On 12 July 2017, the UNICEF Innovation Fund announces another set of investments in open source technology solutions – eKitabu, is among one of three new portfolio companies to receive investment.

The UNICEF Innovation Fund invests in technology start-ups from developing markets that are working on open source solutions to improve children’s lives. The Innovation Fund applies a venture capital approach to source solutions that can impact the lives of the most vulnerable children. These solutions are clustered around $100billion industries in frontier technology spaces.

Check out www.unicefinnovationfund.org for more information – including real-time data – on each investment. 

eKitabu – an open source, cross-platform e-reading system


How would you describe your solution?

In 2015, the World Bank declared: “Availability of textbooks appears to be the single most consistently positive factor in predicting educational achievement.

Harnessing Universal Design principles, eKitabu is developing an open source and cross-platform, e-reading app that provides better access to learning for children with disabilities. For children who are blind or have a vision impairment, the app reads ebooks aloud. For the deaf or hard of hearing individuals, the app includes videos with local sign language. Today, lack of accessible textbooks limits children’s pathways to learning.  Ebooks can open up the world to these students.  

Our e-reading app has been designed together with teachers, students, and content producers and has been built  on open standards for accessibility to deliver local, government-approved textbooks and storybooks.

In multiple pilots in Kenya, eKitabu has already been able to deliver textbooks sustainably for 2% of the cost of delivering books in print. With the support of Kenya’s Ministry of Education, we are working with 10,000 students with disabilities in special needs schools, and hope to reach all 23,000 schools in the country.

What is unique about your solution and what is the competitive landscape like?

Our solution is unique as it combines locally produced, approved curriculum content in an open-source, cross-platform, accessible e-reading system.

Closed e-reading systems rely heavily on Internet connectivity. These systems lock users into proprietary hardware-software-cloud combinations and are priced to maximize returns at the expense of users.

In Brazil and Spain, UNICEF has been pioneering new content creation tools for accessibility by reusing and improving the same Readium open source codebase we use in Kenya.

Why does open-source technology make your solution better?

Utilizing open source technology provides eKitabu with an opportunity to collaborate with a large ecosystem of other software companies, teachers, and librarians –  all working to making books accessible to learners worldwide. By working with the open source network – we can improve and create solutions for learners with disabilities in Kenya and build more inclusive learning in schools.

How did your team come together? What is your team’s MO and drive towards the problem you’re trying to solve?

eKitabu spun out of the social enterprise Digital Divide Data in 2012 in Nairobi. Over the last five years, we’ve come together as a team from backgrounds in mobile software, publishing, and education. Our two co-founders met at MIT in 1997, working on a project to explore the potential for technology entrepreneurship in developing countries.

How will the UNICEF Venture Fund help build out your solution?

We have prototyped and are currently piloting our solution with users including teachers, learners, publishers, and government stakeholders. We see an opportunity to work with UNICEF—in Kenya and globally—to bring awareness, innovation, and adoption of these powerful tools for quality education. For impact, sustainability and scale, we have zeroed in on the following critical objectives:

1) Extend our open source, accessible e-reading app with real-time data collection that functions offline and syncs with a cloud-based repository when connectivity is available;

2) Deploy the app in Kenya’s Digital Literacy Programme first for the 10,000 special needs learners targeted by Kenya’s Ministry of Education and;

3) Publish results and lessons learned in collaboration with Kenya Ministry of Education, UNICEF Kenya and Global Book Alliance.

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