Afroes: Making a Game of Learning, Changing ‘Mental Models’

Afroes: Making a Game of Learning, Changing ‘Mental Models’

Anne Githuku-Shongwe, founder and CEO of Afroes, believes young people are more receptive to learning about the world when it is presented to them within the context of a digital game — especially one they can play on their mobile phones.

Githuku-Shongwe’s South African and Kenyan-based company produces applications and content for adolescents containing powerful, educational and social messages with the aim of providing experiential learning and simulation through games, which can influence mindsets and mental models.

“At Afroes, our dream is to unlock the potential of young South Africans and young Africans across the continent,” Githuku-Shongwe said. “And we do this through play, through games, through digital interactive media that we believe can actually change the belief systems that are entrenched in our young people.”

Githuku-Shongwe grasped early on the ubiquity and power of mobile phones. One thing that struck her was 735 million Africans having access to them — 450 million of them under the age of 28. In South Africa alone, she said, 29 million youths have access to mobile phones through family members and friends.

“It’s a revolution,” she said. “Which means that today, if we choose to, we can send key messages to every single young South African each day. Imagine the power of influence that is possible with that.”

Afroes collaborated with UN Women Southern Africa to produce a mobile phone game called Moraba, which addresses gender-based violence issues. The game highlights gender inequality, gender rights, and establishes advocacy for the subject while taking a hard look at date rape.

Another game, Haki, offers the player to address wrongs that tear at the social and ecological fabric of the country. Still another, ChampChase — an initiative of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund-led Champions For Children campaign — raises awareness about child safety and security, underscoring the plight of children and their vulnerabilities so they can speak out about and against abuse.

Afroes won the third place prize of $8,000 at the 5th Global Forum on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which took place in London this past June. The company was chosen from among 50 others that had entered the vaunted Dragon’s Den Pitching Competition, where contestants are judged on criteria such as commercial potential, long-term success and impact upon society. That win, along with positive feedback generated from Afroes game users, has prompted Githuku-Shongwe to continue developing content which will exert a positive effect on Africa’s youth for years to come.

“I think the key thing we’ve learned from the games is the way they influence and change mental models,” Githuku-Shongwe said. “And we’ve found that decisions young people make while trying to win the games, those decisions are replicated in their real lives.”