‘Ubongo’ innovator wins Sh20 million innovation award

Thursday November 25 2021
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Doreen Kessy, Chief Business Officer of Ubongo receiving the Next Billion Edtech Prize trophy from Jay Varkey at GESF 2019 in Dubai. FILE PHOTO | NMG

By Zephania Ubwani

Arusha. Ubongo, a local non-profit social enterprise, is this year’s winner of the prestigious Rotman Innovation of the Year Award worth $10,000 Canadian dollars (approximately Sh20 million).

The enterprise is also credited with being Africa’s leading producer of “kids’ edutainment”: educational entertainment materials such as games, films and shows.

The prize is presented annually by Grand Challenges Canada, a Canadian not-for-profit organisation that invests in local innovations that address critical global health, humanitarian and Indigenous community challenges in Canada and low-resource countries.

The Rotman Innovation of the Year Award was created in honour of the late Joseph Rotman, Founding Chair of Grand Challenges Canada, and his family, in recognition of their unfailing support for global health innovation.

The Award honours innovation that has had the largest sustainable increase in lives saved or lives improved over the past year.

Ubongo was recognised for its transformative innovation of offering evidence-based programming that improves developmental outcomes for children, while using broadcast technology to reach a wide breadth of children across Sub-Saharan Africa.

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Ubongo co-founder and chief executive Nisha Ligon, who heads a strong, women-led team, thanked the Rotman family and Grand Challenges Canada for the honour according to a dispatch to The Citizen.

She added that the prize money will help with their goal of adapting content to more languages and contexts; the organization is determined to broadcast programming across Africa.

“We are so honoured to receive this award. GCC’s support over the past three years has enabled us to expand our reach into many new markets and languages to reach millions of more kids.

“They have challenged us to think critically and strategically about our growth and have been essential in enabling Ubongo’s success.”

Grand Challenges Canada Co-CEO Jocelyn Mackie further added thatU Ubongo has brought a science-backed Early Childhood Development model into homes of children, many of whom otherwise don’t have access to quality education, through fun, localised and multi-platform educational content.

To date, we have proudly financed Ubongo for a total of 1 million Canadian dollars under our Saving Brains program (with funding provided by Global Affairs Canada). Leveraging the reach of broadcast media, Ubongo has the largest breadth of impact in our Saving Brains portfolio.”

The Canadian High Commissioner to Tanzania, Pamela O’Donnell, said the enterprise was helping to change the lives of the next generation of Africans, especially girls “so that they can live healthier lives, realize their potential, and prepare for active involvement in their communities”.

The Canadian government is investing in organisations like Grand Challenges Canada, that support innovative solutions to save and improve the lives of people in low- and middle-income countries.

More than ever, we need new, creative solutions to build a sustainable future that leaves no one behind.

Since receiving Grand Challenges Canada support in 2018, more than 1.37 million children (pre-primary and primary school) across Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria, Uganda and Ghana have benefitted from watching Akili and Me.

The multimedia platform - the first in Africa to integrate resource caregivers and other stakeholders - is easily accessible through television, radio and mobile phones.