Jean Cox-Kearns – 1st 6 months inside Camara Education

It is almost 10 years since Camara Education first came onto my radar.  At that time Cormac Lynch Camara’s founder approached me where I worked in Dell to see how Dell could partner with Camara Education.  The idea of taking ‘end of first life’ electronics and using them to support the delivery of education in Africa was so compelling it started a long relationship between both organisations.  In those early days, the operation was a simple Social Enterprise model, providing teacher training, technology and educational resources to schools. The team worked to understand the curricula in the countries, knew that there could be no dependency on internet connectivity and so needed technology as the vehicle to get the learning tools into the classroom.  When I first looked at the model I saw it as solely supporting the educational needs of children; however, I was lucky enough at the time to be traveling frequently to Africa for my work and was able to visit Camara sites. I remember clearly one day, sitting in the Camara Kenya hub in Mombasa, listening to a phone conversation where Safaricom had called to see if any Camara technical volunteers were ready to take up technician jobs with them.  That was the moment when I saw the power of Camara’s impact on the community – it went well beyond the classroom. In this model the educators are trained before using the technology and supported on an ongoing basis; they are impacted in terms of competency. Because of that and the availability of technology the students were also positively impacted. Outside of that, because volunteers were trained to support the maintenance of technology, they were gaining invaluable work experience improving their employability.  

As time went by and Camara Education grew it began to win projects and has over the past number of years been delivering projects for organisations such as Irish Aid, the Aga Khan Foundation, Department of International Development, the Ethiopian Ministry of Education, Google and Dell.  These projects have ranged from simply giving access to educational content through technology, to specific projects focused on maths and literacy to projects focused on STEM subjects. Throughout this period of growth, the organisation has stayed true to its mission to be hands on in the delivery of education staying involved with the schools which have installed their ICT classrooms and being responsible for the technology when it becomes waste.  From the outside looking in this is what I understood Camara to be and I loved what was being accomplished.

So 6 months ago I took the plunge to join Camara Education on a permanent basis and having stepped from the outside to the inside of the organisation I was immediately blown away by how naive I had been with my understanding of what we do and how we do it.  Yes, everything described above is correct, but I discovered there was so much more to the Camara Education story. In Ireland, the development of the Techspace programme has brought Camara Ireland into the youth center environment in addition to working in schools. This also allowed for more creativity of the resources developed and support for STEM and Computer Sciences enabling us to support both formal and informal learning. In addition, the education team is developing ‘Camara Education’ programmes enabling teachers and students to further their learning,  supporting education as an ongoing journey, and our focus across all our countries is to collect data from our programmes allowing us to measure the impact of what we deliver. However, it doesn’t stop there – in the past 6 months I have been regularly ‘blown away’ by the team in Camara Education. It is it’s own thriving community, living by 4 core values – Creative, Caring, Committed and Collaborative – and I see these values in practice all the time. I have also been blown away by our volunteers and interns who give so much to our organisation, fulfilling roles, tasks and projects that we could not otherwise resource, not to mention the companies that support us with both resources and funding, or partner with us to deliver great programmes.  I am inspired by the Camara Education team and our communities and proud to be part of what we are doing. I had the great pleasure of attending our hub conference last week in Ethiopia which was the first time in two years that the leadership team was together. During this week we worked together to reconfirm our goals, our strategy and our mission. We looked at how we can be more successful in sharing our mission and our successes to gain further support that will enable us to widen our reach. More importantly, we reconfirmed that we are all aligned and we came away from the week with renewed energy for success.

As CEO I hope to support and enable this organisation to get to its next level of success.  I also hope to ensure everyone knows clearly what their contribution is and feels empowered to deliver.

As we progress to the mid-point of our 2017-2020 strategy I am confident we can fulfill our mission of impacting 5 million children by the end of this strategy cycle.  While we celebrate the success of our achievement we, however, need to appreciate that there is so much more to do. The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) data for 2016, shows that children of sub-Saharan Africa are the most excluded from education across all the regions globally, with over a fifth of children between the ages of 6-11 out of school, followed by a third of youth between the ages of 12-14, and according to UIS data, almost 60% of youth between the ages of 15-17 are not in school. This propels me forward and motivates me even more to lead this great organisation to ensure all children have access to a good quality education. In the words of Kofi Anan, “Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family”.

Pictured below is Jean with students from a school in the Arba Minch region of Ethiopia on a visit there in April. They were busy demonstrating their computer knowledge!


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