Empowering Self-Help Groups in Kenya through ICT for Better Education and Alternative Livelihood Activities

Country Profile: Kenya


42,749,000 (2012)

Poverty (population living below the national poverty line of US$ 1.25)

46.1% (2006)

Official Languages

English, Kiswahili

Other spoken languages

Kikuyu, Dholuo and Luhya

Total Expenditure on Education as % of GDP (2010)


Access to Primary Education – Total Net Enrolment Rate (NIR)

82% (2008)

Total Youth Literacy Rate (15-24 years, 2010)

Female: 94%
Male: 92%
Total: 93%

Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over, 2010)

Female: 84%
Male: 91%
Total: 87%

  • UNESCO: EFA Global Monitoring Report (2012)
  • UNICEF Info by Country
  • World Bank: World Development Indicators (2013)

Programme Overview

Programme TitleEmpowering Self–Help Groups in Kenya Through ICT for Better Education and Alternative Livelihood Activities
Implementing OrganizationCoastal Ocean Research and Development in the Indian Ocean (CORDIO East Africa, a non-governmental organization), Avallain Ltd. Kenya (a social enterprise specializing in technology-based education)
Language of InstructionEnglish and Kiswahili
Programme PartnersAvallain Switzerland, Coastal Oceans Research and Development in the Indian Ocean (CORDIO), and Suganthi Devadsason Marine Research Institute
Date of Inceptioninitial work began in 2007, with online learning materials launched in May 2010

Programme Overview

The collaboration between CORDIO and Avallain began in 2009. CORDIO aims to teach coastal communities how to preserve marine environments and, to that end, delivers community training programmes with a focus on literacy and the environment. The training is supported by engaging and easy-to-access learning materials provided in the form of interactive e-learning activities. These activities cover a diverse range of subject matter, beginning with basic literacy, and focus on the learner’s needs rather than the technology, which is tailored to users with limited experience of formal learning.

Avallain is a social enterprise based in Switzerland. It supports the work of educators through e-learning and e-publishing, helping them make the best use of ICTS and the internet in learning and viewing these as tools for inclusion rather than the cause of further division. Avallain produces customized learning platforms with interactive self-learning and tutor-guided content, not only for schools, but also for home study and in tertiary education. With a daughter company in Kenya, it has a strong record of supporting educational opportunity in the country and directs some of its profits to projects in Kenya. This track record meant that there was potential for intensive local collaboration with CORDIO and made possible the Empowering Self-Help Groups in Kenya through ICT for Better Education and Alternative Livelihood Activities programme.

Aims and Objectives

The main objective of the programme is to promote alternative livelihood activities and build the capacity of communities to improve their socio-economic situation. It aims to achieve this by:

Programme Implementation

The programme aims to promote sustainable development through education and by empowering self-help groups in some of the poorest parts of Kenya. Uniquely, it combines learning about environmental issues with basic and ICT skills training to foster both employability and sustainable development.

ICT skills are not taught in isolation. Instead, the programme takes an integrated approach, relating the use of ICTs to the day-to-day lives of participants, by focusing on topics such as fishery, tourism and environmental issues affecting the east African coast. This approach is made possible by the use of ‘Avallain Author’ software, a system for the creation of interactive e-learning content on diverse subject matters, beginning with basic literacy. It gives users the opportunity to adapt simulated case studies so that they are as practically relevant as possible, using paper forms and real-life situations that learners must resolve.

The programme uses XO laptops, known from the ‘One laptop per child’ campaign, and provided by Avallain. The laptops are designed and built especially for learners living in isolated environments in developing countries, and are a potent learning tool.

XO Laptop

XO Laptop

Teaching and Learning: Approaches and Methodologies

The programme uses storytelling, with integrated tasks, to engage participants. The learner must virtually guide a fictional person through a number of stages in order to find a solution to their problem. This will involve filling out forms on behalf of the character in the story and developing strategies for problem-solving. The stories which provide the context for the learning reflect issues people in Kenya are likely to face on a daily basis, for example, the case below, in which a person wants to register for a local telecommunication service. The learner’s role is to virtually guide them through the whole process.

The character in this story is called Saumu. Saumu is a local fisherman who wants to register for a service – called Mpesa – through which he can receive and pay money via his mobile phone. The illustration shows how learners undertaking this task must, first of all, understand the terms and the conditions of the service.

Once they have done this, participants learn how to fill out an online form with Saumu’s personal data, highlighting the relevant information and dragging it into the correct box, as shown here. After submitting the form, the learners must answer a number of questions, via audio files, from a telecommunication agent, before Saumu is finally registered with the service.

By presenting the learning in this way, Avallain aims to ensure its relevance to the day-to-day lives of learners. Using this tool, facilitators are able to engage group members in actively discussing and finding solutions to their own problems. As they do so they will also, through use of the laptops and the e-learning platform, improve their ICT skills and increase their familiarity with computer technology. The story is presented not only in text form but also as an audio track, which is particularly useful for learners who have reading difficulties. The programme uses the Swedish ‘study circle’ model of participatory learning to engage, motivate and empower participants, giving them an opportunity to identity their own learning needs and build on their own interests.


Alternative Livelihood Activities

The ‘alternative livelihood’ activities covered in the programme include the conservation of natural and exotic forest, beekeeping, and the supply of seedlings to nearby schools for planting. Participants have also become involved in growing fruits and vegetables, goat and poultry keeping, and small-scale businesses. One group is engaged in making aloe vera and neem soap, another in coconut oil and cashew nut processing.

An Integrated Approach

The programme has a number of key phases which combine its three main components: alternative livelihoods, ICTs and education. The first phase, critical to the programme’s integrated approach, involves identifying suitable activities, reflecting the day-to-day lives of participants. This involves considering cultural factors, environmental issues, sustainability, and the market for products and services, on a project-by-project basis, depending on the needs of each community. CORDIO makes use of previous examples of good practice and current research from similar institutions, relevant government departments and other stakeholders in assessing what would work best for the community in question. Internet access and the availability of technology varies from place to place and is another issue to consider in determining how ICTs can support socio-economic change in communities. The study-circle model, linked to existing adult education systems, was useful in promoting this more interactive way learning and in empowering the local community. Follow-up sessions help the self-help groups to maintain their livelihood activities and support the ongoing use of ICTs in these activities.

Programme Content

The programme’s e-learning platform focuses on four main areas – , literacy, numeracy, English language training and environmental issues – reflecting the educational needs of the local community. At each meeting the study group discusses subjects relevant to their social, economic and political development, as well as priority topics such as book-keeping, agriculture and business. The content used in the Avallain Author software was developed by Avallain’s teams in Switzerland and Kenya, with input from CORDIO and Kenya’s Ministry of Education.

Recruitment and Training of Facilitators

The programme’s facilitators are field workers, hired through CORDIO. They receive training in the use of OX laptops before they begin to facilitate and guide the participants in the use of the e-learning tool. Each self-help group additionally nominates two members who receive training and are expected to pass on their knowledge to other members of the group.

Enrolment and Training of Learners

The self-help groups set up as a result of the programme were formed by people who want to empower themselves and their communities and to improve local socio-economic conditions. For that reason, some of the groups are self-financing. Although some fishermen have engaged in the programme, the participants are mostly women, who are trained in the use of ICTs, shown how to operate basic computer packages and provided with computers and (limited) internet connectivity. There are currently 10 women’s self-help groups, spread across five villages in Kenya. In total, they have 285 members, though there is, as yet, no umbrella structure to help them coordinate or share information.

Monitoring and Evaluation

At the beginning of the programme three workshops were held to evaluate the participants’ reaction to the new way of learning. The results showed that learners enjoyed using the new tools and the interactive content. Further evaluations of the study-circle approach used in the programme have been conducted, highlighting its contribution to the empowerment of individuals and communities. The strongest narratives to emerge from these studies concerned women who, for the first time, could sign their name on a document, count their own money or use a computer to access the Internet.

Programme Impact and Challenges

Impact and Achievements

The programme is also being implemented in India in collaboration with the Suganthi Devadason Marine Research Institute. Because the Indian programme has been operating for longer it is a useful resource for CORDIO’s implementation of the programme in Kenya. In both countries, previously illiterate women are now able to read and write basic sentences and sign their names instead of using thumb impressions as a result of the programme. The programme is also having a positive impact on the employability of participants, equipping them with qualifications (in literacy, numeracy, ICT and language skills), which can help them find work in sectors such as tourism or administration. The training participants receive also gives them the means to better access market opportunities, to generate income, to communicate among themselves or with stakeholders, and to manage data. The programme’s activities have also enhanced understanding and strengthened relationships among women, fishermen, the local administration, social service officers and project teams, promoting alternative livelihood opportunities which reduce dependency on Kenya’s coastal resources.


You can use the computer to record the meetings and also to keep records of our sales. If one gets KSh1,000 for coconut oil and another something else we can use it for easy calculations. Study circle participant
By using ICT when they are having a discussion on a particular topic they can find information. For example if they are talking about a particular crop they can use the ICT to find more information about that particular crop, to benefit and get access to more information.CORDIO EA Staff
It helps the whole community as the study circle spreads the information to the rest of the community. Government officer


The programme’s impact is, to an extent, dependent on the social, economic and technological limitations which provide the context for the work. Limited technical capacity, in particular an inadequate infrastructure to support ICT implementation, is a problem facing many groups. Some are obliged to share existing telecentres. Securing an adequate supply of electricity for their centres also occupies group members, taking more time away from training. Another factor limiting impact concerns the accessibility of the technology. Some older women struggle to use ICTs effectively because of failing eyesight. There is a need for more laptops with bigger screens. Low awareness of educational need and poor governance are other factors affecting access to training.

Lessons Learned

Participants prefer laptops to PCs because they allow them to meet as they traditionally would, sat in a circle rather than in a typical classroom environment. Mixing tradition with technology in this way helps break down barriers between the two worlds and encourages acceptance of technology as a tool for learning. The use of interactive content and the high-quality learning material that the laptops support also help keep the learners motivated and engaged. The XO laptops are popular among the groups because of their portability and long battery life. Their relatively lower cost (approximately US $200 per unit) means that more people have the opportunity to access computer facilities, even when electricity is not immediately available.

Some of the more cost-intensive livelihood activities set up over the course of the programme could not be maintained due to a lack of funds and other external conditions. An investment in mobile pay-phones, for example, was rendered obsolete within six months by the introduction of low-unit phone credit by service providers, which made it possible for people to top up their own phones. In the third year, the introduction of Kenya’s first under-sea fibre-optic cable improved bandwidth and made it cheaper to access the internet and use a mobile phone, thus opening up new opportunities. Adapting to continuous change is an ongoing challenge for the programme, demonstrating the importance of clear project objectives which can survive even when the changing external environment renders certain technologies obsolete.

A self-help group using XO laptop (Photo by Jane Atieno Nyanapah)

A self-help group using XO laptop (Photo by Jane Atieno Nyanapah)


The high poverty rate in Kenya means that assuring the long-term sustainability of the programme is a challenge, requiring the sourcing of diverse forms of financial support. The diversity of CORDIO‘s work means that it has been able to cultivate a wide range of donors, from major multi-country programmes to small site-based activities. These provide financial backing crucial to the programme’s long-term survival. The success of the programme has encouraged CORDIO to expand and include other Kenyan villages in the programme. Exchange visits between programme providers in Kenya and India is helping improve quality through a regular exchange of experiences. The visits provide the teams with opportunities to share their experiences of group activities and to plan for the next phases of the project, based on what they have learned. Greater use of tools such as text messaging, email, and the internet are being encouraged to improve communication within the project. The next step is to encourage communication between self-help groups, using social networking as a means of sharing experiences between group members of both countries. This will make it easier both to market group products and to access internet-based services.



Avallain AG
Ignatz Heinz
Governing board member
Avallain AG, Gstalden, 9062 Lustmühle, Switzerland
Email: iheinz (at) avallain.com or info (at) avallain.com
Website: http://www.avallain.com

CORDIO East Africa
Dr David Obura
9 Kibaki Flats, Kenyatta Beach, Bamburi Beach
P.O.BOX 10135 Mombasa 80101, Kenya
Email: dobura (at) cordioea.net
Tel: +254 715 067417
Website: http://cordioea.net/