Equitable Classrooms

Selected

Ubongo Edutainment

Bridging the digital divide with fun learning content distributed through the networks and technology African kids already use

Team Lead

Fatema Ismailjee

Solution Overview

Solution Name:

Ubongo Edutainment

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One-line solution summary:

Bridge the digital divide by co-creating and distributing diverse learning content through networks and technology African kids already use.

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Pitch your solution.

COVID-19 disrupted education for 400 million children across Africa, delaying education gains even further for vulnerable populations. The pandemic has shown us that we cannot afford to wait to provide kids in Africa with learning resources. We must leverage mass-media technologies and community networks to ensure all African kids continue learning-now

Ubongo bridges the digital learning gap by co-creating and distributing diverse learning content through networks and technology that African kids have access to. Through co-creation, universal design learning, HCD, and an Afrocentric approach, we create content that engages diverse learners. By increasing the reach of our content specifically through the development of our new show, to kids without access to TV, we will transform education, improve learning outcomes and self-efficacy of vulnerable populations. At scale, Ubongo will empower all kids in Africa with the skills, mindsets and collective agency to demand and create a more equitable world.

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Film your elevator pitch.

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What specific problem are you solving?

COVID-19 disrupted education for more than 1.5 billion learners, forcing students to abandon formal education, many of whom might not return. Longer-term school closures or disruptions have the potential to catastrophically affect learning, development, and future economic earnings of kids. Much of the world switched immediately to online learning and were provided with educational opportunities at home. Most students in Africa, however, did not share the same privilege, shedding light on the widening digital divide in learning. 

Around 90% of African learners do not have access to computers, 82% cannot get online (UNESCO) and most depend solely on formal education systems to learn. Vulnerable populations including children living in remote areas, those with disabilities, girls and children living in conflict zones comprise a large portion of this disadvantaged demographic.

Moreover, learning content is not regularly created with these populations in mind, meaning that the kids who need specialized education are left behind. These challenges leave a massive, global inequity in learning. Ubongo aims to overcome this global problem by diversifying learning content, increasing accessibility, and expanding networks to make sure all kids have the opportunity to learn and love learning.

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What is your solution?

UBONGO is a Pan-African social enterprise that leverages the power of entertainment, mass media, rigorous research, and the insights of kid-centered design, to bring effective, localized learning to African families at low cost through the technology they already have access to. Ubongo provides free edutainment programs on TV, radio, and digital. Our shows Ubongo Kids and Akili and Me are available in 11 languages in 40 countries. 

As a part of our focus to deepen impact, engagement and inclusion, Ubongo develops scalable and sustainable approaches to reaching underserved groups. Utilizing universal design learning, we aour current content and creating a new show, both focused on improving accessibility for a broad spectrum of learners. The center of this approach is co-creation, meaning kids will become the leaders in their own learning.

We aim to further expand our reach and distribution of content to rural, non-electrified and vulnerable communities, where many children are outside of the formal education system and have limited access to engaging learning opportunities. To do so, we will build dynamic partnerships with community-based organizations, solar companies, and edtech players who will assist in distributing content through flash drives, toolkits, available digital hardware and solar-based tech solutions.

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Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?

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We are reaching 24.6 million households across Africa. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ubongo was forced to act quickly as 400 million students across the continent of Africa immediately lost access to education. Without the same technology other children have, learners were left with limited to no education for some, up to a year or more. Ubongo became one of the only remote-learning resources for millions of out-of-school kids across Africa!

As we are moving forward and scaling, we are focused heavily on reaching and deeply engaging with underserved and marginalized populations including: vulnerable girls, women, kids with disabilities, children living in conflict zones, minority language speakers, families in rural, non-electrified regions, and families living in poverty.

Ubongo’s content development follows a human centered design cycle, starting with empathy for users, through to prototyping and testing… then iteration through the cycle again, to ensure that content is effective and relevant for our audience of children and parents across Africa. In order to best understand the needs of the populations we continue to serve, we conduct polls, user testings, focus group discussions, and interactive voice response. By working closely with community-based organizations, partners and kids themselves, we can also identify what serves them best. 

Over the years, we have conducted pilots/research programs to understand different distribution models for our content as well as to understand the needs of our different audiences. For example, we conducted two pilots to understand the impact of viewing our content on kids in rural Tanzania and children in refugee camps. Additionally, we participated in impact studies to understand how our gender-specific content affects financial literacy and girls’ confidence and self-efficacy.

Our solution is not just to serve, but to co-create with the vulnerable populations we aim to reach.


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Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Increase the engagement of learners in remote, hybrid, and physical environments, including strategies and tools for parental support, peer interaction, and guided independent work.
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Explain how the problem you are addressing, the solution you have designed, and the population you are serving align with the Challenge.

Ubongo Solution

From the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve learned children and their families need access to high quality, localized educational resources that can be accessed from anywhere, at any time. As Africa’s largest classroom, Ubongo creates diverse and engaging learning content easily available to all. Every episode, PSA, song, printable, and app is uniquely adaptable and applicable to any child in Africa. Our content improves cognitive development, learning outcomes, and social emotional learning. Through offline extended learning and partnerships, we reach kids at last mile. Ubongo goes beyond just delivering educational content to ensure that every child can find the fun in learning.

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In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
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What is your solution’s stage of development?

Scale: A sustainable enterprise working in several communities or countries that is looking to scale significantly, focusing on increased efficiency.
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Explain why you selected this stage of development for your solution.

44170_Screen%20Shot%202021-06-15%20at%201_1440x810.png

By 2030, Ubongo aims to scale to 120 million users across the continent of Africa and beyond. But, we are not only looking for reach - we want to engage learners on a deeper level and drive massive impact and change in the learning outcomes and lives of all children across Africa. We placed our content under a creative commons license which allows anyone to use our content for free. And, we have created goals centered around inclusivity, including localization into various languages and an aim to reach 1 million kids in rural Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda by the end of 2021.

This generation and the next generation of African kids are poised to be the largest population of changemakers with the potential to solve the world’s most pressing challenges. And, Ubongo will be the leading actor in helping African kids actualize their potential and change the world for the better!        

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Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Fatema Ismailjee - Design and Innovation Manager

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More About Your Solution

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new business model or process that relies on technology to be successful
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What makes your solution innovative?

Ubongo uses human-centered design while developing all of its content to ensure the programming is effective and impactful. Through this comprehensive process, we co-create most content with children and their caregivers, as well as quickly test this content in new markets for localization and adaptability. We connect with a diverse array of subgroups–parents, caregivers, children, and educators–to ensure that content is tailored to the local context, in the local language, for the local community. Additionally, Ubongo uses universal design learning in the development of all of our content in order to address the diverse needs of learners. In order to extend learning offline, we launched kids’ clubs centered around building self-efficacy, empathy, life skills, and social emotional skills. These kid-driven clubs will create a deeper and more fun learning experience for kids across the continent. 

Because our focus is reaching as many learners, and engaging with them deeply, our content is designed for adaptability in mind - having already adapted our content to over 11 languages and distributed in 40 countries. In order to reach every child in Africa, even those in the most remote settings, we utilize existing infrastructure in order to scale. We depend on dynamic partnerships with broadcasters, solar tech companies, community radios, and community organizations to help us in distributing Ubongo learning content to all.  All of our content is free for anyone to access, making it possible to reach 120 million families by 2030.

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Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Audiovisual Media
  • Crowd Sourced Service / Social Networks
  • Software and Mobile Applications
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Select the key characteristics of your target population.

  • Children & Adolescents
  • Rural
  • Poor
  • Low-Income
  • Refugees & Internally Displaced Persons
  • Minorities & Previously Excluded Populations
  • Persons with Disabilities
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Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 3. Good Health and Well-being
  • 4. Quality Education
  • 5. Gender Equality
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In which countries do you currently operate?

  • Angola
  • Benin
  • Botswana
  • Burundi
  • Cameroon
  • Central African Republic
  • Chad
  • Congo, Democratic Republic
  • Gabon
  • Gambia, The
  • Ghana
  • Guinea
  • Guinea-Bissau
  • Côte d'Ivoire
  • Kenya
  • Lesotho
  • Madagascar
  • Malawi
  • Mauritius
  • Mozambique
  • Namibia
  • Niger
  • Nigeria
  • Rwanda
  • Senegal
  • Sierra Leone
  • Somalia
  • South Africa
  • South Sudan
  • Sudan
  • Swaziland
  • Tanzania
  • Togo
  • Uganda
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe
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In which countries will you be operating within the next year?

  • Angola
  • Benin
  • Botswana
  • Burkina Faso
  • Burundi
  • Cameroon
  • Central African Republic
  • Chad
  • Congo, Republic
  • Congo, Democratic Republic
  • Ethiopia
  • Gabon
  • Gambia, The
  • Ghana
  • Guinea
  • Guinea-Bissau
  • Côte d'Ivoire
  • Kenya
  • Lesotho
  • Liberia
  • Madagascar
  • Malawi
  • Mali
  • Mauritania
  • Mauritius
  • Mozambique
  • Namibia
  • Niger
  • Nigeria
  • Rwanda
  • Senegal
  • Sierra Leone
  • Somalia
  • South Africa
  • South Sudan
  • Sudan
  • Swaziland
  • Tanzania
  • Togo
  • Uganda
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe
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How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?

Ubongo’s content currently reaches over 24.6 million households on a monthly basis across countries and in 11 languages. By 2022, we expect to reach around 28 million families, with over 1 million kids engaged at last mile in 14 languages. In five years, we aim to reach more than 60 million children, with 10 million children engaged at last mile, by utilizing partnerships and existing infrastructure for distribution and extended learning offline and partnerships for deepened engagement.

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How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?

Achieving these lofty impact goals is no easy feat, and so, we have utilized the OKR system in order to track our progress. Consequently, this means we have a number of key results that act as indicators to achieving the overall objective. For example, one of our objectives is to “Scale impact to all kids in Africa.” To achieve this objective, we have set key results that must be reached. For this example, we have 5  KRs including to: reach 28 million children with TV and radio; and reach 1 million children who are unreachable via broadcast, a.k.a. children at last mile. We track these through a streamlined system, run on Asana and in cross-departmental teams. 

Our other top metrics of success are learning outcomes, reach and cost per child. Important metrics we continue to monitor include: 

  1. Number of unique monthly users of Ubongo’s edutainment 

  2. Improvements in school readiness, academic performance and life skills

  3. Number of parents/caregivers who co-view Ubongo’s edutainment 

Improved outcomes have been shown through independent studies on Ubongo’s programming, and with clear and significant effects on school readiness, math, language and literacy skills. We are seeing success in these outcomes as shown through high reach (24.6 million), receptivity (over 50% of Tanzanian children recognize Ubongo characters), engagement (high repeat viewing and 43% parents co-viewing with children). We continue to maintain one of the lowest costs per child of any edtech organizations at the cost of $0.08 per child per year.

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About Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?

Nonprofit

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How many people work on your solution team?

43 full time staff

7 full time consultants/contractors

1 part time employee

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How long have you been working on your solution?

8

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How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

We have a passionate & vibrant team of Ubongoers across Africa, who innovate, grow & lead by our Ubongoers Principles, brought together by the fact that we DO IT FOR THE KIDS! 

Our full production process is done in-house, at our studio in Dar es Salaam. Our team of talented multi­lingual educationalists, writers, producers, animators, musicians and sound engineers are full time "Ubongoers" dedicated to our mission. 

Other key team members for this project include:

Fatema Ismailjee has extensive experience in applying design thinking and  human-centered design approaches to a variety of products and services from conception to implementation stages. She is the person who connects all of Ubongo’s work to ensure we stay true to our values and keep kids at the center. As our Team Lead for this application, she is currently our Design and Innovation Manager. 

Nisha Ligon (Co-­Founder & CEO) is a social entrepreneur & techie with a background in media and science, and a passion for education. 

Rajab Semtawa (Co-­Founder & Lead Animator) is Tanzania’s top 2D animator. He has built Ubongo’s in-house animation to be the strongest and most prolific in East Africa. He's designed all of Ubongo’s beloved characters and previously animated content for major companies including Vodacom and Hashi Gas. 

Christina Bwana (General Manager Tanzania) is a Tanzanian­/German producer/director who keeps production flowing like clockwork, ensuring episodes get delivered for broadcast on TV, radio and online every week. She has masters degrees in Visual Communication and Research, and broad production experience.

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What is your approach to building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive leadership team?

Ubongo is a women-led organization, and we seek to mainstream gender and inclusion throughout our full strategy, and operations. We strongly believe that having diverse women in leadership (4 out of 5 top company leaders are women of color), developing our stories (all of our writers and ¾ of our researchers are women), and in key roles throughout all levels the organization, is key to building an equitable organization and resources. We are also a Pan-African organization with almost all of our employees based in and from all over Africa, positioning our team perfectly for transforming learning across the continent. 

For example, Doreen Kessy (CBO) is a WEF Global Shaper, Acumen Fellow, and Education Design Studio Fellow, and recently applied for the MIT Elevate Prize. She has a passion for building a world rooted in equality and fairness and has been leading Ubongo for more than 7 years. 

Ubongo’s values align well with MIT Solve. Ubongo puts the kids we serve first. We listen to kids, and we take their feedback as seriously as that of any expert. Every person on our team embodies these values including: 

  1. Are always learning

  2. Go all in

  3. Fail fast, fail forward

  4. Do more with less

  5. Work together and lend a hand

  6. Deliver quality results

  7. Innovate and simplify

  8. Own it

  9. Speak up and speak out

  10. Have a growth mindset

  11. All are teachers

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Your Business Model & Partnerships

Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?

Individual consumers or stakeholders (B2C)
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Partnership & Prize Funding Opportunities

Why are you applying to Solve?

The MIT Solve Prize would enable Ubongo to mobilize global support and help us reach our goal of providing quality education for all African children. We hope to reach even more underserved kids, who possess endless potential but also have almost insurmountable barriers to overcome. We believe to our core that enabling and empowering kids to better their own lives and communities will lead to long term and transformational change in the world! We hope that through the MIT Solve Prize, we can build our network of partners to distribute our content and increase our reach substantially.

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In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Human Capital (e.g. sourcing talent, board development, etc.)
  • Public Relations (e.g. branding/marketing strategy, social and global media)
  • Monitoring & Evaluation (e.g. collecting/using data, measuring impact)
  • Product / Service Distribution (e.g. expanding client base)
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Please explain in more detail here.

Work together and lend a hand, an Ubongo value, drives our interest in developing and then leveraging a strong network of partners. Without partners, it would be impossible for us to achieve our impact goals, which is why the most relevant areas of support for us to request are: product/service distribution, public relations, M&E and most of all - human capital.

Because we have the strong internal capacity to develop effective content, including educationally relevant material - we rely heavily on partners for distribution. A network of distribution partners is essential to our success. 

 As we work towards our goal of reaching all kids in Africa, we need to develop a strong brand that is recognizable and notable, making public relations an essential need. Furthermore, over the years, we have learned that people who love Ubongo will help us grow Ubongo - whether they be a child, parent, global ambassador, artist, or philanthropist. Ubongo is poised to become the largest equitable, African educational media company in the world, but we need as many people as possible to help us get there!

Lastly, at Ubongo, we are determined to deliver quality results and keep learning. Partnerships with researchers and impact evaluators have been essential to our success and we are always looking for new ways to evaluate our work.

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What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?

We hope to partner with anyone willing to distribute our content for free, or on any VOD platforms with the understanding that on these paid platforms partners sign licensing agreements to pay for content usage overtime. For distribution among vulnerable populations especially those without access to broadcast, we are dependent on partners including community based organizations, networks of organizations, schools, district councils, and our viewers themselves.  

Over the past couple of years, we have developed relationships with both solar tech companies willing to distribute our content on their products; and also with other edtech partners interested in including our content in their programs/products. These are the types of partnerships that serve us the most. Of the MIT Solve community, we would be very interested in partnering with the Moringa School and Girls-4-Girls, as well as any human development, education, and media researchers in the MIT network. 

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The ASA Prize for Equitable Education? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The Andan Prize for Innovation in Refugee Inclusion? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes, I wish to apply for this prize

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Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The Andan Prize for Innovation in Refugee Inclusion to advance your solution?

By bringing its existing multi-platform learning products and services to vulnerable children, Ubongo can protect and empower children to build resiliency and improve their lives, specifically in health and learning outcomes.

Akili, Ubongo’s youngest character, teaches children and their caregivers, skills for social interaction, emotional regulation, and early learning. Parents reported improvement in their children’s emotional regulation, interaction with their peers and adults, and overall learning abilities. Additionally, there are outstanding results from the Tunakujenga program that Ubongo rolled out in partnership with the IRC at camps in Kigoma, Tanzania. Tunakujenga, or Akili Family is a program aimed at delivering parenting content that focuses on important early childhood development methods. Direct engagement with caregivers and educators through messaging and social media, coupled with targeted videos and worksheets has improved education of refugee children.

In 2020, we worked in a consortium led by the IRC  to provide learning content to refugee children in Uganda, with 6 community radio stations. With recent school closures, we continue to distribute our content freely to refugee communities. We have also been exploring partnerships with refugee-led organizations in host communities to distribute content and facilitate offline extended learning like "shared humanity" clubs for thousands of kids.  

With funding from the Andadn Foundation, we could push this initiative further and potentially deliver education to over 300,000 refugees. Furthermore, in partnership Ubongo, the Andan Foundation can provide education, which in itself, is a healing tool for forced displacement. 

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The GM Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes, I wish to apply for this prize

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Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The GM Prize for Innovation in Refugee Inclusion to advance your solution?

At Ubongo, we equip kids to realize their full potential. Our STEM-focused educational cartoon Ubongo Kids first launched in Tanzania in 2014. Ubongo’s characters Mama Ndege, Kibena, Kiduchu and friends are household names in Tanzania, and have helped kids across the continent find the fun in learning topics from mathematical operations to environmental science to coding! Every episode teaches a STEM lesson, while also teaching life skills and growth mindsets. For example, in Season 5, we produced an episode that taught cardinal directions and map reading where all of the characters search for the source of “utu” or shared humanity. Once the characters arrive at the location, they must also balance a fulcrum to find "utu." Another episode taught profit and loss and there is even one about photosynthesis. Each episode is researched, scripted, and produced with input from our education team and the viewers themselves. Ubongo is determined to create content that provides every child with an equal opportunity to learn and love STEM. Check out  our episodes on our YouTube channel for Ubongo Kids here

With funding from General Motors, Ubongo would be able to work on the development and production of our new show, which is focused on inclusivity, adaptability and a new age group. We continue to hold the belief that STEM education is essential to a child's cognitive development and our shows make it fun and accessible for learners of all abilities. 

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for the Innovation for Women Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes, I wish to apply for this prize

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Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use the Innovation for Women Prize to advance your solution?

Ubongo deliberately designs content to be inclusive and empowering for women and girls, both through implicit gender representation and norms, and explicit gender issues where contextually appropriate. In all of our content, Ubongo's female characters receive more than 60% of the screen and talking time. By co-creating content with girls, we have developed storylines that teach life skills such as financial literacy, negotiation and decision making skills, the promotion of positive gender norms and gender equality.

We focus on creating characters and lessons that inspire the girls in our audience to become leaders and agents of change in their own communities. Check out this short compilation of Ubongo's Top 5 Girl Power moments here. This highlights what we believe (and our audience believes) are impactful scenarios where female characters defy gender stereotypes and norms to achieve their dreams. Here are highlights and findings from a mini-series we co-produced with the EU to address gender equality and equity.

Ubongo has a history of success in positively affecting perceptions and behaviors around gender norms and girls empowerment. Preliminary findings from a study conducted by researchers at UC Berkeley confirms our capacity to create positive changes in gender norms and behaviors (late 2021).  Additionally, our Kenya Girls’ Life Skills study showed that our financial literacy content had significant impact on the life skills of girls. 

Ubongo aims to expand Vodafone Americas Foundation’s impact and build on its mission by promoting and building self-efficacy for more than 12 million girls across Sub-Saharan Africa.

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Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The AI for Humanity Prize to advance your solution?

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The GSR Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution

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Solution Team

 
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