A voice for innovators through OpenIDEO's emergency challenge

July 18, 2017Duncan McCullough

OpenIDEO’s Education in Emergencies Challenge is an open call for innovative solutions that improve educational outcomes for children and youth—particularly girls—in emergency situations.

CEI shared the opportunity with our network of innovators in early June, and they wasted little time in making their voices heard. Now, as the OpenIDEO challenge enters its feedback phase, we encourage you to follow these innovators' lead and make your own voice heard.

Four organizations profiled on CEI have been shortlisted for OpenIDEO’s feedback phase, and I urge the entire CEI network to engage and contribute to their submitted solutions. Challenge organizers are confident their human-centered design approach, emphasizing empathy, iteration, and other forward-oriented tenets, will help surface and put into action effective paths forward on the paramount challenge of education in emergencies. The more experts with real-world experience we can get at the (virtual) table, the better.

NaTakallam (We Speak)

NaTakallam's innovation is to create an online language learning platform taught by refugees, as conversation partners, to provide, on one hand, students with a better immersive language experience and, on the other hand, refugees with a sustainable source of livelihood and edcuational skills.

Since piloting the idea in the summer of 2015, NaTakallam has worked with over 1300 students from around the world (60% in the US) and about 60 Syrian refugees living in 10 different countries (mainly in Lebanon, Iraq, France, Italy). NaTakallam has become the main source of revenue (60% or more) for 50% of the refugees working in the project. About 60% of NaTakallam's conversation partners (especially in Iraq and Europe) are students who are able to continue their education with this flexible source of income.

Read more about NaTakallam’s solution, and be sure to leave a comment!

Ubongo Kids

Ubongo’s innovation is a multimedia learning kit with localized and effective content, which can be used to facilitate learnings clubs for children in emergencies. The kits contain video, audio and text content including Ubongo’s popular edutainment programs currently watched in over 5.1 million households in East Africa, as well as a facilitator’s guide and activities for club leaders to engage kids in active learning. 

Ubongo’s preschool edu-cartoon Akili and Me helps 3-5 year olds learn numeracy, pre-literacy, socio-emotional skills and English as a second language, shown to have a 12% effect on kids' school readiness in just one month of viewing. Ubongo Kids teaches STEM subjects and life skills through fun stories and songs, and kids who watch it show immediate direct learning outcomes in the subjects taught. These multiplatform learning programs include over 1690 minutes of video content, 580 minutes of educational audio and songs and 36 eBooks, with content in Kiswahili, Kinyarwanda, English and French, as well as easy adaptation packages to quickly develop versions in new languages. 

Read more about Ubongo Kids’ solution, and be sure to leave a comment!


Skateistan is the first international development initiative to combine skateboarding with educational outcomes and is a pioneering Sport for Development project. Since Skateistan developed its concept of using skateboarding as a hook into education, other organizations have sprung up globally using similar concepts. To capitalize on this development, Skateistan proposes to implement a new Advisory Project which will leverage existing skills and enthusiasm from Skateboarding for Development projects around the world, to build the capacity of nascent organizations and help spread the potential impact of the projects through peer-to-peer learning.

The outcomes of the Advisory Project are:

  1. Participating organizations are equipped and empowered to provide inclusive programs.
  2. Participating organizations have an increased ability to integrate education into their skate programming.
  3. Participating organizations are seen as safe environments, having positive impact in their communities.
  4. Accessible training resources for use by administrators of Sports and Education based after-school programming

Read more about Skateistan’s solution, and be sure to leave a comment!

Little Ripples

Donkey Ripples is a refugee-initiated idea and managed solution that empowers families to contribute to the cost of the daily nutritional meals and foster sustainability of Little Ripples (LR), a refugee-led early childhood education program reaching children ages 3-5 in their camp.

DR provides a donkey and plows to families who live in the homes and the “block” immediately surrounding LR School and Ponds in camp Goz Amer. Each family take the donkey and plow to their plot of land, uses the set for tilling, planting, and harvesting for the duration of the summer agricultural season, and brings them back to camp afterward, utilizing the donkey to carry the family’s yield. Families then give back a portion of their yield to support LR. Little Ripples refugee cooks then use the crops for the meals prepared and provided daily to students at LR, or trade or sell the crop for other ingredients. Further, Goz Amer has a peanut oil-producing economy. DR will purchase an oil-producing machine as an income-generating tool for families and LR. 

Read more about the Donkey Ripples solution, and be sure to leave a comment!

These innovators, including those not highlighted here but just as fascinating and promising, are pushing forward bold ideas to help save education for millions of people. If you have thoughts or experiences that may help them push forward further, be sure to logon, and make your voice heard.


Photo Credits: UN Women/Ryan Brown ; NataKallam ; Ubongo Kids ; Duncan c ; Donkey Ripples

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