Mobile science lab brings STEM to rural Africa

MoLab is a science lab on wheels that brings STEM learning to kids in rural West Africa, empowering them to innovate and create

Photo of Mike
2 6

Written by

Initiative's representative name

Ousia Foli-Bebe

Initiative's representative date of birth

1990

Initiative’s representative gender

  • Man

Which eligible market are you based in?

  • USA

Where are you making a difference?

Togo

Website or social media url(s)

https://molab-project.org/

When was your organisation founded?

12/2019

Focus areas

  • Helping people adapt to technologies of the future
  • Reskilling and upskilling the workforce

Project Stage

  • Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working towards the next level of expansion)

Yearly Budget: How much capital do you need to accomplish your proposed project?

  • $10k - $50k

Organisation Type

  • Non-profit / NGO

1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed

Everyone knows how important S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering, and math) education is for creating the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs. But how could a child even begin to imagine a career in the STEM fields when he or she has never seen a microscope, or used a computer? This is the situation facing many students in West Africa. Many schools - especially in rural areas - lack even basic equipment like desks and blackboards, let alone computer labs or chemistry sets. To solve this problem, in 2018 a group of young Togolese inventors created MoLab, a mobile lab that brings STEM education to under-resourced areas of Togo.

2. The problem: What problem surrounding employability or financial capability are you helping to solve?

By 2050 one in every four human beings will be an African. Many of the gravest problems facing humanity - such as climate change, epidemics, human migration, and income inequality - will be felt most deeply in Africa. The solutions to these problems will also come from Africa, but for that to happen we need a generation of young people that have the STEM skills needed to create and innovate. Lack of access to STEM education is a critical problem

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

To solve this problem, in 2018 a group of four young Togolese inventors created MoLab, a mobile STEM center. MoLab is a bus equipped with science kits, engineering games, puzzles and other activities that encourage STEM learning and develop critical thinking. MoLab also has laptops and a wi-fi hotspot, permitting students to access the internet for the first time and learn to code. It even has a 3D printer made from recycled e-waste by a young Togolese inventor! MoLab's approach is to bring its equipment to rural schools and conduct experiments and interactive learning activities with the students and teachers. To earn a MoLab visit, the school must commit to creating a STEM club, and at the close of the visit the MoLab team donates a kit of easy, low-cost STEM experiments to the club. The team remains in touch with the club and continues to provide STEM-focused coaching and mentoring to the students and faculty.

4. How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solving the problem?

MoLab's uniqueness is that it was created by a group of young local inventors and uses locally-obtained materials. If NASA built a mobile STEM lab and took it to schools in West Africa, it would surely be impressive. But when local youth show up at the school with a vehicle they built carrying materials and experiments they created (including some materials printed by a 3-D printer made from e-waste), it is even more mind-blowing and inspiring. To see a student look through a microscope for the first time when previously they had to learn about biology from chalk drawings on a blackboard, is to see their mental horizons expanding in real time!

5. Employability: how is your organization or project teaching people to develop the skills that they need to survive in the future job market?

Virtually all the fastest growing businesses and career fields are rooted in STEM. It is critical that young people in West Africa develop STEM skills so that they can become leaders in entrepreneurship, innovation, medicine, and technology. MoLab will help set them on the path to a career in the STEM fields

5a. Please describe which future-oriented skills your organization is focused on fostering and how you have measured / plan to measure progress

Our plan to measure progress begins with establishing a baseline. We insist that schools requesting a MoLab visit first conduct a survey of student/faculty attitudes towards STEM education as well as a needs assessment. The school must also agree to create an extracurricular STEM club. Following the visit, we remain in touch with the STEM club and provide guidance on how to conduct fun and rewarding STEM activities each week. After six months and one year we ask the school to conduct the same survey, to determine if interest in STEM has increased and grades have improved.

7. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

At least in the country of Togo, which is MoLab's primary base of operations, there are no other organizations addressing this problem. While some NGOs and institutions talk about the need to prioritize STEM education, none are bringing it to the doorsteps of schools in the most underserved areas of the country

8. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

Since February 2018, when it was officially authorized to begin conducting activities by the Togolese Ministry of Education, MoLab has impacted the lives of over 50,000 students and conducted visits to over 30 school districts in every region of the country. It has participated in numerous high-level international education forums and it has won support from the government, private sector, and diplomatic missions in Togo. While it is still too soon to judge the impact on the students' academic futures, virtually every school has remained in contact with the MoLab team following their visit, testifying to the fact that MoLab sparked a strong interest in STEM learning

9. Financial Sustainability Plan. Can you tell us about you plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?

Currently, MoLab depends on donor contributions to conduct its activities. It has received funding from individuals and from large institutions including the U.S. Embassy in Togo. Medium-term, MoLab does have a plan to become self-financing by charging a small fee to visit wealthier private schools. The money earned from these activities will pay for MoLab's visits to the poor rural schools that are its primary focus. In the long-term, MoLab will seek to expand into multiple countries in Africa and to enter into partnerships with the Ministries of Education in each country. Under this model, MoLab will actually be paid by the governments to deliver STEM education.

10. Team

The original MoLab team is based in Togo where two of the four original founders sit on the board of a non-profit association called MoLab STEAM Association recognized by the government. The other two founders are on the technical advisory board. In 2019, MOLAB USA was formed which is a non-stock corporation in the state of Virginia established to fundraise and support Molab Togo's activities. Two founding members of the Togo association are also board members of the US-based entity.

Help Us Support Diversity! Are you a member of an under-served , under-represented, or marginalized group in your country of residence? (yes/no) (this question is optional – if you choose to fill it out, the response will not be shared with your fellow contestants)

  • Race
  • Nationality
  • Socioeconomic class
  • Status as a migrant

If you selected “yes” to any of the categories above, please explain how being a member of this group has impacted you and your work?

MoLab was started by a group of young Togolese inventors who live every day with the reality of thwarted hopes and ambitions related to their race, ethnicity, and economic status. While friends and relatives of theirs have fled the country and migrated to Europe or the US for better opportunities, these young change-makers have decided to create new opportunities at home by educating and inspiring the next generation of leaders in the STEM fields.

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Ashoka page or contact

Evaluation results

6 evaluations so far

1. OVERALL Evaluation:

Yes, absolutely! - 40%

Yes/maybe - 40%

Maybe - 20%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

Yes, absolutely! - 60%

Yes/maybe - 40%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

3. Does this entry have SOCIAL IMPACT?

Yes, absolutely! - 66.7%

Yes/maybe - 16.7%

Maybe - 16.7%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

4. Is this entry VIABLE financially and operationally?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 50%

Maybe - 50%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

5. Is this entry ACTIVATING CHANGEMAKING?

Yes, absolutely! - 50%

Yes/maybe - 50%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

6. FEEDBACK: Highlights

IMPACT POTENTIAL: You use specific numbers and evidence to describe what your project has achieved so far (or plan to achieve in the future) – and you have a concrete plan for future impact. You have specific tools for measuring impact. - 75%

QUALITY OF INNOVATION: You have a great understanding of the problem, have researched existing solutions, and have developed unique, thoughtful solutions - 75%

FINANCIAL AND OPERATIONAL SUSTAINABILITY: You have given a great deal of thought to not just the idea itself but how to make it work operationally and financially in the present and future; your plan is specific and you value sustainability. - 0%

CHANGEMAKING ACTIVATION: You have a good plan on how to activate changemakers and empower them to innovate through your product or programming - 100%

Other option - 50%

7. FEEDBACK: Areas for Improvement

IMPACT POTENTIAL: make sure to provide specific instances of your social impact (or how you plan to measure impact) – it may be helpful to describe the beneficiaries, the main activities/products, and provide evidence of (or plan for) impact evaluation - 0%

QUALITY OF INNOVATION: make sure to describe how your solution is unique and innovative – it is helpful to include the research you have done on past solutions and how your solution is different from (and/or builds upon) these. - 33.3%

FINANCIAL AND OPERATIONAL SUSTAINABILITY: make sure you have provided descriptive information about your financial sustainability plan. Where do the funds come from now and do you have a concrete plan for future sustainability? - 100%

CHANGEMAKING ACTIVATION: make sure you describe your plan for how to empower others to become changemakers through your programming, service, or product - 33.3%

WRITING STYLE. Try to be concise, descriptive, and specific. Avoid jargon. - 0%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 0%

Other option - 66.7%

2 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Spam
Photo of Nazma Akter
Team

The Idea is good but will face difficulties in my view. Need to be more focused on the goal and work with more dedication as they have to work in a vulnerable type situation!

Spam
Photo of Lorenz Fischer
Team

I love the initiative!

Maybe contact https://www.labdoo.org, they may be able to provide you with laptops that you could bring to (and leave at) the schools you visit.

All the best!
Lorenz