Last month, we traveled to Paris and Nairobi to attend the two Global Learning XPRIZE summits.

What is the Global Learning XPRIZE? The XPRIZE Foundation is a California-based nonprofit that catalyzes global innovation by running incentive prize competitions to solve some of our time’s grand challenges. In the past few years, they’ve awarded prizes such as the $10M Ansari XPRIZE to launch a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks. The progressive Automotive XPRIZE, the $30M Google Lunar XPRIZE to build a lunar lander, the $10M Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE to build a medical device, and the $2M Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE. The Global Learning XPRIZE, one of their most recent competitions, is a $15M prize, sponsored by visionaries like Elon Musk, to build open source and scalable Android-based software to empower the 250 million illiterate children around the world to teach themselves basic reading, writing and arithmetic within 18 months.

An official image from the Global Learning XPRIZE

When we started Kukua, we registered to compete for the Global Learning XPRIZE. We recognized the catalytic potential of a global competition like the XPRIZE and are so convinced by the broader vision of ending illiteracy that we signed up believing: “If one team wins, we all win.” While we’d connected with a few of the other teams before, the two summits offered a chance to meet many more of them. In both instances, speakers discussed the implications of the prize, and teams presented their work and progress.

Our team’s favorite speaker was Stanislas Dehaene, a leading neuroscientist, who spoke at the Paris Summit. His book, Reading in the Brain, was the first piece of literature that we read when embarking on this adventure, and inspired much of our own thinking (see some references in our previous post). His talk, which focused on explaining how the brain works and how children best learn to read based on his research, was exciting for us as it confirmed many of the choices we made in the way we’re building our game (namely: focus on grapheme to phoneme conversion, quick automaticity of letter sounds and blending of small chunks).

Kukua was also amongst the teams who presented. I had the chance to tell our story, present our user-centered design approach, discuss the time we spent learning about our users on the ground and introduce our globally distributed team of young and driven entrepreneurs, award winning game designers, expert educators, dedicated advisors and a strong testing local team. It was also exciting to preview one of our game prototypes to everyone.

Our Founder and CEO Lucrezia presenting KUKUA at the Nairobi XPRIZE Summit

Above all, we were thrilled to see the “open source spirit” prevailing throughout the entire Summit. All the teams were eager to speak to each other, share our work and find a collaborative way to work together. It was invigorating to see so many talented and passionate teams work to solve the same grand challenge.

We’ll be keeping you updated as the competition progresses. In November 2016, we will submit our final product to the XPRIZE jury. 12 semi-finalist teams will be selected for one month of field testing. After that, they’ll present their solutions and results in front of another jury, who’ll select five finalists, award them each $1 million and deploy their solutions across 200 villages in a Swahili-speaking country, reaching 3,000 children (ages 7-10) over the course of an 18-month period.At the end of the pilot, the children will be tested with standardized tests (EGRA & EGMA) and results will guide the final $10 million prize in early 2019.