Self-Reliance for Her
One-line solution summary:
Digitally hosted, community driven self-reliance programs for refugee women teaching life skills, development, women’s rights and skills
Pitch your solution.
Vulnerable women globally lack adequate life and workplace skills, preventing them from becoming self-reliant. Refugee women are especially excluded since they are less likely to have the skills needed to independently flourish in their new communities. We propose two programs to help women acquire and retain their jobs: a mobile-based course to teach basic life skills, including financial literacy, women’s rights, nutrition, health and hygiene, and an apprenticeship program to teach personal and workplace development. Both programs will be conducted in multiple languages and adapted to the hyper-local context where each program will run. The mobile course collects anonymised demographic information to help local governments and humanitarian/development service providers determine needs-assessment based on geographic location. Using information and surveys throughout the course, we are able to determine material or educational needs such as bedding, food, and medicines based on location for humanitarian organizations and governments in the area
What specific problem are you solving?
One of the biggest challenges refugee women face is adapting to their new environment and becoming self-reliant. This means learning how to thrive in a new culture, that requires new skills, for themselves and sometimes even for their families. While refugees are trying to stabilize in their new communities, both children, adults, and their caregivers may not have the access to getting the education and proper tools they need in order to thrive in that environment. UNESCO research shows that educated mothers are more likely to send their children to school, and according to UNHCR, the further girls progress with their schooling, the more they develop leadership skills, entrepreneurship, and self-reliance - personal qualities that will help their communities to flourish as they strive to adapt to their host countries or as they rebuild their homes. It’s especially important to monitor the youth and women population of migration. Women are still affected by discrimination everywhere, therefore they will have limited access and resources to a lot of things. If these women are caregivers, how are they meant to care for their families with limited education and resources?
What is your solution?
Our solution is a mobile and web-based education application that offers critical training to refugee women and a backend data tool that voluntarily collects demographics, providing real-time needs-assessment information to governments and humanitarian/development service providers, such as a deficit in products or services related to hygiene, food, bedding, educational needs, and more. Specifically, we propose two programs to help bring women to the forefront of the workforce: both with the web-based educational course and a guided apprenticeship program to teach the technical skills needed, including resume building, acing an interview and online project management tools. Having access to the demographics gives us access to where the “need” is, which can direct us to the areas in which refugee women need us the most and adapt it to a hyper-local context, meaning that local governments, NGOs, and other organizations can co-create geographically-specific information and solutions. The basic life skills we teach are essential to understand how to take care of themselves and workplace development are topics as simple as resume building and how to get a job, to the more complex individual’s rights and responsibilities, how to get promoted and salary budget management.
Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?
Women are essential to the functioning of our society, and too often they get pushed aside - particularly in the area of education. Our target population is vulnerable women and girls in refugee communities around the globe who have not had access to knowledge about basic life skills which would enable them to be more successful at obtaining educational opportunities and jobs necessary for their growth. We are specifically targeting girls from ages 15-17 and women ages 18-35 who may not have had the experience or opportunities to learn basic life skills due to their personal situations. We are aiming for a demographic with a middle school and high school educational knowledge base by using very basic language that is easy to understand, although many life skills can be lacking even with higher educational experience. We have plans to make the course available to people at all literacy levels, and also want to be able to fund an interactive course that is recited for those with limited literacy and/or who have vision problems. We are also targeting a demographic with access to smartphones, tablets, and/or computers with internet access to deliver the content.
Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?Reduce the barriers that prevent girls and young women—especially those living in conflict and emergency situations—from reaching key learning milestones
Explain how the problem, your solution, and your solution’s target population relate to the Challenge and your selected dimension.
One of the critical challenges for refugee women to successfully overcome vulnerability is to access the knowledge they need to fully integrate into their new communities, and acquire the skills to be able to access, apply, and retain employment to become self-reliant. These women often cannot afford skills-acquisition courses, are unaware of any lack of knowledge, and cannot travel or leave individuals under their care to conduct non-revenue producing activities. This mobile-based program is effective in capturing an unlimited user base deployable in any language to complete the course material at their own pace and provide the backend data.
In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?Washington D.C., DC, USA
What is your solution’s stage of development?Pilot: An organization deploying a tested product, service, or business model in at least one community
Who is the primary delegate for your solution?
Which of the following categories best describes your solution?A new application of an existing technology
Describe what makes your solution innovative.
Our program is the only web-based solution that provides anyone with lower literacy rates a simple, educational toolkit focused on achieving self-reliance, and is the first real-time data provider for needs assessment programs delivered to refugee populations in transit. Its low cost (0.5USD per user) and mobile-based delivery allow for fast scalability, ease of delivery to the end user (who does not need to travel or take time off from family to attend in-person courses), is easy to adapt to different languages and can include geo-specific information. The course was created for refugee and trafficked women, but the material itself is useful for all vulnerable populations, including male and female refugees, youth without guardians, lower-income households and those subject to domestic violence. The demographic information we record allows access to real time census statistics, which can help inform policy-making, and adapt the services of emergency responders and refugee-support organizations.
Describe the core technology that powers your solution.
The core technology that powers our solution is an educational platform that delivers content with quizzes and allows for online engagement that is browser-based and able to be accessed on tablet, smartphone, or computer. Our core technology could be improved by expansion of our app-based solution through the Unity engine, which is in the plans for greater distribution in the next year. As a formal application, the Unity engine and programming would allow us to access real-time data by surveying application users and accumulating information on potential expansion of the course’s modules and areas of need. The Curator platform has integrated artificial intelligence, which allows us to collect information from users on the platform on what works best and how to adapt content to help with practical adoption.
Provide evidence that this technology works.
Technology explanations through fact curator platforms have already been used throughout higher education institutions. The content is entirely evidence-based, cited, and revised by professionals and specialists in the field to ensure that the information distributed is accurate and helpful. Additionally, the course flow has been adapted by a UX designer, who was able to run focus groups with refugees and those working with refugees to better serve the populations we want to serve. We have transitioned our information to Thinkific, an evidence-based educational platform with over 40,000 content creators and 54 million courses taken with an easily adaptable technology platform that is easy to integrate with the unlimited growth model in all our target languages.
Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:
What is your theory of change?
Our organization was founded on a real need and a novel concept that few if any humanitarian and development leaders have been able to successfully address. After seeing how many vulnerable women were lacking essential life skills, we found that the practical and long-term solution would be empowering these women with a simple yet effective educational platform that is incredibly easy to maneuver and could provide us with more information to address more areas of need. These tools will eventually equip refugee and vulnerable women around the world to do more to provide for their families and themselves. Our approach emphasizes self-care, growth, and self-empowerment. Our pilot apprenticeship program aims to teach personal and workplace development and ultimately bring real solutions to allow these women to become their own advocates and allow them to flourish in the job market as well. Just as UNRWA provided profound educational opportunities for Palestinian refugees, making Palestinians some of the most well-educated people in the world, our goal is to eventually scale our project to advance educational opportunities for all vulnerable women, and create an organization that can truly support these women in entering the job market. We want to create a new generation of women leaders known for their passion, knowledge, and education who thrived despite being in vulnerable situations for most of their lives. Our ultimate goal is to create a new generation of women entrepreneurs and leaders in several fields with the tools and knowledge that we provide
Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?
- Completed test pilot with 30 people
- Project can be scaled to over 50,000 beneficiaries through partner network, which can be achieved in 5 years.
- The app is infinitely scalable, at no additional cost per new user
- Several of our partnership NGOs serve approximately 30,000 refugees yearly, which means over 5 years approximately 150,000 refugees could be served, and with our current over 30 contacts, over 4 million over five years. We are making new partnerships daily and adding more populations to our list of refugees served
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
- Our goals within this year are to finish all of the life skill modules for the app. We currently have financial literacy, nutrition, and health & hygiene fully prepared in English and plan to complete: women’s rights, technical skills that includes understanding online productivity platforms, managing tools, and project management, and workforce development that includes resume building, how to adapt in the workplace, acing interviews, and early childhood development. We must complete translations into Spanish, French, Arabic, Albanian, and Pashto. Once all of our modules are completed and uploaded on our app, we will launch the pilot again for refugee-based organizations and refugees to test and provide feedback.
- Implement a back-end to measure user statistics, which will provide governments and humanitarian/development providers with specific demographics based on zip codes. The demographics registered will include gender, education levels, need for healthcare solutions, child support needs, shelter access, workforce information and any other specific needs of the population. The data will be registered once the user logs onto the online course and on the backend be plotted automatically based on geographies, so service providers know where to install new temporary or long term housing, child and education learning centers, workforce training programs, healthcare provisions, gender-based protection services, and others. Zip code estimations can be manually input or taken from GPS coordinates (which will only register the zip code, not the specific location of the person, for privacy concerns) if the user permits it. All data will be anonymised to protect user information
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?
There is the probability that not all beneficiaries who can make use of the life skills course have access to a smartphone. In addition, there is often internal mobility between refugee populations. Refugees may be illiterate or unable to read the coursework due to disability or blindness, especially in areas with long-term displacement and lack of resources (such as Bangladesh). Another barrier to overcome includes the recruitment of sufficient translators and funds to translate into niche target languages for different regions, as well as the funds to hire adequate staff to manage the project
How do you plan to overcome these barriers?
- We plan on providing project-sponsored I-Pads and employing refugee and host populations to help implement the courses with the I-Pads. This will allow us to overcome the technology barrier for displaced refugee women who do not have access to a smartphone as well as provide much-needed local jobs. The course implementers will be primarily women, work in groups of 2 and 3 to guarantee their personal safety and be tracked by additional GPS services. Provided with project funding, they can be accompanied by female security personnel. The incentives for the refugee women to take the course, in addition to the importance of the material itself, is providing cash-transfer vouchers upon successful completion of the entire course. It is also possible to expand the course to include text-based learning, which would allow for anyone with a regular phone to complete the course as well as provide their census information to improve service provision.
- It is possible to include follow-up services and push notifications when adding new courses, and offer similar incentives (cash-transfer bonuses, etc) to take the new course as well as update census data on their new needs based on the new zip code transferred to
What type of organization is your solution team?Hybrid of for-profit and nonprofit
How many people work on your solution team?
How many years have you worked on your solution?
Life skills program: 2 year, Apprenticeship program: 1 year
Why are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?
Our team has the tools, the partners, and the experience in working with NGOs who serve vulnerable populations, such as refugees and former trafficking victims. We have created educational courses teaching life skills on an online platform, as well as an in-person and online apprenticeship that teaches personal and workforce development skills.These projects have given our team the experience in understanding where the need is when it comes to content and how these vulnerable populations should be educated. Our team consists of professionals who have experience working with vulnerable populations and a passion for serving women and girls. Our team understands the setbacks that women and girls often come across throughout their lives (as a team of all women and several minorities) and have in-depth knowledge on creating content geared toward helping empower these women. Our content can be understood from children in the 5th grade to adults.
What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?
- ILO - Distribution partner
- UNHCR - Distribution partner
What is your business model?
- To remain financially sustainable we will receive consistent and incremental funds from our private sector partner, the Dafero Social Enterprise, who has provided the funds for the creation of the entire web-based course, the translations and the expansion of the material in the US, Nigeria and Colombia.
- We will also sell the census data collected through the course completion to governments, international organizations and service providers to be able to fund the program expansion across geographies, on a subscription based-model
Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, or to other organizations?Organizations (B2B)
What is your path to financial sustainability?
The main financial burden is increasing the number of languages the courses are translated to and the expansion of modules to have more relevant information for target demographics. The platform is infinitely scalable in its current form, and once all the modules are completed, can be deployed for no additional cost per user, allowing for greater financial sustainability with no additional costs. Once the upfront costs of content creation, translation, and technical setup are completed, the platform should not bear any additional costs, with the exception of a part-time project manager responsible for sharing the content and supporting local organizations. In the future, we plan to offer paid courses targeted at NGOs and development service providers which will fund the free programs
Why are you applying to Solve?
- We are applying for this challenge because our pilots were successful, so it would be best to expand our solution to where there are larger numbers, such as South America, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and Mexico. We would love to be able to gain access to the resources that the MIT challenge can offer, as well as receiving funding for our solution by winning. The funding we receive by winning this challenge will be used to pay for the online course for each user, tablets to combat our technology barrier, the hiring of local women in the communities to facilitate the distribution of the online course on the tablets in the field, and the hiring of an apprenticeship instructor.
- We know that by having the opportunity to expand within the MIT network, we will have access to so many partnerships to help make a difference. For example, MIT has a partnership with Vodafone Americas Foundation, which is an organization that has a program that focuses on social change through technology for the empowerment of women and girls. With this organization’s aim, we believe through their investments and being able to partner and connect with them, would give us the opportunity to grow and expand our solution for women and girls to thrive and excel globally. We believe that not only could they become an asset to our goal in helping refugee women, but we could become an asset for their goals too since our solution aligns with their goals.
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?
What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?
We plan to partner with an organization in New Haven called Havenly that provides job training to women in need. If we are able to merge with them, we want to be able to more widely distribute our social impact programs and outreach coordination to more effectively deliver content. We are especially interested in purchasing a license for content which is set to come out later this year from GameDevSummer, a company dedicated to manufacturing content and courses with children to teach coding through a layer over the Unity game design engine. Making games is an interactive and fun method to introduce girls to programming, and is one of our core focuses in allowing women and girls to enter tech.
Lina Zdruli Kura Foundation by Dafero