The entrepreneur who uses technology to save African languages

At the age of 31, Elizabeth Kperrun has founded a start-up that makes digital material available to children while valuing their mother language and African cultures, combining tradition and innovation.

Who says tradition and innovation must be in opposition? Elizabeth Kperrun, one of the ten most interesting female entrepreneurs emerging in Africa according to Forbes magazine, is demonstrating the contrary. This young Nigerian woman uses new digital technology to transmit traditional African cultures and, at the same time, to help the children to pass from the use of local to national languages. Originally from the Nigerian state of Benue and the first of five children, she has a diploma in communications and is studying for a degree in Entrepreneurship and Business Management. In 2016 she founded Lizzie’s Creations, a start up with the objective of preserving and promoting African cultures using the most recent technology. She actually began her work in 2013 when she launched the mobile app AfroTalez, a collection of African fables for children from two to ten years old.

“I had noticed that, among the apps provided by suppliers there was a lack of material that had to do with culture for African children – she explains – and so I began to create quality material to help the younger children to learn their mother tongue which has widely shown itself to be a considerable aid to their understanding”.

AfroTalez is an application that tells traditional stories that convey teaching about life. It is arranged in episodes. The first, “The tortoise, the elephant and the hippopotamus” tells of the wisdom with which “Mister Tortoise” succeeds in overcoming difficulties in new and unexpected ways. “Oral folktales had an important place in my childhood – Elizabeth states – Digital technology has the capacity to provide some additional instruments and interactive games that, for example, help children to learn how to count and to recognise objects and their names”. Much research has shown that African children cannot speak the language of their own countries (English, French or Arabic. However, school lessons are taught in these languages and this makes learning more difficult and slower.

“UNESCO studies show that children learn best through the medium of their native languages – Mrs Kperrun stresses – Nevertheless, it is often too costly to produce didactic material in different local languages and so we sought a digital solution to bring down costs and developed, in 2016, Teseem – First Words, a mobile app that teaches children their first words in English and develops lessons in some of the main African languages such as Hausa, Kiswahili, Igbo and Yoruba.” “Children learn best through play – Elizabeth continues – and this is why we wish to create educational apps that are in colour, well designed and attractive. We are convinced that learning does not necessarily have to be through boring lessons in class. It can also be enjoyable”.

After the success of the first apps, Elizabeth, together with her husband, founded Lizzie’s Creations which has already won several awards, one from Italy in the field of IT Initiatives for Social Good devised by ONG 2.0. The most recent Lizzie’s Creations app is called Shakara and is centred on Afro fashion. “Fashion is also a cultural expression – Elizabeth says – We have presented African models and fabrics we believe are very beautiful. The idea is that the girls who play with these apps get to know these imaginative styles and are proud of them”.

The apps created by Lizzie’s Creations are an example of how digital technology can contribute to the preservation of local culture and promote education in a simple and economic way. Many more items are in the pipeline. Elizabeth’s team is at work with teachers and parents to examine what has been done so far and make it more effective and interactive. Her business model is based on premium content: users may download and use apps for free, except for some parts that require payment or for which the viewer is asked to watch a short video advert. The objective remains that of making Africa with its cultural riches and lifestyles known to children. (A.C.)