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Meet a Solver: Lucrezia Bisignani, Kukua

What if you could use games to help educate Syrian refugees? That’s exactly what Lucrezia Bisignani and her startup Kukua set out to do.

This week for our Solver profile, Lucrezia and Kukua talked with us about how they developed a game-based learning application for refugee children between the ages of five to ten to master basic reading, writing, and numeracy skills.

And if you want to join Lucrezia in solving global problems with us, your time is running out. You only have until August 1 to apply to one of our 2017 Challenges:


Q: Tell us your story: How did you first become interested in the work you do?
Ever since I was young, my life has been dedicated to educating those who cannot educate themselves. In 2014, I attended the Singularity University’s Global Solutions Program where I met my co-founder Alexandre Terrien, and we spent countless evenings discussing the transformational impact that technology can have on education. Following this event, Alexander and I founded Kukua, which was propelled by our vision to leverage the explosion of smartphones to provide unique educational opportunities to disadvantaged children. 

Q: Did you have a turning point moment that inspired you to think differently about your work?
During our initial research for SIMA, we realized that there were no existing curricula designed specifically for the challenges facing disadvantaged or displaced students. Game-based learning stood out as the most powerful and effective way to solve the challenged faced by refugee children worldwide. Our program fully embeds learning activities, academic content, and content-specific tasks within the game’s fictional and entertainment context.


Q: What is the problem you’re trying to solve?
Refugee children displaced by war lack access to consistent and quality education. They are minimally engaged in learning even when academic opportunities exist for them. They lack individual and personalized feedback and opportunities to practice reading at their own pace.  

Q: How are you trying to solve it?
SIMA is a smartphone and tablet game designed specifically for Syrian refugees that takes children aged five to ten on a magical adventure and empowers them to learn how to read and write while also improving their psychosocial well-being. Kukua also works in Sub-Saharan Africa, and we have developed SIMA in both Swahili and English.

Q: Tell us a story! Who will your solution impact? 
While in Beqqa Valley, at the border of Syria, I saw firsthand a group of children—who would otherwise be in school—hanging around the streets and camps, missing out on education. I will never forget the look in their eyes: the detached and frozen stare of children who have seen too much and refuse to see anything else. Yet, in those eyes, I also saw a tiny spark of hope which made me think: Is there a way for these young children to have the opportunity to receive an education, change their life’s trajectory, and prevent them from becoming a lost generation?

Education is the ladder to opportunity, and at Kukua, we believe that reading and writing are the ladder to that education.


Q: What do you think the Solve community can uniquely bring to solving your challenge?
The Solve community is uniquely positioned to facilitate partnerships for pilots and implementation of our solution in refugee camps in the Middle East. We are also keen to tap into the MIT network to hire a machine learning and voice recognition engineer, to build an important part of the app that can provide students with personalized feedback as they learn how to read. 

Photos courtesy of Lucrezia Bisignani, Kukua.


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