Drew Edwards talks about his new role as Manager Project Hello World, and the past, present and future of the project and the Hello Hubs.

As the new Manager of Project Hello World, Drew Edwards is no stranger to either the organisation or the project. In his position as Director of International Operations and Co-Founder of Pangea Educational Development (PED), he worked closely with the team of Projects For All to plan, build and manage their four Hello Hubs in Uganda.

Drew’s first encounter with Hello World was in 2014 through his cousin Steve Tiseo, CEO of design agency Friendly Vengeance. Steve met Katrin Macmillan and Roland Wells at the SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin/Texas, after listening to their panel discussion on Digitally Democratising Education. “Steve introduced us and we connected straight away,” remembers Drew, “Projects For All was looking for places in Africa to roll-out Hello World, and we at PED were trying to give our communities access to computers and reach more children who were out of school. The missions of our organisations synced seamlessly – and so we partnered."

“What I liked about the project was its approach.

It wasn’t until Drew took part in the first build in Kidubuli that he fully understood the Hello Hub’s potential. "Initially, I didn’t really get it!” he laughs, thinking back, “I did not fully understand what a Hello Hub looks like, how it operates and how people use it. But what I liked about the project was its approach.” Community-led development is one of the core principles of Projects For All when embarking on new projects, and Hello World is no exception. “When community members are engaged in the process from the start, and are the ones who invite the project because they have some interest in it, they make an ongoing investment. And that builds sustainability, social accountability, and security.” For Drew, these are important aspects of development work, whose founding organisation PED has just won the 2016 GoAbroad Innovation in Sustainability Award. “If you look at the approach of Projects For All, combined with this incredible machine that is self-sustaining because it is solar-powered and that community members can use for whatever they find valuable – I don’t think one needs a whole lot of convincing,” he says.

But such an approach doesn’t come without its challenges. For Drew, the most stressful part of the project is the building of the Hubs. "Compared to other development projects, Hello World is not about control and applying your skill set to accomplishing a project, and then handing it over. It is about embracing something that is entirely new to someone and showing its value,” he explains, “It is about involving communities in the process and encouraging them to engage in something they don’t know.” The difficulty with all educational projects is that it is about guiding the end-user through the process in the hope of transformation. This can be a slow, incremental process with many steps back, and maybe a few more steps forward – but maybe that is what makes it so worthwhile. “You create these wonderful relationships with the communities,“ says Drew, “and you can see the continuous growth. Nothing can beat that feeling of accomplishment.”

In the next few months, the team of Hello World will focus on refining the technological processes and making the Hubs replicable and scalable. “We are also working on refining educational outcomes,“ explains Drew, “Data is going to be increasingly important going forward because it will make our programming more efficient. And for the communities it provides invaluable feedback on the way the Hubs are used and what their children are actually learning." To achieve this, the team will work closely with SOLE Central and the School in the Cloud, Sugata Mitra’s research centre for self-organised learning at Newcastle University. The Hello Hubs will provide data about usage and educational attainment that will then be collected and analysed by his team of research experts.

“Data is going to be increasingly important.“ 

There is no doubt that the Hello Hubs will soon be better equipped than ever for their mission to reduce the global education deficit and to give communities a voice. Long-term, however, this requires bringing this innovative technology to many more communities across the continent of Africa and beyond. “I would like to see the Hubs scaled and tried in a couple of different contexts, for example in refugee camps,” says Drew, reflecting upon the future. A small step towards this goal is on the horizon: after five builds in Nigeria and Uganda, Hello World has two more Hello Hubs planned later this year, both in Uganda. “We have started our social community process of identifying potential partner communities and organisations that will work alongside us,” he explains, “and we hope to be able to start building in October or November."

Even though one of the main objectives is to scale Hello World, Drew’s focus remains on the individual child when being asked about his hopes for the future of the project. “We don’t always get the benefit of seeing how our work affects a child’s life in the long term,“ he says, “I always hope that, for one brief moment 10 or 20 years down the line, we get a glimpse that our work gave somebody the opportunity to do whatever he or she wanted.”

By Monika Hubbard

If you would like to get in touch with Drew, you can reach him on drew@projectsforall.org.

 

The team of Project Hello World is growing and our objectives are growing with us. We want to bring the Hello Hubs to more children who have no or limited access to education. Digital learning allows children to educate themselves and share their voices with the global community. It will give them a chance to create their own future. But we at Hello World can't change lives on our own. We need your support to build more Hello Hubs, so please donate. The children at the Hello Hubs will thank you.