I have been guilty of the belief that the deep and complex challenges we face in Africa are insurmountable and the responsibility of governments or the United Nations. Of all the challenges, it worried me most that the youth in countries like Kenya, the country of my birth, or South Africa my adoptive home would continue in this vicious cycle. Yet we hear about the phenomenal growth of African economies and in particular, the story of the growth and reach of the mobile phone -- connecting Africa in new ways previously unimagined. I felt challenged to play my part and contribute to the change in Africa.
I left the UN four years ago with the inspiration to go out and build a social enterprise creating new platforms to shape and impact Africa's youth. I learned through the UNDP, and working with African public servants and others from countries such as Singapore and Malaysia, that the greatest 'return on investment' (ROI) comes not from 'fixing' the problem but from shaping new empowered mind-sets amongst youth; mind-sets that are not limited by their current circumstance, but can re-imagine and re-create new possibilities.
One day I observed my teenage children playing a video game that challenged them to re-build civilizations and re-imagine different scenarios. What they learned was phenomenal and the catalyst for my big 'Aha moment' when AFROES first venture was born! (The name 'Afroes' is a play on African Heroes and Heroines.) I threw myself into studying games as a tool for learning. I decided that our starting point would be to build games, simulations and interactive engagements to inform, inspire and challenge young Africans using the mobile phone as an educational platform.
With over 450,000 users, we have built a series of mobile games designed to shape new choices and conversations. We built MORABA, an award winning mobile-game addressing difficult questions of gender-based violence and challenging the user to contemplate what she or he believes about sexual relations and sexual violence. This game provides valuable information to the user, empowering them to make informed choices. In February we released HAKI: Chaguo Ni Lako (Justice: The Choice is Yours.) Designed to inform, inspire and empower Kenyan youth, this game will help them make considered choices as they go to the polls on March 4, 2013. We have developed a design approach that engages the user in the co-creation of the mobile application with our partners including; the Nelson Mandela Childrens' Fund and Child Rights partner organiations, UN Women and Gender-based violence stakeholders, Tuvuke Initiative for Peace and the Ford Foundation as well as Nokia and Vodacom.
Today we have evidence to show we have impacted lives and changed the choices and conversations amongst some of our users. We plan to multiply and scale our efforts and are convinced that our greatest ROI is to invest in unlocking the potential of Africa's youth to shape new futures. A Luta Continua!
Anne Githuku-Shongwe, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Afroes Transformational Games, South Africa; Schwab Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2013
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, in recognition of the latter's Social Entrepreneurs Class of 2013. For more than a decade, the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship has selected leading models of social innovation from around the world. Today we have 254 from nearly 60 countries, covering renewable energy and sanitation to job training and access to higher education. Follow the Schwab Foundation on Twitter at @schwabfound or nominate a Social Entrepreneur at http://www.schwabfound.org/sf/index.htm. To see all the post in the series, click here.