Digitizing the Classroom So All Students Have a Chance to Succeed


Four years ago, Imelda Mumbi received difficult news. She came home from elementary school in the Kawangware slum of Nairobi, Kenya and her mom, Jane, told her they needed to move to the village to live with a relative. Her mother explained she could no longer afford to take care of her three children as a single parent in the city. Imelda was devastated.

I knew that if we moved to the village I would not have many opportunities in life. Most of the good schools and jobs are in the city.

The next day, however, changed everything. Imelda returned to school and found it bustling with activity. Crowded among the half dozen classrooms constructed from aluminum siding, wood scrap and chicken wire were students, teachers and a few special guests. Representatives from a company called Eneza Education were visiting to talk about a new learning service made possible by mobile phone technology.

Eneza Education is an African-based social enterprise offering digital educational curriculua that work on basic feature phones, smartphones and tablets for K-12 students and adults. Known as “Shupavu 291” in Kenya, this service is available to Safaricom mobile network customers for $0.10 per week. This makes it not only convenient but also more affordable than traditional textbooks. The word “shupavu” is Swahili for “champion,” and “291” refers to how Safaricom customers dial *291# to access the service.

Imelda Mumbi with her mom in Kenya using a digital educational platform from Eneza Education, a FINCA Ventures portfolio company.

Imelda went home that day and told her mom about Shupavu and how it would not only help to improve her grades, but also—and crucially—replace the need to purchase costly textbooks. Jane agreed to postpone the move to the village so Imelda could give this new service a shot. Buoyed by the chance for a fresh start, Imelda began waking at 3 am just to use the program for one hour before school. As a 12-year-old, Imelda does not have a phone of her own, so she borrows her mom’s. Despite the phone’s cracked screen, the program has done wonders for Imelda’s grades, her self-confidence, and the family’s budget. Imelda’s mom explains:

Shupavu is the pillar of Imelda’s education. It was difficult to afford schoolbooks but Shupavu takes the place of books and is more affordable.

Such solutions to seemingly intractable social problems, like access to quality education, are made possible by private enterprises accessing the support they need to grow and scale. Eneza Education is one of six companies that has benefitted from FINCA Ventures, an impact investing initiative that aims to accelerate the growth of companies developing goods that align with FINCA’s charitable mission.

If you are interested in learning how you may support FINCA Ventures, please contact Colleen Zakrewsky, Senior Vice President, Business Development and External Relations, at [email protected].