I’m Tariq Fancy, and I founded Rumie after a notable career at the intersection of finance, technology, and emerging markets. The successes of my career and my decision to found Rumie has been chronicled in extensive case studies published by both Harvard and INSEAD Business Schools.
In 2004, I led early work to bring mobile phones into emerging markets as a ‘leapfrog’ innovation – back when the idea to use mobile phones instead of landlines sounded far-fetched to many. I anticipate a similar ‘perfect storm’ of market forces enabling a pragmatic, market-based solution to global learning that will usher in another watershed moment in international development.
I obtained a master’s degree in Economics and Public Policy from Sciences Po Paris (L’institut d’études politiques de Paris) in France and an MBA with distinction from INSEAD. I was born in Canada to parents who immigrated from Kenya and speak four languages.
Build. Connect. Learn.
Present your project.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause significant job insecurity around the world as a result of the ongoing need for the entire population to quarantine and self-isolate. As a direct impact of this, over half of today’s workforce will need re-skilling and up-skilling by 2022. Much of this learning can be done online, however, it can be costly, time-consuming, and hard to access for those without a reliable Internet connection.
Rumie uses the power of subject-area experts who volunteer their time online to create short, digital mini-courses (Bytes) to bridge that learning gap. The content created is relevant to the modern learner and available to any individual via Rumie-Learn. This platform is interactive, free for learners, and can be used on any mobile device. Individuals can learn and improve their skills from anywhere, at any time. Rumie is creating a global movement to remove the barriers to learning.
Submit a video.
What specific problem are you solving?
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 60% of adolescents faced barriers to quality learning - this number has greatly increased in recent months. As well, according to the World Economic Forum, 54% of adults will need significant re-skilling and up-skilling by 2022 as the economy recovers and individuals attempt to re-enter the workforce. These new skills will also be imperative for the 130 million new roles that will also be created by 2022 due to tech advancements.
While individual job requirements differ, human skills (abilities that can't easily be replicated by machines) are highly transferrable and in-demand. These include problem-solving, goal setting, mental health, creativity, collaboration, communication, and social awareness. Even if an individual does have access to online learning, a large majority of the resources that are currently available do not focus on these essential skills.
As well, many learners are time-starved as most of their time is spent doing what needs to be done to survive. They do not have the luxury of available evenings and weekends to sit through long webinars or read thick textbooks. Our microlearning Bytes are under 10 minutes which can fit in during the in-between time that everyone has i.e. at the bus stop.
What is your project?
Rumie is an award-winning technology non-profit that creates innovative technology solutions to facilitate free online learning content creation and digital distribution. The content is delivered to learners around the world on low-cost devices and works even when there's little or no Internet connectivity.
Our new tool, Rumie-Build, enables rapid, collaborative authoring of digital bite-size microlearning modules (called Bytes) by partner organizations or volunteers. The format of these 6-8 minute interactive modules is proven to be 20% more effective than traditional learning.
Learners access these modules through Rumie-Learn, which is akin to the ‘Netflix of Learning’ - a mobile-first, data-driven library of localized microlearning content on topics that meet learner’s needs. There are no barriers to access (i.e. free for learners, and supports multiple languages) and also has built-in accessibility features (screen reader, etc). The platform is cohesive, clean, and interactive, collecting learner feedback every step of the way.
We currently offer the Rumie platform free of charge to our partner organizations. Aside from our existing partners which include UNICEF, Right to Play, and Junior Achievement, we have been approached by many organizations in recent months to provide a rapid solution for digitally distributing learning resources to their beneficiaries.
Who does your project serve, and in what ways is the project impacting their lives?
Rumie’s target population is individuals who don’t have access to learning resources to gain the 21st-century skills needed to be successful in life. We work in partnership with organizations and local community partners to learn the specific needs of their community of learners and to receive feedback on the Rumie platform to continuously improve the user experience.
The content that is created by our content partners and subject-area experts is directly matched with the needs expressed by these communities. It is housed on our online platform that is accessible by anyone and gives every individual learner the opportunity to choose the learning content that is most relevant to them.
The Rumie Solution addresses the needs of individuals who do not have access to quality learning resources in order to build and develop the skills needed to succeed - which was already dire and has gotten worse due to the COVID pandemic. This solution allows them to choose the content that is relevant to them, their needs, and their interests. They can do this on their own time, wherever they are, and at no cost - lowering the barrier to learning and thus increasing the impact of the solution.
Which dimension of The Elevate Prize does your project most closely address?Elevating opportunities for all people, especially those who are traditionally left behind
Explain how your project relates to The Elevate Prize and your selected dimension.
The Rumie Solution elevates opportunities for all people, especially those traditionally left behind. We believe that anyone can improve their circumstances through learning, however, unequal access to learning leaves millions of people behind in a global economy that is increasingly knowledge-based. If you have money, time, and a fast Internet connection, you can learn anything online, but without these essentials, individuals don’t share the same benefits. Rumie removes these barriers to learning, giving a hand up to underserved individuals all around the world.
How did you come up with your project?
I spent many years in Silicon Valley and New York, working first as a tech banker and later an investor. Feeling unfulfilled, I later took a break for a year to help a friend turn around his Singapore and Shanghai-based social media marketing startup, Wildfire.
The breathing room from the long hours of finance allowed me to reflect on what truly excited me. One idea stood out to me: having led early investments to bring mobile phones into developing countries in 2005 (as a ‘leapfrog’ over no landline infrastructure), I saw technology trends unfolding to allow another leapfrog, this time in learning - a transition from ‘books to bytes’ that could be a game-changer for some of the world’s most remote and underserved communities, those who have always lacked access by traditional means and models.
After a personal tragedy that involved the passing of a close friend (described below), I combined my conviction for the model and the business logic with a personal emotional commitment to see it through, and thus Rumie was born.
Why are you passionate about your project?
My parents immigrated to Canada from Kenya. After seeing how my uncle, Anjam, was denied an education in Nairobi due to a physical disability, I became especially passionate about the need to make access to learning equal to all.
But I did little around that for years, having been lured into a cushy trajectory in the world of finance. As the years passed, the itch remained: I wasn’t doing what I really cared about.
A close friend from Holland also worked in finance but shared the same passion for using these skills for social impact. But neither of us did much around it until years later when he was diagnosed with late-stage melanoma. For him, “someday” was suddenly no longer good enough; it was now or never. During years of fighting cancer, he created a charity for youth in Kenya.
Standing at his grave in Amsterdam after he passed, I decided to follow his example: “someday” would no longer do for me either. I was lucky to be healthy and lucky to have an education and opportunity and decided to build a new model to bring access for the first time to those who are not so lucky.
Why are you well-positioned to deliver this project?
Prior to Rumie, I led a successful career in finance, beginning as a Palo Alto-based technology investment banker in the group that led the IPOs of Google, Amazon, and Cisco. I then joined NYC-based private equity firm MHR Fund Management, where I became the firm’s youngest partner in 2006 after leading numerous successful turnarounds of technology companies. These experiences combined with my passion for access to quality learning puts me in an excellent position to deliver this project.
However, I am not doing this alone. Rumie has a team of 18 talented, diverse individuals who each bring their own experiences and passion to their roles.
On the tech side of our team, the individuals developing and building our products, have a wealth of experience between them led by our CTO, and managed by our Development Team. Our CTO, Bogdan Arsenie, has over 18 years of experience building technology projects from the ground level. Our Learning Strategist, Sam Zimmer, has a Master’s degree in Education Technology and has over five years of experience working internationally as an Instructional Designer creating custom e-learning solutions for clients.
On the partnership side of the team, we have a Director of Indigenous Programs, Mair Greenfield, who is Indigenous herself. Our Afghanistan program manager, Jamshid Hashimi, is also from Afghanistan offering valuable insights and connections to relationships in the communities that we work in.
Together, this team supported by other Rumie members will be able to build, implement, and scale this project successfully.
Provide an example of your ability to overcome adversity.
The first-ever Rumie pilot in Haiti showed that loading our software onto low-cost tablets unlocked learning potential for youth in ways better and cheaper than ever before. After sharing the results at a conference, a UN-linked organization promised my first seed funding.
Unfortunately, after months of discussion, they hit a bureaucratic glitch at the last minute and pulled out. I had no backup plan; my dream for Rumie hit a wall before it even began.
A mentor offered to send a slide deck to Ed Clark, then CEO at TD Bank. High net worth individuals rarely back brand new non-profits. I knew I had one shot to send something and it needed to be better than a slide deck.
I pulled an all-nighter: I grabbed a tablet from the Haiti project; recorded a perfect one-shot video pitch explaining Rumie and the solution to the camera; hacked it so the video would autoload upon power on; and even added a joke “this device will now self destruct” at the end (hat tip: original ‘Mission Impossible’).
After receiving that Haiti tablet, Ed couldn’t say no to a meeting. Soon after, he wrote a $50k cheque as our very first outside funder.
Describe a past experience that demonstrates your leadership ability.
I’ve always believed that leadership is learned, not innate, and that it can be practiced and improved regularly through experience - and in particular team sports.
In university, I captained a successful indoor soccer team that played in a highly competitive league. In the championship game, we staged an impressive second half comeback from behind. As we defended desperately to hold the lead, I noticed that my teammate Zaid hadn't played since the first half. Zaid was a person with a minor physical disability, and while an excellent team player he sometimes had difficulty defending against quicker opponents.
I realized my teammates might be too focused on winning, purposely not encouraging him to play. As our team captain and having just scored the go-ahead goal, I knew I had to set an example: throughout the second half, whenever I substituted off, I specifically asked Zaid to take my place. Team spirit and cohesion was critical, and I had full faith he’d perform well. He played fantastic, with real passion - and we held the lead and won. I still play soccer today and view everyday, real-life examples on the field as indicative of leadership and character even off the field.
How long have you been working on your project?
Where are you headquartered?Toronto, ON, Canada
What type of organization is your project?Nonprofit
Describe what makes your project innovative.
In 2015, we built the Rumie LearnCloud platform, allowing volunteers to crowdsource the best online digital resources the Internet has to offer and also enabling our program partners to build customized libraries best suited to meet their learners’ unique needs.
Today, however, we know that it's no longer enough to passively deliver content as other helpful learning platforms such as the Khan Academy continue to do. Rather we want to ensure we’re actively engaging learners in achieving specific, measurable learning outcomes. We have recently integrated the concept of ‘byte-size’ learning into our platform, meaning learners can still choose the content they are interested in but now they achieve a specific learning objective in a short 6-8min learning experience. In our current fast-paced world, time and attention span are barriers to learning, and our innovative content format addresses these barriers at a much higher level than other learning platforms and solutions.
These byte-size learning modules are being created by experts in the workforce who have first-hand knowledge of the skills needed to thrive in the current and future economy. We’ve combined the principles of pedagogy we've learned from academics into our rapid authoring tool (Rumie-Build) and enabled skilled volunteers with hands-on, practical skills and knowledge to create effective learning.
Unlike other learning platforms, Rumie does not focus solely on traditional educational subjects. Rather we offer learning opportunities for job and life skills and a method - via the Rumie App - to access that learning content from anywhere, at any time.
What is your theory of change?
The Rumie Solution will address the issue of providing access to digital skill-building opportunities to all individuals by performing the following activities:
Building and enhancing the Rumie learning platform which gives subject-area experts an avenue to share their knowledge.
Developing improved UI across all of Rumie’s technology solutions
Developing lifelong learning content Bytes (these include leadership skills, financial literacy, entrepreneurship, critical thinking, technology literacy, etc.)
Expand Rumie Solution implementation with existing community program partners
Implement learning programs with new community program partners
These activities will lead to the following outputs and outcomes:
Increased number of learners of all ages accessing digital learning content
Rumie’s technology solutions being more accessible to low literacy learners
Subject-area experts have an easy and accessible way to share their knowledge with those who need it most.
The learning content available on the Rumie platform is relevant and useful for learners.
Learners of all ages and skill levels are empowered by access to digital skill-building learning content
Skill development by non-traditional learning methods increase
These outputs and outcomes will lead to the ultimate impact of individuals gaining the skills needed to adapt and thrive in the changing workforce. A similar Theory of Change has already proven to be successful in previous Rumie projects. An example of this was when we launched the Rumie App in Afghanistan. The App has been used in non-traditional learning methods to build the skills of learners who are affected by the conflict in the country. Results from surveys and interviews after the first year of this project showed that 90% of beneficiaries found that Rumie’s learning content made them more confident in their English skills, 99% of beneficiaries were learning something new every single day using the Rumie platform and 99% of beneficiaries strongly agreed that after utilizing the content on the Rumie App, they felt more confident participating in-class activities.
Rumie also partnered with Roshan Telecommunications throughout the App pilot project in Afghanistan and are poised to expand our reach to their 6 million subscribers throughout the country, making the Rumie App even more accessible to individuals.
Select the key characteristics of the community you are impacting.
Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your project address?
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people does your project currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?
Overall to date, the Rumie Solution has impacted approximately 50,000 learners globally. Within one year, that number will increase to over 100,000 and will further increase to 10 million within five years. The Rumie Solution has the capacity to grow exponentially as the number of individuals with access to technology continues to increase and we grow our partnerships with telecom providers, such as our current partnership with Roshan in Afghanistan (which alone has 6 million subscribers and plans to make this accessible to all for free, following a model of how they partnered with Wikipedia beginning in 2017).
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
We have an ambitious goal to reach 10 million learners by 2025. The overall potential of the Rumie Solution, however, is limitless. With the spread of technology, especially smartphones, the ability to access digital learning resources is always increasing. This trend of greater access to technology has been increasingly apparent in recent months as investments are being made to connect communities to the Internet - investments that have been significantly accelerated by the need to be connected that COVID-19 revealed.
Our ambitious goals are realistic due to a few key factors. As mentioned, access to various forms of technology is increasing at a rapid pace. We also know that the appetite for learning is insatiable and with life and job skill requirements changing at an accelerating pace, the need to always be learning is growing.
We continue to develop partnerships with telecom providers that have a large user base and will allow us to quickly and easily expand our reach. Finally, we are rapidly building out the features, functionality, and content our platform delivers. With the intersection of all of these factors, we are on track to accomplishing our overall mission of access to quality learning for all, especially women and girls.
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?
Rumie has grown aggressively in the last five years, expanding to 29 countries around the world. We have done this with the support of many key partners, however, there have also been challenges along the way. These include:
1. Content. The Rumie Solution is only as useful as the learning content we offer. This is especially critical as we deliver content to an extremely broad range of learners that are highly diverse in culture, geography, educational background, and primary language.
2. Competition for attention. Learners need to be on devices to access the Rumie App and on these devices are social media and other platforms that are nearly irresistible to the user. For learners to get the full value from the free learning we offer, they have to engage with it and this means choosing it over the other prevalent attention traps.
3. Awareness. We have found that one of the biggest inhibitors to our growth is the lack of people that know about Rumie. It is essential that we grow awareness of the Rumie Solution amongst the partners and learners who would benefit from the solution.
4. Funding. COVID-19 is causing an increased need for our services just as funding sources and corporate sponsors are contending with new financial strains of their own. With an increase in funding, we could accelerate our growth through broader marketing and partner outreach and fast-tracked feature enhancements as well as built-out content libraries.
How do you plan to overcome these barriers?
We will work to overcome the challenges mentioned above by the following:
1. Content. We proactively source volunteer subject-area experts who have relevant experience in the areas we are working, thereby sourcing content that matches learner needs. We have hired a Learning Strategist who has organized a team of volunteers and has matched them with needed learning objectives.
2. Competition for attention. With the support of our skilled volunteers, we are making the learning content that we offer extremely high value so that those using it and benefiting from it are not swayed by other distractions on their device. With the benefit of increasing amounts of usage data, we will have the Netflix-style algorithms to help tune the Byte recommendations so that the learning presented is maximally compelling.
3. Awareness. We will work to overcome this challenge by continuing to expand our network and working with community program partners to provide access to their communities. We’re also leveraging the self-interest of our corporate partners who want to promote the CSR work they are doing together with Rumie. We'll also continue our outreach with telecom providers who can help bring awareness of Rumie to their user base.
4. Funding. We continue to work hard to be innovative with our funding sources such as our newly designed virtual employee engagement workshops - companies are still looking for ways to meaningfully engage their team virtually. We also continue to apply for Challenges such as these as well as other grant and funding opportunities.
What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?
Rumie has built an ecosystem that can scale effectively. We work with “downstream” partners and “upstream” partners.
We currently offer the Rumie platform free of charge to our partner organizations as a rapid creation and delivery tool of digital learning resources. Aside from our existing partners, which include UNICEF, Right-to-Play, and Junior Achievement, we have been approached by organizations in recent months to provide a rapid solution for digitally distributing learning resources to their beneficiaries. Specifically, they urgently want content made digitally available that pertains to COVID-19, and related physical and mental health issues.
Historically we have received financial and in-kind support from corporate partners including Google, Accenture, Ernst&Young, Boston Consulting Group, and Scotiabank. Over the last few months, however, we designed a work-from-home ready employee workshop in response to COVID-19 where individuals use their skills and expertise to create useful digital learning content for those who need it most. Companies see an opportunity to drive improved employee engagement and create effective, purpose-led marketing stories that contribute to improving their brand.
In addition, Rumie announced in February a high-profile partnership with EcoATM, the largest device recycling company in the US, to help our learners get free devices. In a pop-up shop we jointly did in Soho, New York, people donated old smartphones that will now be used in programs for girls’ and women’s education in Afghanistan. The kick-off event on International Women’s Day received significant media attention including a feature article in Forbes and AdWeek.
What is your business model?
Rumie’s model is built to be low-cost and scalable and because of this, we offer a unique value proposition to each of our partner groups: Corporate Partners, Content Creators, Community Partners, and Distribution Partners.
With our Corporate Partners, we offer an effective employee engagement model, brand goodwill association, and a successful CSR initiative. In return, we receive financial support and volunteer content contributors.
Content Creators such as Right to Play receive free tools for converting and delivering their learning programs in a digital format and in return, we are able to have access to that content on our open platform and reach their communities.
Community Partners such as Junior Achievement also receive free use of our tools to create their own digital learning libraries and provide access to learning to girls and young women in their communities. We are able to expand our reach and impact more learners.
Distribution Partners such as Roshan and other telecom companies receive an avenue to expand their CSR initiatives by providing learning opportunities to their user base and as a result, we are able to impact that user base with our learning content.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
We continue to grow our corporate employee engagement platform which will allow corporate partners to utilize their CSR budget to actively engage the employees in a meaningful project to share their skills and expertise. The Rumie-Build platform which enables this has only just launched in Q1 2020 but is already seeing significant early traction. Since the COVID crisis has erupted, we have been approached by many companies that want to continue with skills-based volunteer work. In addition to providing a way for companies to engage their employees remotely, these workshops are designed to unlock resources for job and life-skill development that vitally need to be captured and transferred to those who lose their jobs as a result of COVID-19. We are providing a way for experts to create this content and a delivery mechanism to reach those who will have the greatest benefit.
We have also just recently hired three new Rumie team members who have formed our new partnership team. These individuals have developed a strategy around our corporate employee engagement plan as well as setting aggressive outreach targets.
We will also continue to apply for grants as well as challenges such as these, and potentially manage one fundraising campaign a year.
If you have raised funds for your project or are generating revenue, please provide details.
Our funding sources over the past 12 months are as follows:
$600,000 Scotiabank (donation)
$20,000 Mighty Girls Campaign (donations)
$110,000 Rumie Tablet sales
$650,000 Toronto Community Foundation (debt)
$28,000 DFAT (grant)
$10,000 Corporate Virtual Employee Engagement Workshops
If you seek to raise funds for your project, please provide details.
We have been approved by GSMA for a $500,000 grant over the next two years which will begin next month.
Aside from this, we plan to continue growing our corporate volunteer workshop program which will be a significant source of income for us.
We will also potentially hold a fundraising event similar to the Mighty Girls fundraising campaign which raised $20,000, as well as continue to apply for grants and awards such as these.
What are your estimated expenses for 2020?
Rumie’s estimated expenses for 2020 are $1.5 million and are broken down into the following categories:
Staff wages and tech development - $1.37 million
General Expenses - $130,000
Audit - $10,000
Why are you applying for The Elevate Prize?
My reasons for applying to The Elevate Prize go well beyond the funding aspect of the prize. As mentioned above, some of our barriers are content, competition for attention, awareness, and funding. The Elevate Prize would be able to offer us support in all of these areas.
Throughout COVID-19, we have developed our virtual employee engagement workshop for companies to actively engage their employees in creating an impact by designing learning content based on their expertise and passion. We are looking to be connected with companies that contribute to a sophisticated and skilled workforce. This would assist us in overcoming our barrier of creating quality and useful content as well as growing the awareness of Rumie and what we do.
Aside from corporate connections, this prize can open doors for Rumie to reach more learners through new program partners who are running learning programs and would benefit from using the Rumie Solution. The mentorship and guidance provided by new connections acquired through this prize would also be helpful in working through our third barrier of obtaining ongoing and beneficial feedback.
The funding provided by the Elevate Prize would support us in further enhancing our products in a timely manner, ensuring we can efficiently compete for learner attention. Additionally, we would be able to access additional avenue to increase awareness of our Solution.
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?
Please explain in more detail here.
In order to scale to the number of learners that the Rumie platform has the potential to do, we are looking for distribution partners such as telecom companies who can easily reach millions of learners through their networks. Along with other Downstream partners such as those looking for digital learning solutions, we will be able to easily reach learners all around the world.
On the Upstream side of our partnership model, we are looking for companies whose employees are subject-area experts on the content that is relevant to learners, specifically related to 21st-century skills. By engaging passionate volunteers, we will continuously be able to offer quality content to learners.
What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?
MIT Solve has a large and diverse network that Rumie would love to partner with. The following companies could help us advance our solution.
Alphabet Inc, through Eric Schmidt, MIT Solve Advisor. Rumie has been supported by Google in the past and we are working to advance this partnership.
Emerson Collective, through Laurene Powell Jobs, MIT Solve Advisor. Their mission of finding different tools to break down barriers would be a perfect match with Rumie.
The following Solve Member companies would also assist us in advancing our solution by potentially partnering with us in our corporate engagement model or other bespoke partnerships:
Johnson and Johnson
Bill and Melinda Gates