Innovator Interview: Project Hello World

Duncan McCullough
 
 
Project Hello World launched in Nigeria in 2013 to provide isolated and vulnerable communities in Sub-Saharan Africa with educational content and Internet access through outdoor solar-powered and Internet-enabled computer stations, the Hello Hubs. The innovative program success has come largely from its focus on empowering local community members to install, maintain, and train these technological hubs. To learn more about their operations, we spoke with Projects for All Founder, Katrin Macmillan.

Congratulations on the second year of your pilot program in Suleja, Nigeria! Can you tell us about your work there?

Thank you! We launched the pilot of the Hello Hub in Suleja, Nigeria in October 2013. Nigeria has 8.7 million children who are out of school, Boko Haram are targeting students and schools, and Nigeria is also a quarter of Africa’s extreme poor. There seemed to be no better place to launch this project.

We partnered with the community of Suleja to make a joint investment in a Hello Hub. Project Hello World builds digital schools to bring child-led digital education to those without access to formal schooling.  Basing our work on the research of our Board member, Sugata Mitra, the winner of the 2013 TED Prize, we work with local communities to design and build Internet-enabled rugged, outdoor computer kiosks for education, connectivity, community journalism, business and play. 

Our pilot project in Suleja is two years old and we are reaching children in the school system and out of it, homeless and housed, Christian and Muslim.

The thing that makes Project Hello World really unique is our community-led approach. We don’t build the Hello Hubs, we teach the community how to build them. This means that they are able to make an investment in the project along side us, and they learn to build, repair and maintain the project so that it can be sustained. Our founding belief is that development must be led, defined by, and serve the community.

Your Hello Hub seems to capture a lot of data. How are you using that data to inform your future work?

We do get great data! Have a look at it here on our open source site: http://hellohub.org/data

There is a huge capacity for data capture from Hello Hubs. The data can give us an indication of who is using the Hello Hub, for how long and why. It helps us to understand the educational needs of the students, and their progress.

Ultimately, data collection is one way that the communities can guide us and let us know what needs to be improved, or changed.

The data can demonstrate when aspects of the hub aren’t working, or particular groups of people aren’t using it. Exposing these failures helps us to improve our work.

For instance, we discovered a drop in attendance of women and girls at the Hub in Suleja, which we assumed was because of the Boko Haram kidnappings, but when we tallied the data with the tech reports we saw that it coincided with the failure of the lights, and the women did not feel safe to come at night. So we knew that the lights needed to be improved, and brightened. And the women returned.

What are some of the biggest challenges currently facing your work?  How are you and your partners confronting these obstacles?

I’m in Uganda at the moment to discuss an upcoming Hello Hub build with the communities. The question that always comes up is the issue of security. The Hello Hub is outdoor and available 24 hours a day. Communities often ask me how to prevent it from being vandalized or stolen.

We believe that if people across the community value the Hello Hub, and feel welcome to use it, then it will be safe. It seems to me that it will only be at risk of theft if certain people believe that it is not available for them. So I have been asking the communities; “how will you make sure that this has relevance across your community, and that everyone feels welcome at your Hello Hub?”. Ultimately it is their job to ensure its safety.

How have your community engagement efforts evolved over time as your project has gone from introduction, through implementation, and now data collection?

Our founding principles have always been very clear; we work with a community as equal partners. It’s not a traditional aid dynamic. We stay with the communities that we are working with and take time to teach them to build the Hubs, we include anyone who wants to be part of that process.

While the building process is going on we form a number of groups as well as the engineering team: a women’s group, the M&E team, a teachers group and a community group. These groups have significant roles and responsibilities that are critical to the success of their Hello Hub.

I was meeting with a teachers group today to talk about how we would ensure that all teachers in their community found ways to learn to use the Hub in their lesson planning. Their ideas and insights are always more relevant and useful than any I might devise and impose on their community.

What are your priorities for long-term development plans moving forward?

We are about to start work on four Hello Hubs in Uganda, which have been sponsored by Lessons For Life Foundation. We hope to roll the project out across Uganda next year; we are also working on a plan to get Hello Hubs in to the conflict regions of South Sudan. I dearly want to start working for children affected by displacement and conflict. I’m working to raise funds to make it possible.

We would like to host a training programme to teach teams from across Africa and the Middle East every aspect of building a Hello Hub, both the community work and the engineering work. Once they have these skills we would like to send them back to their communities with the equipment to build Hello Hubs across their country. In this way we can scale the project and reach so many more children.

We open source the plans for the Hello Hubs so that anyone can download them and teach themselves how to build one!

What types of opportunities for collaboration or support from the CEI community would be of value to Hello Uganda?

I would love to link up classrooms worldwide to the Hello Hubs in Uganda so that children can share lessons and teachers can support one another.

I would also love to hear from your community what their favorite educational software is. The hubs are loaded with teaching software and it’s always nice to hear what people most enjoy using.

It would be best of all if members of the CEI community want to build their own Hello Hubs, we would support them remotely and give them all of the instructions and guides that they would need.

See a video showing a minute of the Hello World project in action!

Katrin founded Projects for All in 2013 with the aim of fostering community ownership of development projects and thereby empowering marginalized communities. Her passion for giving a voice to individuals and communities was shaped by her time living in Nigeria and Ethiopia working in human rights advocacy and development.

Photo Credits: Nigeria Hello Hub, Tom Saater
 

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