Obami is a Social Learning platform that provides an educational space for learners, teachers and parents, as well as, businesses, non-governmental organizations and governments. The young company’s platform is already being used in over 400 organizations, primarily within South Africa, but also in countries across the continent.
KITE Invest: In a few sentences please explain how Obami actually works and how does it incorporate such a varying clientele? Specifically, discuss the differences between the education platform and the business-targeted platform.
Obami: Obami lets you (or your organisation) create and join online learning communities.
It’s a “social learning” platform – it applies all the “ed-tech” trends (like cloud, social, micro-learning, OER, gamification, moocs and e-assessment) to what would otherwise be a traditional learning management system (LMS).
We believe that learning is life-long – it doesn’t only happen at school. And so, we’ve built the platform in such a way that it recognises various settings within different organisations – whether it’s courses and faculties (or departments and topics) as opposed to school subjects and grades; or students and lecturers (or staff and managers) as opposed to learners and teachers, and so on.
At a fundamental level, we’ve made sure that Obami addresses 4 core areas – community management, content, collaboration and assessment – each of which are critical to any learning environment.
KITE: Education in South Africa and throughout the African region suffers from great discrepancies of access to education, and an access to good education. How does Obami bridge this gap?
Obami: It’s a sad reality that this gap exists, but there are a number of ways in which we’re trying to bridge it – mostly around affordability and accessibility, and complementary services.
Obami is offered free to schools, with open resources available through the platform – those who stand to benefit the most can’t afford paid-for solutions, and so we’ve made sure that this is not a barrier to entry for them.
The African market is mobile-first (and less than 15% of SA’s schools have connected computer labs), so for those who might not have the luxury of a desktop computer, laptop or tablet, we provide an equally engaging experience through mobile.
Additional services like professional development (through courseware) and tutoring (via online support channels) can take place through the platform too, giving us, our partners and the teachers who are creating and sharing great resources already, a chance to really make a difference to those who need it most. Imagine the impact it’ll have as this scales!
KITE: Beyond the platform, Obami has initiated a virtual school with the aspiration of becoming the biggest school in Africa. Please shed light on this venture and how does Obami factor in different languages,cultures etc? Are there different versions available to numerous markets?
Obami: We used to only allow organisations to register… and then we had a lot of kids trying to sign up as system admins for their schools, just so they could get on. So, we started the “Obami School”, which – at this point – is more of a fun and engaging place for learners to hang out in than an authorized learning establishment. We’re working on that though and hope to have an official curricular with accreditation in the near future – but of course we’ll make sure that it remains a fun and engaging place.
As for cultural and linguistic differences, this is a challenge as Africa is pretty fragmented not only across – but also within – each of its 54 countries. One of Obami’s strengths in this case, is that it is driven by social media where a lot of content is user generated… this, coupled with a framework that is easy to navigate (through universal iconography, as opposed to heavy text), has seen Obami being used in multiple languages already (e.g. Afrikaans, Zulu, Swahili, French and Greek).
KITE: One of the best perks for clients of Obami is that it is free. How does Obami subsidize the zero cost factor? What are the other means of bringing in capital?
Obami: Obami is based on a Freemium model.
Since we don’t want to out-price anyone when it comes to having access to a decent education, the basic package is free for individuals and schools.
Our premium products and solutions are where the money is at… We provide a white-label solution that allows organisations to customise the front-end of the platform to suit their corporate identities. We also offer publishers a means of selling premium content through the platform to a growing audience.
KITE: Investors are increasingly keen to invest in socially responsible companies and are looking beyond borders. At what funding stage would you place Obami? Is the company currently seeking investment, and if so, what type of investment is Obami open and parcel to?
Obami: We’re focusing on sales at the moment but at the same time, we’ve realised that to maximise our reach and effect across the continent, we’ll need to bring in some growth capital.
Obami as an investment opportunity can be packaged in two ways – one as an enterprise that can make a significant social impact and the other as a highly profitable venture. The question is… do they have to be mutually exclusive?
KITE: Since launching what have been your experiences with seeking investment and investors? What are some lessons learned that you would apply in the future when collaborating with investors?
Obami: We were chatting informally to some of the local VCs when Obami launched as a social learning platform back in 2010. The product was new in a very immature market, so the interest just wasn’t there.
Later on, we were offered investment capital from one of South Africa’s most established corporations. But, after months of meetings, it turned out that we needed to walk away. There were just too many things that didn’t feel right when it came to signing on the dotted line.
Of course it was hard at the time, but with hindsight, it was probably the best decision we made.
Trust your gut.
KITE: KITE Invest collaborates with investment-related entities around the world. Taking this into account, is there any final message you would like to give?
Obami: Africa, education and Obami are so hot right now.