Lumen Labs: Digital Learning and Data in Rural Contexts
In Lumen's problem solving course, students collect local data (which we clean/sell), and work with it digitally to become computer literate
I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria, and based on its description, I am eligible to apply to the CSV Prize 2017.
Start-Up (a pilot that has just started operating)
Annual budget in 2017 (USD)
Number of beneficiaries impacted so far
Nonprofit, NGO, or citizen sector
Headquarters location: Country
Headquarters location: City
Location(s) of impact
Kenya: Mtito Andei, Oyugis
Problem: What problem is this initiative trying to address?
In Kenya, there is no sustainable model for delivering computer education to rural communities. Providing a service depends on the ability of the customer to pay; because rural students usually cannot afford to do so, we are left with charity models that either a) donate computers to their beneficiaries, and/or b) conduct temporary training sessions over a few days. However, donated computers go unused without an instructor, there is no curriculum to follow, and no funds for maintenance. Charity models don't work/last.
Solution Summary: What is the proposed solution? What do you see as its most promising aspects for creating shared value?
Although rural students may not be able to pay much for computer education, they have access to something else of value: data about themselves. There exists a huge data gap regarding rural areas. However, getting this data requires costly and time-intensive field work. As a result, we designed a creative problem solving course that trains students to think about issues in their community, and collect survey data to learn more about these challenges. We then work with schools or organizations to set up computer labs where students work with the data to simultaneously learn digital skills and problem solving skills. For example, they may organize the data in a spreadsheet, or use it to build a presentation as part of a project-based approach to computer learning. The final piece of our model is financial sustainability. We aggregate and sell the collected data to organizations that need hard-to-access data about rural populations. We also license our curriculum to private schools/orgs.
Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Specify both the social and the environmental impact of your work
We ran a four week pilot program in November 2016 with 25 students in Eastern Kenya to test the effectiveness of our curriculum, as well as the reliability of the data that we collected. No student had ever touched a computer before; however, at the end of the four weeks, all 25 students were able to independently re-create word and spreadsheet templates that they were given in hardcopy. From a data standpoint, we issued a tracker survey (issuing the same survey twice over a period of time, and comparing answers). The results of our tracker survey demonstrated consistency levels of above 95% in our data, with no questions revealing a significant difference at the 95% confidence level. Since then, we launched a second, ongoing pilot in July 2017 at Jwelu Primary in Western Kenya. Based on feedback from the ongoing pilot, we are continuing to perfect our curriculum and data collection processes.
Financial sustainability plan: How is this initiative financially supported? How will you ensure its financial sustainability long-term?
Lumen's immediate revenue model is based on licensing and/or implementing our curriculum for private schools or organizations as an elective class. This is then used to cross-subsidize operations at rural schools that cannot otherwise afford our program. As we scale our program to additional schools, we plan to shift our revenue model to data monetization. Because we are an early stage venture, our projected budget for 2018 will consist 90% of individual donations/grants, and 10% from earned income. However, we plan to rapidly scale our program to additional schools through partnership with CFSK, a Kenyan NGO. CFSK donates computers to schools across Kenya, and has identified a pipeline of schools who want to sign up for our program. Through this partnership, we project breakeven by 2021.
Unique value proposition: What makes your initiative innovative? How does your project differ from other organizations working in the same field?
The value of computer education isn’t just about mastering technology, but expanding information access & problem solving capacity. Current computer education focuses only on mastery of skills, without connecting those skills to practical application (i.e. “I can build a spreadsheet, but don't know what I’m going to build it for.”) Lumen’s project-based approach enables students to simultaneously gain hard skills (digital literacy) and soft skills (critical thinking) with lasting value.
Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that sparked the beginning of this initiative.
While researching solar lamp usage in Kenya, Lumen founder Ruby Au met Rick Kiilu (Lumen’s Creative Director). Rick expressed to Ruby his frustrations regarding how under-resourced rural communities are. As a result, Ruby accompanied Rick to his rural hometown, and began conducting surveys to learn about the needs there. During that process, they made an interesting discovery: although their surveys focused on lighting, their conversations would somehow always circle back to computer access. Turns out, it wasn’t solar lamps that people wanted- it was access to computers. After documenting the same trend in 2 other communities, they recognized an opportunity to develop a sustainable model for rural computer education. Understanding that most rural students would not be able to pay for classes, they also began looking for alternative ways to financial sustainability. From this came Lumen.
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