Ubongo wins the prestigious Rotman Innovation of the Year Award

Ubongo Co-Founder and Chief Executive Nisha Ligon
  • Through science and technology, Ubongo creates multiplatform learning that benefits children across Sub-Saharan Africa

Ubongo, a Tanzania-based nonprofit social enterprise and Africa’s leading producer of kids’ edutainment, is this year’s winner of the prestigious Rotman Innovation of the Year Award, worth $10,000 Canadian dollars (approximately 19 million Tanzanian shillings) The accolade is presented annually by Grand Challenges Canada, a Canadian not-for-profit organization that invests in local innovations that address critical global health, humanitarian and Indigenous community challenges in Canada and low-resource countries.

The Rotman Innovation of the Year Award was created in honour of the late Joseph Rotman, Founding Chair of Grand Challenges Canada, and his family, in recognition of their unfailing support for global health innovation. The Award honours innovation that has had the largest sustainable increase in lives saved or lives improved over the past year.

Ubongo was recognized for its transformative innovation of offering evidence-based programming that improves developmental outcomes for children, while using broadcast technology to reach a wide breadth of children across Sub-Saharan Africa.

Ubongo Co-Founder and Chief Executive Nisha Ligon, who leads a strong, women-led team, thanked the Rotman family and Grand Challenges Canada for the honour, adding that the prize money will help with their goal of adapting content to more languages and contexts; the organization is determined to broadcast programming across Africa.

“We are so honoured to receive this award. GCC’s support over the past three years has enabled us to expand our reach into many new markets and languages to reach millions of more kids. They have challenged us to think critically and strategically about our growth and have been essential in enabling Ubongo’s success.”

Janis Rotman, President of the Rotman Family Foundation, added: “Reflecting Joseph Rotman’s vision for innovation for impact, Ubongo is truly deserving of this award. My father’s firm belief was that business has a critical role to play in building a better society. His vision is well embodied in Ubongo’s exceptional approach: the coordinated application of science and entrepreneurialism for the benefit of children. The Rotman Family congratulates Ubongo on being named the second annual winner of the Award.”

Grand Challenges Canada Co-CEO Jocelyn Mackie further added:

“Ubongo has brought a science-backed Early Childhood Development model into homes of children, many of whom otherwise don’t have access to quality education, through fun, localised and multi-platform educational content. To date, we have proudly financed Ubongo for a total of 1 million Canadian dollars under our Saving Brains program (with funding provided by Global Affairs Canada). Leveraging the reach of broadcast media, Ubongo has the largest breadth of impact in our Saving Brains portfolio.”

Her Excellency Pamela O’Donnell, High Commissioner for Canada in Tanzania, said: “Congratulations Ubongo! This very unique and successful idea that uses media for child development is helping to change the lives of the next generation of Africans, especially girls, so that they can live healthier lives, realize their potential, and prepare for active involvement in their communities. The Government of Canada is investing in organizations, like Grand Challenges Canada, that support innovative solutions to save and improve the lives of people in low- and middle-income countries. More than ever, we need new, creative solutions to build a sustainable future that leaves no one behind.”

Ubongo’s flagship Akili and Me programming is currently translated in nine languages. Since receiving Grand Challenges Canada support in 2018, more than 1.37 million children (pre-primary and primary school) across Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria, Uganda and Ghana have benefitted from watching Akili and Me. The multimedia platform—the first in Africa to integrate resource caregivers and other stakeholders—is easily accessible through television, radio and mobile phones.

According to a study, exposure to Ubongo’s Akili and Me program for 30 minutes per day for a month led to significantly improved child development scores, compared to those in the control group, including counting (24%); English skills (12.5%); number recognition (11.7%); shape knowledge (9.7%); and drawing skills (8.2%).

The project aims to positively impact the development, learning and life trajectory of over 100 million kids in Africa by 2030.

Last year, the inaugural Rotman Innovation of the Year Award, created as part of Grand Challenges Canada’s 10th anniversary, went to Hewatele, a Kenyan-owned social enterprise with a mission to address the lack of access to medical grade oxygen for rural and regional healthcare facilities by producing, delivering and servicing an eco-friendly, low-cost, safe and reliable oxygen solution.