Twenty finalist teams were celebrated by the "Innovate for Refugees" competition organized by the MIT Enterprise Forum, announced on the 21st September. They are now getting ready for the pre-final stage on 3rd October where they will receive training to prepare them for the final stage the following day.
The competition is on a mission to find and reward tech-driven solutions to alleviate the burden of the current refugee crisis, the largest since the since the second world war, as their website puts it. They subdivide the crisis into issues like healthcare, food, shelter, security, education and energy.
We had a chance to talk to one of the finalists, Kenan Mobayed, a Syrian-Canadian, born and brought up in Dubai. "#ProjectZayed is a simple and effective remote educational process designed to reach out to children in need," Mobayed explained to us.
"We employ a web-based learning platform, coupled with E-Smart Library, a unique remotely monitored tablet management system, to enable students from developed countries to teach the children in affected areas."
Refugee children can use tablets to access the courses created by 'student-teachers' in other countries. In parallel, #ProjectZayed also aims at reducing the potential lack of available teachers, by inducing the teaching spirit in these young students right in their school years.
Being a cloud-based solution, Collagebook Zayed e-learning platform is free of any need of infrastructure at the learner level, except for an internet-enabled device to access the platform. E-Smart Library enables the sharing of 3G-connected tablet devices among a group of students, helping to maximize the educational delivery to larger number of learners with minimal equipment handling.
"To test out our idea, we launched a prototype trial between India and the UAE. Two school students based in Dubai volunteered to teach a group of children from the slums of Mumbai," Mobayed explained. The students at each end used Collagebook Zayed e-learning platform to communicate and deliver courses to children.
"The trial lasted three months and the results were remarkable! What really excites about this project is not just the potential to easily educate many children globally; it also helps deepen the value of teaching in our younger generations," he told us.
"We look forward to associate with an implementation agency working directly with refugee camps to implement a larger-scale pilot project on the ground," he said.
He also added that Telecom providers, such as Zain, one of the sponsors, can be valuable partners, by helping provide the much-required Internet access to these remote-learning centers. "Once tested out on the ground, replication of the model will be quite fast and easy," assured Mobayed.
Being a Syrian himself, and educated and settled in Dubai, Mobayed's passion to bring change and prosperity to deprived people of the Arab region drove him to explore education and technology sectors. And since "education is the empowering force to enable the future citizens of the world," this was the pillar Mobayed chose to work for.
He is an alumnus of Harvard Business School and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Engineering from American University of Sharjah.
Beside #ProjectZAYED,b19 other projects that have also made it to the finalists list. The finalists will be pitching to the final round judge, Hala Fadel, the Forum's chairperson on the 4th of October. Each team will have three minutes to present followed by five minutes of Q&A.
Five winners, of which at least one will be a refugee team, will be announced during a Final Award Ceremony in the Park's Main Theater. Winners will receive a prize money of $ US 20,000 each and will be supported with mentorship and coaching to ensure a successful implementation of the winning solutions.
The MIT Enterprise Forum is partnered by MBC and ZAIN while the competition is sponsored by UNICEF, Jusoor, Uber and UNHCR.
"We always welcome the outpouring of solidarity towards refugees by civil society, activists, the countless local initiatives, entrepreneurs and normal citizens over the recent month. There are many ways to exploit [information and communication technologies] for the refugees' cause if it's oriented on the needs of the people concerned," the UNHCR Assistant External Relations/PI Officer responsible in Germany, Martin Rentsch told BECAUSE.
Image courtesy of #ProjectZayed: Kenan Mobayed from #ProjectZayed with children from Mumbai informal housing areas during their successful pilot project in June, 2016