Monday 31 July 2017

Biruktawit Tigabu (Brukty, as she prefers to be called) is co-founder of Whiz Kids Workshop, a social enterprise that runs a series of innovative media programmes that educate millions of children and youth in both urban and rural areas across Ethiopia, offering entertaining and culturally relevant content.

Whiz Kids Workshop is among social enterprises with high potential for growth included in the Investment Readiness programme funded through the Support for Social Enterprises in Eastern Africa project. The programme is run in Ethiopia by East Africa Gate (EAGate), investment consulting solution.

Brukty has a vast first-hand experience with children and youth issues and education systems in Ethiopia. In her own childhood and college life as well as while working as a primary school teacher in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, Brukty witnessed the difficult conditions facing Ethiopian children. Her increasing concern with the alarmingly high illiteracy and dropout rates in Ethiopia, caused her to constantly ask herself, "How can the situation be improved? In what ways can I personally contribute to addressing and solving these overwhelming problems?"

Determined to reach out to this huge, diverse and complex local community population groups of children and youth, Brukty instinctively knew she would need to create an appropriate mass education media, primarily television but also a mix of other diverse complementary media. She also surveyed education research, assessing the local situations and contexts, identifying and analysing the potential user groups and their needs, key problems and issues in the existing education systems, challenges and opportunities.

In 2005, Brukty and her husband Shane Etzenhouser launched Whiz Kids Workshop from humble beginnings in their living room. From the start, she conceived Whiz Kids Workshop primarily as a social business that generates income mainly through media programme sponsorship and product sales. She says, "We boldly entered the business without sufficient practical experience in education media programming." By promoting research-based approaches, she formulated a dynamic business strategy that adapts to local realities and needs to address knowledge gaps. She developed a simple low-cost innovative programming model that caters for different age and gender groups, phase by phase, across critical life chapters starting from early childhood to adolescence.

In 2006, Brukty launched the award-winning educational television series Tsehai Loves Learning, for kids in early childhood. The young couple produced this popular show with meagre resources. "We had mainly our ideas and we were poorly equipped to create Tsehai Loves Learning.  We used sock puppets, a computer, a simple graphics software package, a small camera and our own voices."

Launched in 2008, Involve Me became the first-of-its-kind youth education television series in Ethiopia. It caters for youth aged nine to sixteen. Brukty explains that this show, "…delivers media content produced by youth and for youth. We wanted to empower youth to produce one minute films and have a voice.” In 2010, Whiz Kids launched Little Investigators, a motivational television programme series that encourages scientific curiosity in early teens aged nine to sixteen.

Beyond early childhood education, Brukty leads programmes intended to change individual and social norms and attitudes that discourage young girls from exercising their basic human right to receive education and delay marriage. Building on the success of Involve Me, in 2014, Brukty created Involve Me; Watch Me, which reaches out to adolescent girls and provides them with successful Ethiopian female role models who help educate them on important topics as their right to education, reproductive health, etc. 

Whiz Kids developed over 300 model videos on how to teach reading for G1-8 students in seven Ethiopian mother tongue languages to support teacher training colleges under the financial and technical assistance of the Ministry of Education and USAID. In addition, Whiz Kids published over 100 titles of children books to promote and cultivate the culture of reading.  

Brukty is currently working on an upcoming television animation series called Tibeb Girls, meaning Girls of Wisdom, a new project intended to create a generation of adolescents who understand and safeguard their human rights for a just future. She says, "Tibeb Girls incorporates innovative ideas and basic principles that girls can achieve their full potential when given equal educational opportunity. Girls across Africa are hungry for relevant educational and motivational programs like Tibeb Girls that empower them to realize their full potential as significant contributors to society." Tibeb Girls pilot production is done in Amharic, English and French languages to reach a wider African audience and will continue to adapt other languages widely spoken on the continents. Tibeb Girls presents innovative ideas and success story in demonstrating huge potential to directly and significantly contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 5, 9 and 13.

Brukty explains that starting and operating an entirely new social enterprise that runs a programme incorporating a family of several education outreach projects of such magnitude and scale was neither easy nor without many challenges along the way. "The past twelve years were full of struggles that demanded determination, patience and hard work to achieve success. Financing has been a major growth barrier facing Whiz Kids Workshop over the years. We have to educate the public on the value of educational media such as books, videos and games that are locally produced.” 

Brukty conveys media messages that inspire action through Whiz Kids Workshop programmes, all of which encourage youth to become agents of change in their communities. She is also an ardent advocate of promoting social businesses and local organizations that serve the most vulnerable people: children, women, girls, and the poor who are least likely to receive education and opportunities to improve their lives.

Bruktawit Tigabu was among the East African team of twelve outstanding social entrepreneurs on board the boatcamp 2017