Elizabeth Kperrun is the winner of the “ICT for Children” Grant, a special recognition offered by Fondazione Mission Bambini within the framework of “ICT for Social Good” Grant. The Grant was created to reward the project that better represents the usage of innovation for childhood. In Nigeria, Elizabeth developed some fun educational mobile apps that teach kids using Africa’s native languages.
We asked Elizabeth some questions to get to know her better and here is what we discovered.
By Viviana Brun
Let’s start from the very beginning, where are you from and what’s your family and education background?
I am from Benue, a state in Nigeria and I am the first of 5 children. I have a diploma in Mass Communication and I am currently in the process of obtaining a B.Sc in Entrepreneurial and Business Management.
What is Lizzie’s Creations, a startup, a social enterprise…? How did you start your business as Lizzie’s Creations?
Lizzie’s Creations is a start-up company that is preserving and promoting African culture using modern day technology. Our business started in September of 2016 but we built our very first app (AfroTalez) in 2013. Back then though, we were trying out our idea of promoting an aspect of African culture to see if it was something the world will be interested in.
Who had the biggest impact on your career?
My husband and co-founder. 100%. When I met him, all I had was an idea. I had no IT background. He helped me develop my idea, build my first app and has been my partner ever since.
You are a young woman in tech, what are the biggest challenges you have faced in your career?
Female entrepreneurs in Africa find it harder to break through in business than their male counterparts. A young woman in the tech space is even doubly harder because technology in Africa is still not as advanced and recognised as it is in the more developed world.
Some of the biggest challenges I have faced would be recognition and encouragement by my country’s government. There are no grants available, no provision in the budget to fund tech start-ups. So we have to rely on foreign organisations and investors to raise funding to enable us to grow our businesses. Add this to other factors like epileptic power supply, unstable internet infrastructure and a volatile economy and one really has to be resilient and believe in what they are doing so that they can keep going.
Why did you decide to focus on the use of ICT for Education? According to you, what are the main advantages and issues in the use of technology for learning and education?
I decided to use ICT for education because the world has gone digital. It is the fastest means of reaching an audience today and as smartphones get cheaper, they become more easily accessible to even the low-income earners. In Africa, a smartphone is cheaper than a TV set and like everywhere else in the world, people are spending more time on their smartphones than on anything else, even to keep children entertained.
What is the learning model/approach behind your apps?
Children learn best while they are having fun. And this is why we have focused on using well designed and brightly coloured apps to educate children. We believe that learning doesn’t have to feel like a boring classroom lesson. It should be fun.
Are your apps designed for being used by children alone or as a tool to support teaching at school or in the family?
Depending on the age of the child, our apps can be used alone or with the supervision of an adult; be it a teacher, parent or guardian.
What’s the aspect of your job that keeps you awake at night?
How to ensure we have enough money so that we can keep doing what we do. Because with funds, every challenge is surmountable.
What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
Start small, fail small. When launching a new product, build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and test it. Observe consumer reaction and ask for feedback before you proceed. Sometimes, what we set our mind on building is not what the audience wants. It is only by hearing from them that we can build and roll out a product that will be utilised and enjoyed.
According to you, what role the ICTs could play in strengthening the local development and the business ecosystem in Africa?
ICT’s are very important to the technological and overall development of Africa. A lot of innovative work by a number of companies targeted at various areas of development, including governance, health, education (such as ours) and more is currently ongoing and already creating impact.
The combined effect of all these will result in better standards of living, improved opportunities, better educational outcomes and general improvements to Africa’s development. In our field we are making relevant education more accessible to children at in the lower rungs of society.
How can Lizzie’s Creations be considered an inclusive business?
Lizzie’s Creations is certainly inclusive, our focus in whatever we do is to impact women and children mostly are less privileged. This is one of the reasons why we transitioned our apps to an ad-revenue model which allows access for even those who cannot pay for the in-app purchases.
In terms of revenues, what is the core business of Lizzie’s Creations?
We primarily monetise through unobtrusive in-app advertising and in-app purchases.
How many apps have you developed? How did you choose the app team? I saw, for example, that the last app that you have launched in July 2017 is dedicated to African fashion.
We have developed 3 main apps. In all our apps, the over-riding theme is always the promotion of some aspect of African culture while promoting education. We aim to keep teaching the younger generation about the African way of life.
Our latest app, Shakara, is a dress-up game for girls who like fashion. We built it with African fabrics and African fashion styles because we believe African fabrics are vibrant and beautiful and our style is unique. So it is our aim that our young girls should learn about these fabrics and styles and take pride in them.
There is any collaboration with parents and teachers in the development of the app themes?
We do some collaboration. Before we start working on our apps, we conduct a poll and ask parents and teachers what they think of our idea and how they feel their children/wards will most benefit. Then we use their feedback to build a beta version which we use for further testing. It is after these tests that we finally release an app into the store for children to download and use.
Is the government supporting somehow the social entrepreneurs in Nigeria? What could it be done better?
To some extent, they try to be supportive. But as with most systems that don’t work properly, sometimes finances disbursed or budgeted for SME’s do not necessarily get to the SME’s. This can be mitigated by building a more transparent system.
What is your message to social entrepreneurs?
Social entrepreneurship most often seems like an uphill battle. Because investors want to invest in money-making businesses and social ventures are mostly about making the world a better place first and profit-making comes second. But more and more, we are getting a new breed of investors who are primarily looking for social entrepreneurs to invest in.
So I would say to new and aspiring social entrepreneurs that they should follow their passion. Somewhere, somehow, if their idea is a good one they will always find somebody else who believes in them and their vision and will be willing to work with them to help them grow.
What is your message to women in tech?
Kudos to them and more grease to their elbows. Women are bright, resourceful and hardworking. We can do anything a man can do and we even do some things men can’t do.
What are your plans for the future?
My plans for the future are to keep growing and to keep teaching children about Africa: our culture, our languages, our way of life. I love what I do. I will not be leaving it anytime soon.