Doreen Kessy, 30, is the chief business officer of Ubongo Learning, a five year old Tanzania-based social enterprise focusing on edutainment.
Ubongo is among 30 enterprises worldwide nominated for the Next Billion EdTech prize in recognition of the innovative use of technology in impact education in low income and emerging economies.
Ubongo provides localised fun content for children through a multi-platform educational media, and so far reaches over 10 million households in 31 African countries including Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda.
The programmes are disseminated through television, radio, the Internet as well interactive cell phone services which engage their audience.
One of the popular programmes is the educational cartoons Akili and Me and Ubongo Kids, animated shows featuring African folk stories, songs and characters.
Akili and Me teaches early literacy, numeracy, English as a second language and motor skills to three and six-year olds, while Ubongo Kids teaches seven to 14-year olds numeracy, science and life skills through animated songs and oration.
Kessy say of Ubongo; “We believe that it is critical to invest in children’s minds, equipping them with life skills that will help them become successful in life.”
Ubongo Learning is funded by partners such a the Human Development Innovation Fund, Omidyar Network, the Grant Challenges Canada, the Goodal Foundation and Data for Local Impact innovation challenge.
Co-founder and chief executive office Nisha Ligon says; “We are looking beyond winning the $25,000 EdTech prize and we are proud that we have been recognised as one of the organisations having a big impact on education. It is both incredible and quite frankly, encouraging.’’
Keesy believes Ubongo’s presence at the education conference and prize-giving ceremony in Dubai on March 22-24 will open more doors for the organisation.
She spoke to Caroline Uliwa about her off-duty passion.
What’s your off duty passion?
I am into interior design. I think energy is a currency and you need to be in an environment that really helps you thrive and flourish as a human being.
And for the same reason I'm passionate about working out because 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.
What would you do if you weren’t a business manager?
I aspire to be a life coach. I like to motivate others to be the best version of themselves.
What is your personal style?
My hair is a big statement and I have never had weaves or anything else because I really like to make a statement with my natural hair.
It might not match the typical corporate look, my work and not my image speaks for itself. I have been asked whether I am an artist or musician because of my afro hair.
While in East Africa where are you most likely to spend your Saturday afternoon?
At home, meeting up with friends for lunch or perhaps at a good beach hotel reading a good book when in Dar es Salaam.
Best destination yet in East Africa?
I like different places for different reasons, and I’ve been to many places in East Africa but Zanzibar is an all time favourite.
I’d go island hoping just be on a boat all day, listening to music, eating good food and chilling out. Then there is Nairobi.
Saturdays in Nairobi would find me in Karura Forest where I rent a bicycle and go cycling. Then I’d go for a two-hour yoga class at the Africa Yoga Project. That is a perfect afternoon. It sounds crazy but I plan my trips to Nairobi around these activities.
Do you have a bucket list?
Yes. On the list is Madagascar and Thailand. I visited Seychelles last year, and the trip turned out to be life changing. I would love to go back soon.
In your opinion what is East Africa’s strength?
It’s interconnectivity. All you need is an East African passport and you can get through all East African Community countries without a Visa.
Our diverse yet merging cultures aided by Kiswahili that is spoken widely in the region makes it easy for us to understand each other.
What is your best collection?
I have many mugs and fridge magnets from different countries I have visited. I try to make sure it’s particular to the country's or city's culture. This is how I remember the places I have visited.
What is the most thoughtful gift you have received?
I was recently given a recorder because the giver knew that I wanted to start a podcast. I thought that was so lovely and thoughtful. But I also just love it when people gift me a spa voucher and I have received several.
What is the most thoughtful gift you have given?
Taking care of my siblings. My family used to live in the US, and when I was in my 20s and attending college, I also helped take care of my five siblings by attending parent-teacher meetings or dropping them at soccer practice.
I was also 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 to me also because I’m stronger today because of that experience. I had no rest day.
What big book have you have read recently?
Michelle Obama's Becoming. It is amazing and I am glad she wrote it because many women and young girls look up to her.
She helped me answer many of my own questions for example when she is talking about her career struggles.
On her early professional life practicing law and hating it at the same time. This resonates with me.
I graduated from university and worked in a bank but I hated it because I wanted to have impact and change people's lives not make a few people rich. Her story tells us that to succeed you have to put in some work.
What film has had the most impact on you?
When I was working in Washington DC, my mother stumbled upon the first episode of Ubongo Kids and shared it with me and my first thought was that it was exactly what I needed when I was growing up and never had. So I decided to quit my job and come back to Tanzania and make sure this quality educational content gets out to as many children as possible and that is how I ended up here. The video changed my life.
What never misses from your fridge?
Real cacao powder which I buy from Ghana and I use it for my morning smoothie. I put it in the fridge because I don’t want it to go bad. I also always have a choice of hot chilli sauce.