By Caroline Uliwa
We’re cozying up with Doreen Kessy-30, chief business officer of Ubongo Learning, a social enterprise based in Tanzania. Now five years old the organization has made significant progress on the continent through edutainment.
|Doreen Kessy CBO of Ubongo Learning|
Their programs include educational cartoons such as Akili and Me and Ubongo Kids, these animated shows feature African stories, songs and characters. Akili and Me teaches early literacy, numeracy, English as a second language and motor skills to 3-6 year olds, while Ubongo Kids teaches 7-14 year olds, Math, Science and life skills through fun animated songs & oration.
“We really believe that it is critical to invest in children’s minds, equipping them with life skills that will help them become successful in life.” Doreen passionately reiterates.
Ubongo Learning ubongo.org is enabled by partners like HDIF-Human Development Innovation Fund, Omidyar Network, The Grant Challenges Canada, the Goodal Foundation and DLi-Data for Local Impact innovation challenge to name a few.
It’s an organization with women at the helm including the CEO & co-founder Nisha Ligon. Currently it’s been nominated among 30 organizations from all over the world, to compete in the Next Billion EdTech Prize that recognizes the most innovative use of technology; which has the potential to radically impact education in low income and emerging economies.
|African students watching Ubongo Kids |
It’ll be great to be in the midst of this huge education conference that brings a lot of education ministers, funders, educators, innovators, investors & all kinds of stakeholders of education in one room. As a lot of opportunities can come up, I think it’ll open more doors for us to meet new partners and other stakeholders with interest in our work, we’re always looking to collaborate that’s how we’ve gotten this far.”Doreen shares more on this EdTech prize https://educationandskillsforum.org which will take place from the 22nd to the 24th of this month.
|Maasai parents amused by the Hippo character in|
Akili & Me who is wearing a maasai necklace
Doreen is a role model for many young women in Tanzania we thought to give you sneaks of her everyday life.
What’s your off duty passion?
That’s a good question. I am passionate about a lot of things. First of all what drives me is to help kids and young people achieve their potential and thrive, get rid of those ‘predators of dreams’ if you will. That is what drives me every morning when I wake up!
I also love working out, I love exercising because for me it says. I love me and I am willing to invest in me, I always say I am committed to Doreen first because if I take care of myself, then I can take care of other people.
I as well love pretty spaces, I’m into interior design (her office can attest, its minimal chic with touches of African fabrics in pillows and ceiling board material that look sublime). I think energy is a currency and you need to be in an environment that really helps you thrive & flourish as a human being.
What would you do if weren’t a Business Manager?
I have an aspiration to become a life coach, I like to motivate others let them know they can be the best version of themselves. I also love to travel, travelling for me is like a classroom, I go there to learn!
What notes your personal style?
I think for me hair is a big statement actually before this I never did (motioning to her current hairstyle, an afro kink looking weave. She currently swims and prefers the weave as it makes managing her natural mane easier) weaves or whatever because I really like to make a statement with my natural hair. My hair doesn’t match what I do in so many people’s eyes.
They always say are you a musician, are you an artist? And I am like, no I actually am a business professional. I always show up with my own hair all out in this unruly afro. In that I don’t fit in the box of that typical corporate look. I like for my work to speak for itself not my image.
While in East Africa where do you most likely spend your Saturday afternoon?
At home, meeting up with friends for lunch or perhaps at a good beach hotel reading a good book while in Dar es Salaam.
Best destination yet in East Africa?
Oh wowe that’s really a good question, so it depends I like different places for different reasons, I’ve been to many spots in East African at this point. Zanzibar is an all time favorite I’d go on Safari blue, I would do island hoping just be on a boat all day playing music, eating good food and going to the island just chilling and coming back in the evening. That to me is like Ah-mazing.
|Doreen far left with a red top, is with her colleagues at their|
head office in Msasani, DSM. Their CEO is the one sitting
at the table Mme Nisha
Do you have a must visit list?
I consider myself a global citizen and have a lot of travels planned during the year. One on the list is Madagascar and Thailand. I visited Seychelles last year, that trip was life changing. I would love to go back again soon.
In your opinion what is East Africa’s strength?
It’s very interconnected, all you need is an East African passport and you can get through all these countries without a Visa. Our diverse yet merging cultures aided by Kiswahili that is spoken widely in most countries; make it very easy for us to communicate and understand each other which is great.
Do you have a collection?
I’m not sure if I would call it collecting, but I have a lot mugs from different countries. So if I visit a new country, I usually buy a mug and a fridge magnet from that locale. I try to make sure it’s very particular to the culture, either it says Uganda or Barcelona or something. I always want to remember the places I have visited and this helps me do that.
Most thoughtful gift you’ve received?
Mhmm so I just recently received a recorder as a gift because the person knew I wanted to start a podcast. I thought that was so lovely and thoughtful. I also just love it when people give me a massage gift or just pay for my spa as I’m all about feeling good in my body. I’ve had this gift a couple of times, I’d hear ‘Hey I’ve paid for your spa just go to this and they’ll take care of you..,” I’m like yes, yes, how about that!
Most thoughtful gift you’ve given?
|Children watching Akili & Me in rural Tanzania|
I think this is the most notable gift I’ve ever given, helping to take care of my siblings-attending parent teacher meetings or dropping them at soccer practice. All awhile working part time, doing community service and taking a full load of classes. This was not only a gift to my siblings and parents but also to me. I’m stronger today because of it.
A big book you have read recently?
Michelle Obama-Becoming It’s amazing I am so glad she wrote that book because a lot of women and girls look up to her. She really showed us real life; she helped me answer a lot of my own questions.
Like when she talks about earlier in her career practicing law and hating it wanting to do something else. I could resonate with that cause after I graduated from University I worked in a bank in the U.S and I hated it.
I loved the book it was very real and human she shared all the experiences we’ve wondered about, cause when you see successful people like that you think. They’ve always been great; they’ve always been this way taraa taraa taraa, no! Actually they’ve put work and all these pieces came together one after the other overtime.
A film that has most impacted you?
So when I was working in Washington, DC, my mother stumbled upon the first episode of Ubongo Kids and shared it with me. I was like yo! This is exactly what I needed when I was growing up and never had. So I decided to quit my job and come back home and make sure this quality educational content, gets out to more kids and that’s how I ended up here. The video changed my life.
How do you stay informed in this fast paced tech lifestyle?
I read the news and articles on CNN, BBC, New York Times, Business Insider and many others. But I also read books and other education focused media channels..
What doesn’t miss in your fridge?
|Kids from Njeula village in Morogoro show their|
appreciation after being visited by Ubongo Learning
Ubongo programs are broadcasted in RTV in Rwanda from Mon-Friday at 4:30pm, on TBC and TBC taifa in Tanzania from Mon-Fri in the 2:30/3pm slots as well the weekend from 9am. They also show in NTV in Uganda on Saturdays from 9am, as well on Citizen TV in Kenya on Sat from 9:20am and Azam 2 TV from Mon –Friday at 5:30pm in Tanzania.
This article was first published in the East African Newspaper https://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/magazine/Doreen-kessy-ubongo-kids-natural-hair-is-a-big-statement/434746-5027494-105hid0z/index.html