Q&A with our client onebillion!

onebillion (onebillion.org) is a non-profit organisation based in London. They develop educational software – onecourse – for reading and numeracy in a child's own language. They work with partner organisations across the world to get this software onto tablets and into children’s hands. They aim to reach the most marginalised children, including those with special educational needs, refugees and those living in very remote areas. onebillion is currently supporting the Malawi Ministry of Education in the nationwide rollout of this software to every government school in Malawi, reaching 3.5 million school children per year by 2029.

Earlier this year you had a two week trip to Malawi and produced this amazing BTS video....

Can I ask firstly why you chose to visit Lilongwe in particular? And perhaps describe a little about your objectives for this trip? 

The onebillion team often visits Malawi and usually Lilongwe because we have good relationships with many primary schools there who have been using our software for well over a decade. This means we can visit a range of schools, interact with children and teachers, and observe children using the software. We take the time to see which elements work well and the children find informative and engaging, and which ones might need refining. We regularly update the software to ensure it is being as impactful as possible. Lilongwe is also the headquarters of our partner Imagine Worldwide, who distribute the software in Malawi and support the government with its implementation.

Was there anyone you met who stood out to you on this visit? Anything that made a big impression/surprised you? 

There are a lot of challenges faced by children and teachers in Malawi, including very large class sizes (it’s not unusual for there to be more than 100 children in a class) and few educational resources. The World Bank states that 9 out of 10 children in low-income countries cannot read a simple text by the age of 10. Our goal is to overhaul this situation by providing high-quality, evidence-based software that is child-focused and meets their needs. What is wonderful to see in Malawi is the level of government ownership of the rollout of the software – and the enthusiasm behind ensuring that this will transform a generation of learning.

Illo Agency has begun assisting you on creating new diverse content for your library.

Can I ask if any of these books were shared as yet? and if so, if they are being well received? 

Several of the books illustrated by Illo Agency artists have already been localised and recorded into Chichewa and added to our digital library. It is so wonderful to be able to share such brilliantly illustrated books with so many children. We design our digital library to be a rich sanctuary of engaging books that both reflect familiar contexts and show windows into other cultures and places, and the illustrations really bring the text to life. We have several more books by Illo Agency artists currently going through the localisation and production process, and they will be added to the digital library over the coming months. I can’t wait for them to be shared, read and enjoyed! 

Or perhaps any feedback you’ve had from the children / students generally on the existing archive, i.e. what kinds of subjects/ tools they enjoy reading/ learning from the most?

We often see children enjoying stories about animals and also silly or humorous stories that make them smile and giggle. This is an area of constant iteration – we seek advice from teachers, caregivers, primary school children, older children, librarians, literacy experts and implementation partners in-country to make sure the library is full of brilliant books that the children really want to read and retell.

What’s next for onebillion, is there anything you can share that you’re perhaps working towards/ looking to achieve in the coming years? Perhaps where you are heading next? 

A key focus at the moment is supporting the national roll-out of our software to all government primary schools in Malawi, and supporting scaling partners across other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Simultaneously, we’re very focused on improving and expanding onecourse to be more effective and efficient for children with special educational needs and disabilities. With the support of the LEGO Foundation, we’ve been working to centre the voices of neurodivergent children within the software – including changes to functionality and more representation of neurodiversity within the library. We’ve worked with neurodivergent contributors and run co-creation sessions to develop new books with neurodivergent children. 

And finally, if there's anything I can add to this piece about the charity that perhaps hasn't been covered? perhaps anything in relation to your partners if you can share this?

Partnerships are key to getting the software into the hands of children who need it most. onebillion works with a number of excellent implementation partners across 17 countries who work with communities to co-develop implementation models that enable children to access onecourse through schools and through communities, including in refugee contexts and with out-of-school children.

If you’d like more info, please contact: [email protected]

At illo agency, we pride ourselves in representing a collation of global illustrators, distinctly diverse in creativity and uniquely celebrated by like-minded clients across a range of commercial markets.