Children Are the True Innovators

by Ron Wolfe, ChildFund Senior Business Systems Analyst

houses in a narrow alley

The favela is a maze of alleys.

The day was coming to an end, and our last home visit was accessible only through one of the many narrow and dark alleys that crisscross the favela (urban slum) on the edge of Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Above me, though, a young girl leaned out a window, grinned, and rushed to open the door. As we entered, she held up her finger to ask us to wait one minute, ran up the winding stairs to the upper floor, and returned with a pink, plastic toy computer. She smiled at us again and said proudly, “Netbook!”

girl with toy computer

Children love technology.

While deploying technology pilots over the past two months in Dominica, Zambia and Brazil, it has become clear that technology has a universal appeal. The appeal, though, is strongest among the children.

Staff from ChildFund International and ChildFund Brazil spent a week in Villa Ventosa, a village in the Nova Barroca neighborhood to continue the mobile application tests that began in the Caribbean in April. We worked with our affiliated partner, GEDAM (Grupo de Educação Desenvolvimento e Apoio ao Menor), to evaluate an Android application created at our headquarters and loaded onto tablet computers. The app synchronizes existing child data acquired during a home visit with geospatial information so that we can better analyze geographic patterns among our enrolled and sponsored children. This data is then combined with a photograph of the child’s letter to his or her sponsor, which was captured with the tablet’s built-in camera and sent to a database in Richmond, Va. In the future, this image will be queued into a translation database accessible to our translators around the world.

an urban slum

The favela covers a vast expanse of land.

In Brazil, GEDAM currently implements programs for approximately 500 ChildFund sponsored children. During the pilot, the team, consisting of representatives from ChildFund International, the Brazil office and GEDAM, set a goal of reaching about 20 children over three days in the field. Each day was split into morning and afternoon home visits where the two teams walked the dense neighborhood amid stray dogs and hollow clay brick houses with corrugated roofs that extended beyond the horizon.

The participating community mobilizers were immediately excited by the potential impact these devices could have on their work. Their day is often filled with administrative tasks that, if streamlined, would give way to more child-centered programming and an improved child/sponsor experience. As seen during previous pilot tests, the mobilizers came up with multiple ways in which properly focused technology could advance ChildFund’s mission. These insights will guide future applications and ChildFund’s broader mobile platform strategy.

children with tablet computer

The tablet immediately attracts children’s interest.

Every child we met during a home visit seemed drawn to the tablet. Some intuitively reached for the glass surface and used the standard gestural commands to interact with the device. Some simply smiled when they realized that this home visit was different, and they were participating in a unique experience.

One thing became immediately clear: although we consider our work in mobile technology to be innovative, the children are the true innovators. It comes natural to them.

On the way out of her house after we captured an image of the letter she had just handwritten, a teenage sponsored child turned to the team and said, “Next time, give me the tablet and I’ll type the letter directly to my sponsor.”

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