g.Maarifa stands for global knowledge and was founded by Evanna Hu and Andrew Leventhal.
Hu told HumanIPO the USSD and SMS service targets low-income urban youths aged between 15 and 25 years in developing markets, especially those who fail to advance their education after primary school given the lack of school fees, or access to educational opportunities.
The service uses SMS to train and evaluate its subscribers on universal vocational skills in disciplines including entrepreneurship, professional etiquette, and basic financial literacy. The students do their studies through SMS before taking an examination at the end of each course.
Hu says she came up with the idea while at the Chicago Ideas Week, in late 2011, and was triggered to develop it after spending six years in the nonprofit sector and politics.
“I realized that education in Africa in the schools I visited was theoretical, and as more pupils and students were dropping out of the system, fewer were ending up with a job-ready education at all, so I realized that SMS was the best way to reach them,” she said.
She adds that she saw that using technology in education could help reduce the cost of education and even produce a skilled labour force for Africa.
"However, skills alone were not enough, so I added an SMS job aggregation service too," she said.
According to Leventhal, g.Maarifa’s SMS service will not only offer SMS lessons and exams, but will also offer certification from key institutional bodies such as the Ministry of Education and from international exam bodies.
g.Maarifa is now working with various stakeholders in education, including the Ministry of Education in Kenya, to look out for talented and bright students to work with as they create avenues to enable them to move from training to job placements, internships and full time careers.
It currently has focus group of 25 students, and would be kicking off a pilot with approximately 300 students in Kibera, to be followed by a nationwide rollout of the service in the coming weeks.
Upon piloting in Kibera’s Ayany areas, the founders are optimistic that through their partnerships with various multi-national and local employers, the service can quickly take off across the continent.
“We give them a list of our graduates that fit their hiring criteria for various job opportunities. We aim to improve the livelihoods of those without access or the economic capacity to pursue various employment opportunities by giving them the skills to succeed in both the job market and self-employment.”
According to the World Bank, 60 percent of East Africa’s youths are not employed. Some 64 percent of Kenyan youths do not have jobs. Only around 20 percent of East Africans have completed secondary school. While 32 percent of Kenyans have a secondary school diploma, around 70 percent say they dropped out of secondary schools because of financial reasons.
Hu and Leventhal agree that these numbers, coupled with extensive field and market research, make a convincing argument that there is need for alternate post-primary and post-secondary options, especially since the East African bloc is trying to become a more influential global player.
g.Maarifa is presently among the The Empact 100 List, a testament to the impact entrepreneurs make on the economy and an inspire entrepreneurs. Empact 100 is run by the Startup America Partnership, Opportunity International, Global Entrepreneurship Week and showcase top entrepreneurs in the US age 30 and under. Last year, Empact 100s’ startups were recognized in a ceremony at the White House for their achievements.
g.Maarifa has also been featured in Alleviating Poverty Through Entrepreneurship Summit and in Mobiles for International Development, TechChange- a course for World Bank and UN officials.