communications Manager and Programme Manager for the UN and various INGOs. He has an MA in Anthropology of Conflict and Violence, and a PhD in Anthropology: ‘Graphic Violence: Representing Conflict and Migration through Narratives and Illustrations’. He is a PRINCE2 Practitioner. The rest of the WC team have MScs in Development Studies, Psychology and Anthropology, with recognised achievements in fieldwork, education, research and communications.

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

Why Comics? and PositiveNegatives are based at SOAS, University of London, Bloomsbury, Central London.


How has your Idea changed based on feedback?

We prototyped a lesson plan from one of our existing comics. Feedback suggested that the lesson plan structure was more suited for a formal classroom setting, so the material should be tailored. We then consulted experts to meet the correct educational needs of our intended audience. Following OpenIDEO’s feedback, we now focus on impact M&E, as our previous M&E was aimed at initial responses (enjoyment, ease of use and relevance). We will use focus groups and surveys to conduct impact research.

Who will implement this Idea?

PostiveNegatives and WCEC commission a diverse range of artists and animators internationally with suitable gender and cultural / geographical backgrounds (like Syrians). In Za’atari, educators within UNHCR and UNICEF and camp managers will disseminate the comics and incorporate the material into existing education provisions. UN-partner INGOs will support implementation and reach. Cov Uni and WCEC will be responsible for data collection, M&E, impact monitoring and analysing behavioural and awareness change, based around 6-monthly visits to the camp.

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?

In addition to the disruption to education for displaced children, contextual factors compound their vulnerabilities. UN Security Council Resolutions 1325 (2000) and 1820 (2008) seek to increase civilians’ security in conflict, raise awareness of gendered impacts of war and address children’s specific needs like protection, but there are no procedures for conveying such information to children. At a 2016 workshop in Cairo on International Humanitarian Law and sexual violence in conflicts, the need for education was emphasised. Camp sanitation and health are fraught with risks, and girls lack sensitive information on feminine hygiene which doesn’t conflict with religious and cultural values.

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

WCEC, PosNeg & Cov Uni work on research and pedagogical projects funded by universities, research councils, think tanks and INGOs (Peace Research Institute Oslo, UN agencies, GCRF, ERC, RCN, IIED etc.). WCEC are based in SOASUL and assist with compliance for the ‘Impact’ focus for the Research Excellence Framework. We source funding from: grants, trusts and core funding, direct fund-raising activities, donations and investments and gift-aid. Now the ambition is to expand into emergency settings to address identified and reported needs, using and adapting our educational innovations.

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?

By Dec 2019, we plan a demonstrable impact for children in the areas of self-protection, hygiene and human rights awareness in Za’atari, and improved remedial education provision. By mid-2021 we will be replicating this model elsewhere, incorporating the education needs of non-static refugees. Q: After testing with static refugees, how will we meet the needs of migrating refugees and maintain our high quality, tailored educational resources? How will M&E be conducted on transient populations?

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

We measure teacher and student response to our resources (relevance, engagement, ease of use). We will also address impact measurement, setting research aims including behavioural change and awareness of our 3 thematic areas: hygiene, protection and rights. We will conduct M&E using surveys, focus groups and online analytics. Knowledge, attitudes & perceptions of children and their families will be measured before intervention, during and post-project (after 6 months).

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

Months1-6: Fine-tuning content, end-user feedback, comic production & other resources, partner liaison, launch in Za’atari. M 7-24: Roll-out of WCEC pedagogies. Implementation, trouble shooting, incorporation into existing curricula. Iteration and back-stopping support with 6-monthly site visits. M 10-28: Data collection, M&E, impact studies, outreach to wider partner network M 20-30: Adaptation of WCEC model to other environments & populations. Resource development for non-static refugees.

My organization's operational budget for 2016 was:

  • Between $50,000 and $100,000 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?

  • No paid, full-time staff

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

  • We are seeking registration in order to implement in additional countries.

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

  • Less than 6 months

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

  • Business Model Support
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Team (2)

Benjamin's profile
Richard's profile
Richard Curtin

Role added on team:

"Why Comics? Education Charity will collaborate with Nucleos local-cloud E-Learning system. WCEC will supply content while NLCES will disseminate online resources."


Join the conversation:

Photo of Morgan Harvey

nice topic but i prefer to use it's helping me a lot.

Photo of Chas

This is a vital issue. Thousands of children are displaced and missing out on an education. Perhaps interactive comics is a fantastic way to reach them, especially if they don't have school books or proper facilities. I'm sure that comics is a method to teach children on a whole range of different issues

Photo of Emily

Genius use of comics, what an important project. Please do let me know how I can support you

Photo of Martina Petrosino

This is a brilliant idea! Comic books to get to the heart of highly sensitive topics and help tkids and adults in their journeys, as well as influence society, encouraging behavioral change. I really hope Why Comics? gets as far as possible and I'll be watching this space!

Photo of Nathan

Firstly, I'd like to say what a great platform OpenIDEO appears to be on my initial look around the site. So many inspiring projects that I am looking forward to exploring in more detail soon.

Secondly, reading through the work of Why Comics on this page, the importance of their idea immediately became apparent. The use of comics to enhance access to education in such difficult circumstances will surely have a large impact. As well as educating children on the areas mentioned above, I can see potential too in areas such as language learning and dealing with trauma.

I will be watching this space with interest to see how this project evolves.

Photo of Claire-Louise

Love this concept! Can see how it'd be really effective

Photo of Emma Melissa Savillita

Why Comics? research has shown that the educational comics based on real life testimonies are a powerful tool to communicate a variety of humanitarian and social issues to a wide demographic. Teachers and pupils of all ages and backgrounds have reported that the comics have helped them understand complex issues in a straightforward way, making them hungry to learn more. Teachers have said students attainment and engagement levels have increased, and have reported increased social inclusion and community cohesion as a result of using Why Comics materials in the "classroom".

Photo of Elettra Pellanda

Why Comics? resources are a powerful tool that spark enthusiasm in students of all levels. The comic medium reaches people no matter their educational and cultural background, it's a great way to convey difficult themes to young ages, to make them aware of issues around them but also to make them empathise on a human level with the experiences of other people who suffer.

Photo of Poppy Ogier

Why Comics? is such a great education charity and is perfect for bringing education to displaced children. Comics are universal and I can't wait to see what comes out of this project!

Photo of OpenIDEO

Expert Feedback Question 4: Based on your experience and expertise, is this an Idea that you’d like to see brought to life? Why or why not?

- Experts shared, “Yes, If it can improve girls (and boys) knowledge and behavior about important topics such as for example, safety, it offers a really easy way of doing so with minimal costs. If helping children is as easy as distributing comics it can potentially affect a very large number of children.”

Looking ahead in the development of your Idea, the following are some questions that may be helpful to consider and integrate into your contribution!

- What are some ways of measuring the effectiveness of the comics?
- How can you find out whether the children engage with the comics, increase their knowledge and implement certain behaviors as a result of reading the comics?
- How do you ensure the comics are culturally appropriate?
- Do you have feedback loops in place where people can help improve / make suggestions on improving the content of the comics?

Join us for Storytelling Office Hours Tuesday, July 25, 2017 from 8:30AM - 9:30AM PST! RSVP at by Monday, July 24, 2017 Storytelling is an incredibly useful tool to articulate an Idea and make it come to life for those reading it. Don’t forget - August 6 at 11:59PM PST is your last day to make changes to your Idea on the OpenIDEO platform.

Have questions? Email us at

Looking forward to reading more!

Photo of Benjamin Dix

Thank you for your Feedback on the Why Comics? Educational Charity: Response to Emergency Settings. We are really pleased with the expert feedback provided by OpenIDEO which has been very useful in moulding our innovation.

The ease and cost of producing comics makes it an incredibly practical storytelling/educational tool. Our comics based on real-life stories provide the same detail, content and emotional engagement for a fraction of the cost of a documentary, while simultaneously protecting the identity of the individuals featured.

Adapting the educational comics to an emergency setting is certainly in the early stages and will be heavily researched during the initial period of this project. However, it should be noted that the method of using comics as an educational resource has been evidenced both in external research and in through the feedback we have received from over 600 schools in 27 countries. Students, teachers and parents have reported that our resources increased children’s knowledge, helped them make changes in their lives, and encouraged positive social change in the school and wider community, increasing inclusion and cohesion across the board.

As a result of IDEO’s expert feedback we have clarified in our application that we have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from both students and teachers in a variety of educational and community settings worldwide across a broad demographic. We are now focusing on developing methods to evaluate and deepen impact. Our current M&E is aimed at initial responses from teachers and students such as enjoyment, ease of use, interest, relevance and increase of knowledge and understanding. Due to the early nature of the organisation, long-term changes in understanding and behaviour have yet to be quantified. We have factored in a time period for M&E of impact in our 2.5 year plan for this innovation. We have consulted M&E specialists and have developed an M&E strategy using focus groups, questionnaires and online analytics to produce an evidence-based impact assessment. Whereas we will be reliant on partner organisations and obtaining written/verbal feedback from students, teachers and guardians for anyone using the hard copy comics, anyone using our materials via our website is easy to track using Google Analytics UA tracking codes.

Our M&E strategy aims find out whether the children engage with the comics, increase their knowledge, and implement certain behaviours as a result of reading the comics. We want to measure positive social change on the ground and will have a suggestion box/feedback loop at the end of each feedback form, and on our website about how users think we can improve our resources. All the above will be assessed, and corresponding feedback implemented, on a quarterly basis.

Additionally, we have received feedback from other IDEO applicants on how they will address impact in emergency settings which we will take into account. We have also clarified that our methodology ensures cultural sensitivity. This includes choosing the comic protagonist based on gender, cultural and situational relevance to those we intend to educate and use of artists and musicians of the same gender and cultural background.

Throughout the process of creating a comic we have a feedback loop with our protagonist, this ensures that it is their story being told and not our interpretation of it. Additionally, when a comic is made purely for educational purposes we feedback with situational and educational specialists on the content of the comic to ensure it clearly communicates our educational objectives.

We have also taken on-board the risk to young children, all online comics will have age restrictions and safe guarding pages. Our partner organisations and camp teachers will be instructed to distribute comics only to those within the correct age bracket. We can also put age restriction warnings at the top of relevant comics. However, as we cannot totally guarantee who will come into contact with the printed or online material, none of our content is shocking or offensive, and will not lead to further trauma.

Thank you again your feedback! We look forward to hearing from you regarding the next steps.

Photo of OpenIDEO

Hi Benjamin Dix and Team!

We’re excited to share feedback and questions from our experts with you. We encourage you to think about this feedback as you continue to improve and refine your Idea. You are welcome to respond in the comments section and/or to incorporate feedback into the text of your Idea. Your Idea and all associated comments will all be reviewed during the final review process.

Our expert reviewers were particularly impressed your Idea was a very cost-effective, simple solution that can be implemented in many different setting across diverse emergency situations!

Expert Feedback Question 1: Based on your knowledge and experience, is this a new approach or bold way of answering the Challenge question?

- Experts shared, “This strikes me as an innovative new approach to address the challenge question. This project is still in its early stages and needs more research to probe its effectiveness.”

Expert Feedback Question 2: Human-centered design starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor-made to suit their real needs. We are seeking to support Ideas that consider desirability, feasibility, and viability. How does this Idea measure up? How does this Idea consider user needs?

- Experts shared, “The idea is human-centered and if implemented well offers tailor made solutions. If done well the comics simply need to be distributed which makes this project feasible and easy to implement. The challenge lies within creating the comics and ensuring they communicate the necessary information in a way that is 1) easily understandable and 2) culturally sensitive. It is not clear how well it really addresses user needs, they acknowledge several times that they have had positive feedback but do not share who the feedback was from (children or teachers or community organizations) and whether the comics actually increased children’s knowledge and help them make changes in their lives.”

Expert Feedback Question 3: In your expert opinion, does this Idea pass the ‘do no harm’ principles? Do you believe that there may be any unseen or undocumented risks?

- Experts shared, “I see minimal risks. One aspect to keep in mind is that the comics may be accessed by younger children and some of the content may be perceived as inappropriate for younger children. For example, all the comics on their website have age recommendations/restrictions.”

[Feedback continued in next comment]