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Feb 5, 2023 | Daily Trek, Tales from the Trek

FoondaMate - Radical Trekking - Ayelet Baron

A Creation Called FoondaMate

The story of a young South African duo, who created FoondaMate, is one more of us creating what we need on the edges, another tale of pioneering treks.

Dacod Magagula and Tao Boyle birthed FoondaMate in 2020 based on their need to access study materials. There was limited access to textbooks in their schools where some classes included up to 70 students. The two built a chat-based, AI-powered learning bot with fast, easy and safe access to study materials, and help, via WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

According to the United Nations, as of 2021, approximately 60% of Africa’s population is under the age of 25. Not everyone has access to electricity, which is considered a luxury. Many schools were, and still are, under resourced. In 2020, Amnesty found that 77% of South African schools had no library, and 72% had no Internet.

And yet, Africa is an exciting springboard of innovation and creation. In my own collaborations with pioneers like Hital Muraj, I witnessed that despite many challenges, the opportunities to create are endless. This is quite true of everywhere in the world. It all depends on our perspective. And our understanding that people want dignity and respect by standing on our own feet.

Getting to the Root of Creation

According to Dacod, “During the final year of high school in South Africa, I used the computer my brother and I had bought using our savings, for studies and to download all revision materials I could get my hands on.

I had a huge database of past papers but no way of sharing it with my friends, and printing them was expensive. But the materials played a big role in my success in school as I graduated top of my class and my performance was the best ever in the history of school (at that time). And so FoondaMate was created to make these resources easily accessible to students.”

A student studying Grade 7 Math, for example, would receive the pre-loaded study materials from FoondaMate. But over time, students wanted more than materials. They also had questions about the content. So, the duo trained a Large Language Model to respond to direct questions as well.

Teachers, who are also under resourced, are using FoondaMate. The integrated resources help them create and post homework assignments. And they share learning materials with students.

Investing in the FoondaMate Community

With 150,000 students using their platform, it was the two of them running everything. But as the reach expanded and grew globally, they became a non-profit that needed help in covering hosting and tech costs. And they secured $2 million seed funding to build the community across the globe.

Remember our conversation about advertising expenditures just yesterday? Well, Foondamate reached one million global users without spending any money on advertising, branding or broadcasting. And they are all about creating a community and addressing needs.

The community of students use over 10 languages in over 30 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Brazil and Indonesia—where they see a surge in usage. As a result, they are localizing the learning materials to accommodate learners in more countries and fuel the growth of the platform to more than 50 million users.

With the recent launch in Nigeria in October, Tao shares “Nigerian students don’t hold back. They tell you exactly what they think as soon as they see it.  At first, we thought it would be difficult to get feedback. But it’s been completely the opposite. Students sign up and on the same day they email us telling us how much they love the product and recommending other things they would like to see on the platform.”

Creating What We Need

And the two pioneers started with a clean slate, based on opportunity, and a need they had themselves. They knew firsthand what students needed and what they would love to have help with their own learning. They tapped into a platform that was easily accessible in Africa (WhatsApp) and integrated Artificial Intelligence to give access to every student who could get online (not everyone can). 

Could Foondamate be the ChatGPT of education in Africa, before ChatGPT was released to the mainstream? Was it so valuable that it reached one million students and teachers because it was a much needed source for kids who could not afford textbooks, sat in classes of 50-70 kids or had no qualified teachers in a specific topic?

Innovation can come from anywhere and this is why this is a time for each of us to become aware that we are powerful creators. No pitch decks required. A mindset of an opportunity creator, a heart filled with curiosity and courage, and a willingness to experiment. 

And imagine what happens when we begin to create holistic healthy systems that we need and serve us. So much is possible when we inspire ourselves to create what we need. So, maybe the real question is: what do we need? What’s our greatest opportunity? And that begins a whole flow of exploration, experimentation and creation. Imagine when we keep going until we get to wherever it is we need; no longer limited by old world constraints of success and failure. But an ability to become aware of our ability to truly create.

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