The winner of the Global Innovation Awards 2014, Elvis Austins was functionally illiterate at the age of 20. It is interesting to note that this very same man who struggled to even write his name as an adult is a proud chairperson of an organisation solving literacy problems in Africa.
There are times when innovation is intentional, when someone deliberately solves a problem or addresses a need through innovation and then there are situations where innovation is a default. Elvis Austins did not know that when he started an SMS service that would send him words from the dictionary on a daily basis, he would be creating a product that would address a fundamental need in the continent. The level of literacy in Mother Africa are comparably low and the command of the English language is not that great either, whilst this Queens language is growing to become a universal medium of communication globally.
Growing up in Nigeria, Elvis was challenged when he reached his twenties and he couldn’t express himself well in English. Someday in 2010 he happened to watch the American movie about a girl who participated in ‘spelling bee’s’, “Akeelah and the bee” and he was immediately inspired to know more about the language. He bought a pocket dictionary that he would refer to on a daily basis to learn a new word everyday.
As time progressed, his commitment to learning new words daily was distracted by other things that required his time such as house chores. His inability to commit to learning one word-a-day caused him to think about how he could use technology to do the very same thing, a little more conveniently.
“I started thinking of a methodology that could provide a solution. I knew technology was my best bet. To be honest, I was thinking of apps on mobiles, but all of a sudden the idea of Short Message Service (SMS) seemed to be a more practical and easy solution to my problem.” says Elvis.
This was the birth of SpellAfrica, a non-profit organization that addresses the issue of illiteracy in Africa through mobile learning. It is an SMS based service that sends you a dictionary word daily for free.
Despite the barriers to entry that Elvis faced especially because he is part of a growing economy, basic things such as owning a laptop are a luxury, he still managed to set up his organization and get it to this level.
Entrepreneurship has a lot to do with resilience and learning to make use of what you have in order to make more. Elvis got help from overseas to set up his organization and he created a network for SpellAfrica across borders.
SpellAfrica needs to be implemented in all African countries, we are fighting in order to cultivate a culture of reading amongst young people. We need more social entrepreneurs to penetrate the market and come up with robust solutions to world problems that we have comfortably lived with over the years. Find out More information about this multi-award winning Innovation on SpellAfrica.org
We salute Elvis for choosing to confront his weakness and use it to inspire and educate other young people who might be in the same situation as him.