Kiron’s Skill Booster Programs for the Future Workforce
Empowering refugees and underserved communities with 21st Century skills for professional growth
Pitch us on your solution
Less than 3% of refugees worldwide have access to higher education (UNHCR). Barriers to education impede the aspirations of millions of motivated and talented people worldwide, yet education is a key factor towards self-empowerment and economic opportunity. We believe refugees should have access to meaningful job opportunities & the chance to move up the economic ladder.
That is why we built our digital platform, the Kiron Campus, to ensure that refugees and underserved communities receive free access to high-quality education for academic, professional and personal growth. On the Kiron Campus, we offer a range of Skill Booster Programs for our students globally. We curated these digital certificate programs with a strong focus on 21st Century skills, digital literacy and careers in Tech. Upon successful completion of a program, students can quickly demonstrate their learning achievements and have their enhanced skills and knowledge recognized by employers.
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What is the problem you are solving?
The UNHCR estimates that among the 70.8 million displaced people worldwide less than 3% have access to higher education. Despite tremendous talent and incredible determination, refugees face numerous obstacles when accessing higher education: language barriers, lack of degree recognition, administrative difficulties and lack of financial resources (UNHCR). Similarly, gaining access to the labor market is associated with severe restrictions. Beyond higher education, a blend of both soft and hard skills is essential to enter today’s increasingly automated and digitized labor market. Many refugees need 21st century competencies in order to build their lives and successfully take-up skilled employment. In fact, refugees have great potential to contribute to their host communities. For example, in Germany, according to the reports of the German Agency for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), the majority of adult refugees are below 30 and have completed high school, vocational training, or university. However, only about 30% percent of asylum-seekers are employed, often in precarious positions (BAMF, 2019). Kiron’s mission is to address this issue. We have developed the Skill Booster Programs with the particular aim to empower refugees with the crucial skills necessary to enter the workforce and acquire sustainable and fulfilling employment
Who are you serving?
Currently, more than 7000 students are learning with Kiron. Our students are often living in precarious situations, yet still have the determination to improve their future prospects. Free access to higher education and the opportunity to make informed choices about one’s professional development is a critical tool in building a more prosperous future.
Through the variety of content and learning activities available, students are encouraged to deepen their knowledge, develop critcal thinking, discernment and effective communication skills. The various support structures on the Kiron Campus such as language classes, personalized guidance and constant feedback measures: assessments, quizzes and ratings; help students and us reflect on their learning. Through these co-creation measures we include our students in the continuous development of the Kiron Campus, ensuring that it is student-centric, answers our students’ needs and helps them achieve their goals. In addition, students become active contributors who think independently and exercise initiative - capabilities that will help them meet the demands of the job market and, beyond that, become active and engaged citizens. Students gain more self-esteem and play an active role in their host communities’ development, which, in the long-run reduces barriers between different groups and fosters diverse, inclusive societies.
What is your solution?
Our 21st Century skills programs include digital literacy, intercultural skills, language learning, personal management and more. They are combined with the Skill Booster Programs. Each program consists of up to five condensed courses focused on particular skills necessary in today’s workforce, such as python, web design and computer skills. The whole program is completed by a certificate which enables students to prove their newly acquired skills on the job market. The Skill Booster Programs form part of a larger educational package that includes tutorials, language acquisition tools, community building, and social cohesion initiatives. Students have the advantage of learning from experts in their fields, acquiring relevant and sought-after skills through quality content that is continuously improved. We strive to enable our students to become confident and independent learners, possessing skills and abilities that will lead them to success in the rapidly changing 21st century society.
The access to the Skill Booster Programs is through the Kiron Campus - a portable, agile, digital learning platform. It is a single-page application learning environment, mobile-first, and accessible via any standard web browser on a desktop or mobile device through campus.kiron.ngo or the Android mobile app from the Google Play Store. Kiron offers free, tailor-made learning programs using Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) from renowned educational platforms, Open Educational Resources (OERs), and learning materials developed in house, tailored to the students’ needs.
To ensure robustness of the Kiron Campus, it is built as a progressive web app that makes the learning experience faster and more reliable for all users, and is especially powerful in unstable network conditions. For the same reason, the Kiron Campus communicates to its management layer via a Graph API4 that allows interaction with multiple nodes in a single request. Using these modern APIs drastically reduces the data usage on the user’s end, which is a crucial factor to cater to the students’ needs especially in remote regions. To provide scalability and high availability, all services are replicated in a distributed kubernetes cluster.
All learners benefit from Kiron’s continuous deployment of software updates and improvements using state-of-the-art technology such as React, flow and webpack. The platform guides the user from Course Unit to Unit with a simple-to-understand UX Design as well as constant feedback measures that help users reflect on their learning. Kiron hosts and handles data with the utmost care and complying with the GDPR.
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Where our solution team is headquartered or located:Berlin, Germany
Our solution's stage of development:
Describe what makes your solution innovative.
The global number of refugees is increasing, with forced displacement in many regions of the world, largely due to war, conflict, climate change. In recent years, the number of refugees in higher education has slightly increased, from 1% to 3% (UNHCR). In order to achieve SDG 4, it means that 15% of refugees need to have access to higher education by 2030. As universities prepare to take in more students, there are still huge access barriers and challenges related to capacity in many countries in the global North and South.
In addition, many refugees who expected to be able to return to their home countries such as Syria, are still presented with escalating violence and instability in their home country. Programs like “Leadership for Syria”, funded by the German Federal Foreign Office, provided Syrians with education and skills with the assumption that refugees would return home with new knowledge and skills. In reality, the situation is far from that and more alternative solutions are needed.
Kiron plays an important role in providing academic and professional pathways for our students. With global lexicon focused on the future of work, Kiron is poised to strengthen our offers in relation to job-market integration for refugees. As an organization, we also now better positioned to serve our students. Kiron has gone through agile transformation and a scrum-based team structure which enables us to be more flexible and creative in our innovations and implement changes from the students’ feedback more quickly and more efficiently.
Why do you expect your solution to address the problem?
Kiron recognizes that many refugee students might face trauma due to their displacement and is supporting these students through psycho social counseling offers. Those students whose studies have been interrupted, have the chance to get advice on how to get them recognized. There are also a number of students who are not able to study for legal or financial reasons, especially when it comes to refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. These students can benefit from our Skill Booster Programs, preparing them for the job market.
Empowering refugees has a significant impact on their lives and on the communities and economies in which they live. In the field of higher education, new technologies are facilitating provision, which leverages networked and information technology to provide more flexible and more responsive education without the need for the expensive infrastructure of a traditional open university. Kiron is at the forefront of providing this technology-driven solution to refugee populations around the world.
We are student-centric and continually analyzing the way students use our platform and services. By gathering information within the Kiron Campus’s internal backend, we are able to make regular data-driven assessments of the success and impact of our model. Access to Kiron Campus allows students to become trained in self-paced innovative online learning methods. 85% of our students reported increased organisation, time management, and learning method skills, which are crucial in their future studies and employment.
Select the key characteristics of the population your solution serves.
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people are you currently serving with your solution? How many will you be serving in one year? How about in five years?
More than 7000 students from 75 countries are learning with Kiron. These are 7000 people who are gaining knowledge and skills to improve their livelihoods. Approximately, 50% of our students originally come from Syria, followed by students from Turkey, Afghanistan and Somalia. The majority of our students are between 20 and 35 years old.
Kiron’s head office is based in Berlin, Germany, and we have a significant number of our students currently reside in Germany (65%). Our office in Jordan serves more than 1600 students with blended learning and digital support, the majority of whom are Syrian (49%), followed by Jordanian (30%) and Iraqi (12%) students. More than 40% of students are female. Lastly, our office in Lebanon currently serves more than 300 students with blended learning and digital support. Approximately, 70% of our students in Lebanon come from Syria, followed by Palestine (16%) and Lebanon (12%). In one year, we aim to increase our students number to 20,000 and in 5 years to 150,000.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
Over the next years, Kiron will become the online provider for higher education content, lifelong learning courses, and job market readiness. Within the next year, we will extend our digital offer to provide more high-quality learning resources that are tailored precisely to our students’ needs. We will work even closer with our students, making the Kiron Campus even more inclusive. In the next five years we will extend our digital offers to provide more high-quality educational content, more relevant programs for transferable skills, and to empower 150,000 students on our platform. We will also continue to focus on global strategic partnerships, collaborating with new and existing partners to enhance our offer and tackle global challenges such as the right to education for all, reaching out to even more female learners, improving access for students in low bandwidth and conflict regions, and closing the learning gaps that our students currently face.
What are the barriers that currently exist for you to accomplish your goals for the next year and for the next five years?
There are certain barriers that impede us from achieving our goals, some of them are beyond our control. To begin with, we strive to reach more students to use the Kiron Campus. Right now, student recruitment is largely dependent on personal recommendations of individuals and our strong network of NGO partners, as we have found out trust plays a significant role when it comes to applying to the Kiron Campus. We know that cultural and linguistic mismatches between potential students and western-oriented online education create hurdles for students before even attempting to access traditional higher education. Consequently, this limits our overall reach and can be perceived as a barrier. However, it is inherent to our vision to tackle this and create an equal chance for refugees to access and succeed in higher education. Besides the prevailing barrier of limited student recruitment, our analysis shows a tremendous gender imbalance among the students that are using Kiron Campus. Only 23% of our students are female, which shows that female student recruitment needs more targeted interventions.
Moreover, insufficient internet infrastructures are hindering access to and usage of the Kiron Campus globally. MOOCs constitute great digital learning opportunities, however, more than 50% of refugees do not have access to the Internet. In rural areas, only 22% of refugees are connected. And when they are, their connectivity is often too low-quality to stream MOOCs.
How are you planning to overcome these barriers?
We are building up partnerships with NGOs, students and institutions that have a lot of interaction with potential students. We have shifted our marketing strategy from mostly reaching out to individual students via social media to reach out to NGOs and other organisations. We have found that most Kiron students register and study with us due to a recommendation from someone they know. This is why we are also empowering some of our students to become “Kiron Ambassadors”, making it easier for them to share their experience and promote referral to those in their network. Two recent examples of NGO-partnerships are; RWAN from Belgium (they are focusing on women empowerment and signpost their members to Kiron as part of their counselling offering) and the Syrian Youth Assembly, founded by former Kiron student Ehab Badwi, who are recommend Kiron courses to their members, making it easier for them to register directly with us.
Our partnership with Libraries Without Borders (LWB) also provides huge potential to scale our offering and boost our student numbers dramatically. While Kiron currently serves more than 7000 refugees, there are beyond 2 million refugees of tertiary-education age. The major barrier to the program's dissemination is refugees' lack of access to connectivity. Our collaboration ‘The Future is Offline’ will provide offline access to digital learning for refugees in zero connectivity areas.
If you selected “My solution is already being implemented in one or more of ServiceNow’s primary markets,” please provide an overview of your current activities in those markets.
Kiron was founded in 2015 in Berlin, Germany, where the head office is currently located and where the majority of Kiron students (65%) are based. Besides the Skill Booster Programs (the professional and lifelong learning pathways), one of our main activities is the university transfer guidance (the academic pathway). On Kiron Campus, students have the opportunity to choose study tracks and short programs. Study tracks are programs on subjects such as Business and Economics, Computer Science, Engineering, Social Work, and Political Science with each track including 30 to 50 courses. After completing the study track, Kiron students can transfer to regular university degree programs with the option of having their online credits recognized to earn a regular bachelor’s degree. We have more than 60 partner universities across eight countries such as TH Lübeck, RWTH Aachen, King’s College London, and many more. We have signed agreements with many of these institutions to recognize some of the digital learning outcomes acquired by our students on our platform when transferring to these universities. These partnerships and the learning agreements we sign with universities are crucial for our model and for Kiron staff to support our students in accessing traditional university programs as well as contribute to the wider acceptance and recognition of online learning outcomes.
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How many people work on your solution team?
Within all offices in Berlin, Amman, and Beirut, Kiron has 55 employees; 35 full-time and 20 part-time staff. In addition, we have approximately 15 volunteers working as instructors for the tutorials on the Kiron Campus.
For how many years have you been working on your solution?
Why are you and your team best-placed to deliver this solution?
Since its inception in 2015, Kiron has emerged as an expert in digital higher education in Germany and increasingly so in Jordan and Lebanon. Kiron's team of 57 paid staff, interns and volunteers is made up of individuals from a variety of fields, whose sector-specific knowledge converges to develop the unique model of Kiron. Apart from project and partnerships management, operations and finance teams, Kiron has developed a sizable EdTech department to build and continuously optimize our platform, the Kiron Campus. To address the complexity of online learning and meet the needs of its students, Kiron applies agile methods among all of its operations and processes.
Cross-functional agile scrum teams are continuously developing the Kiron Campus, Kiron’s digital learning platform, implementing new and relevant resources to support student learning. By using an iterative, student-value driven approach, Kiron agile teams are capable of self-managing and improving their processes. Cross-functional teamwork allows for combining the various skill sets and ultimately fosters innovation and productivity. All our team members are experts in their respective fields, making Kiron highly diverse and dynamic working environment. All teams work cross-nationally between Germany, Jordan and Lebanon. All offices are cooperating closely with each other while implementing several localization measures.
With what organizations are you currently partnering, if any? How are you working with them?
Kiron’s work is constantly informed by the expertise of our partners, students and our agile team incorporates feedback and external ideas into their work. Kiron is a member of several networks such as the Connected Learning in Crisis Consortium, the Institute of International Education (IIE), Young Universities of Future Europe (YUFE), and MIT-solve, among others. We have also collaborated with MOOCs providers such as Coursera and FutureLearn to ensure our learners have free access to high-quality MOOCs from world-renowned universities. We have more than 60 partner universities across eight countries with which we have signed agreements to the digital learning outcomes acquired by our students when transferring to these universities. In addition, we also co-create MOOCs with our university partners. Lastly, Through our collaboration with innovative companies such as Google, we are able to deliver certificate programs that will qualify our students for jobs in the IT sector. Along with our partners, we ensure that refugees and underserved communities receive access to high-quality educational programs, tailored to their needs, in order to gain access to higher education or learn new skills for a professional career.
What is your business model?
Kiron is a non-profit company registered in Germany, Jordan and Lebanon. Currently, our financial model is currently dependent on donor and grant funding. Our vision is for a new operating model whereby Kiron becomes an enterprise-supported NGO with profits from subsidiary enterprises contribute significantly to the proportion of total income. We will do this by establishing commercial arms e.g. enterprise(s), potential joint ventures, that operate commercially with their profits used to support Kiron’s development activities. Together with strategic partners, Kiron will provide white label products to reach out to more learners, strengthen the impact of like-minded institutions and create new sources of income. In addition, we aim to build and test pay-per-use models for selected target groups as well as social franchise concepts for regional business development.
For our students, the positive impact of Kiron is on an individual personal-psychological but also socio- economic level. Access to our platform allows students to become trained in self-paced innovative online learning methods, engage with university-level academic content and therefore gain knowledge and skills crucial in their future studies and employment. Significant socio-economic impacts of Kiron thus include increased employability of our students and their contribution to the host country’s economy in the long term. Being a Kiron student can improve well-being through new opportunities and extend personal and professional networks in r local host communities.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
As a non-profit organisation, financial sustainability is a priority and continuous working area. As we continue to develop innovative digital solutions, we will further invest in strong stakeholder partnerships to strengthen our position. We continue to diversify our donor portfolio to include new sources of income from international foundations, the private sector, individual donors and high-net-worth individuals.
We keep abreast of donor trends and know that we must find new sustainable income streams to reduce our dependence on donor funding. We are committed to not taking user fees from our students, so we are in the process of conducting a market analysis to identify different ways to fund our operations besides projects and donations. Currently, we are assessing a potential for-profit branch of Kiron where we can use our expertise to provide paid advisory services to stakeholders interested in digital learning offers. The profits from this commercial social business will then be used to fund our non-profit activities. In addition, we are in discussion with a number of tech partners about forming a joint venture to kick start income generation activities.
Why are you applying to the Digital Workforce Challenge?
Our solution is well aligned with the MIT Digital Workforce Challenge as we provide access to digital learning opportunities and 21st Century skills for refugees and underserved communities. Together, we can support our learners towards making the transition from “refugee” to “student”, “entrepreneur” or “leader”, and empower them to live up to their potential.
ServiceNow could help us boost our whole product with their profound expertise in IT processes and technology as part of their Education Solution, as well as their knowledge in building apps. Our main barriers are overall student recruitment and connectivity. By helping us optimizing the Kiron Campus and the newly established Android app, these barriers can be reduced. ServiceNow’s expertise in implementing gamification tools f.e. certificate, or digital badges upon completion of a course will encourage overall student participation and attract more students to enroll in our Skill Booster Programs. Together with an increase in outreach strategies and enhanced strategic partnerships, this could boost Kiron’s overall student recruitment as well as motivate more students to use Kiron for their professional development. By optimizing the Kiron mobile application, the barrier of connectivity will be minimized as students can access the Kiron Campus even with low-bandwidth connection.
What types of connections and partnerships would be most catalytic for your solution?
With what organizations would you like to partner, and how would you like to partner with them?
By forging new strategic partnerships, we can create exciting new content on relevant subjects not found in textbooks and equip our students for a rapidly-changing, dynamic world. We are looking forward to this Co-Creation to provide a range of learning resources and become a market leader in contemporary ideas and innovative content for teaching and connected learning materials.
Our solution will contribute to the upskilling of refugees and underserved communities so that they have improved self confidence and job market skills when navigating career opportunities. Therefore, we will nurture partnerships with small, medium and large companies interested in diversifying their talent pipeline by offering internships and entry level positions.
Following our implementation of the Google IT Certificate, we have seen that this type of branded certificate is hugely popular with our students. We hope to partner with other large institutions like MIT or companies like Adobe, Fujitsu Accenture, EY and other leading companies to co-create Skill Booster Programs with us and provide branded certificates with market value for refugees and underserved communities.
In Germany, where most of our students are currently based, it is also important to build relationships with local government departments e.g. the Federal Employment Agency, to cooperate on the subject of digitalization and recognition of skills. Through these partnerships, the Kiron certificate can be endorsed so that it is widely recognized in the job market and ultimately creates more value for our students in terms of their completion rate and long term economic success.