Marisa Conway the Chief Learning Officer and co-founder of Arifu.
The pandemic has disrupted normal life across the globe, affecting businesses and forcing learners to find alternative ways to access knowledge. Marisa Conway, Chief Learning Officer and co-founder of Arifu, an online learning platform, talks about how their technology is helping solve the problem.
What is Arifu?
Arifu is a Kenyan-based tech company that launched its smart personal learning assistant and content marketplace in 2015 to help people learn new skills from the organisations they trust over any mobile phone.
Our purpose is to place opportunity and information within reach of everyone. Our chatbot is free to our learners and available via any mobile chat application including SMS, Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp.
Whom does it target and what does it do for them?
Arifu has two main audience; individuals and organisations. Individuals engage with us to learn new skills or get advice on how to use products and services available to them to grow their income or increase productivity. Topics range from crop and livestock trainings, financial literacy, entrepreneurship education, and informative trainings on a variety of digital products.
For organisations, Arifu provides an end to end solution to help them craft skills or product information into contextualised digital trainings, deliver them over the Arifu platform through SMS, Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, or Telegram, and monitor performance with their personal analytics platform that provides details on learner preferences and progress.
We also work with organisations on different research activities to try and understand the impact of digital information on learner capacity development, behaviour, and outcomes.
What motivated you into starting this initiative?
I teamed up with our Co-Founder, Craig Heintzman in 2014 with a shared vision to make information accessible to people, so they could use it to better their own lives.
Our approach was to start first with SMS, and create a free digital advisor, or chatbot, which could teach people new skills, offer solutions to challenges, and help them connect to products and services in an informed and safe way.
Over the last six years, we’ve expanded to make content available over Whatsapp, Facebook and Telegram where learning is enhanced with rich media.
How does Arifu differ from other traditional learning resources available to learners in Kenya?
We are topic and sector agnostic. Arifu’s partners work in health, agriculture, financial services, consumer goods, and more and our learners access content and products that meet multiple information needs.
It’s free, which means it’s more affordable than many other training options. It works on basic and smartphones, so it doesn’t require data and is consumable in a format that’s familiar to mobile phone users making it more accessible than internet and in-person training.
Unlike MOOCs and classrooms, Arifu is a digital teacher people can chat with to learn at any time.
How helpful would you say your initiative has been during the Covid-19 pandemic?
To support partners and learners during Covid-19, we’ve created a starter pack of digital trainings that we are providing for free.
The content includes information to help individuals cope with challenges related to health, business, finance, children’s education, and community.
We are currently building out more content to help business owners and job seekers navigate and recover from financial challenges resulting from the pandemic.
Now that schools are re-opening after several months of Covid-19 related closure, how does Arifu fit in?
Arifu’s primary audience is adults 18 and older. However, during Covid-19 we have created content to support parents and their children to do educational activities at home in partnership with Metis, an organisation which develops educational leaders.
That content is part of the Keep Kenya Learning campaign and will be made available to 400,000 Kenyan families.
On average, how many people do you serve in a month and how many have you served since inception?
Around 45,000 learners engage with Arifu on a monthly basis and 1.4 million individuals have engaged with Arifu since our first content went live in 2015.
How do you finance your activities?
We operate currently on a combination of revenue and investment funding. Our sales model is Business to business and we offer our customers a platform subscription model giving them access to the Arifu Platform.
They can also buy annual licenses to content offered by Arifu and our content partners.
To date, we have raised $2.6million of investment from venture funds and angel investors. In 2021, we will launch our Series A round to fund expansion across and beyond Africa.
Of all Arifu’s achievements so far, which one are you most proud of?
Through past research initiatives, we have observed and learned that engaging with Arifu content provides first time access to important skills information and has led to adoption of GAP.
In another independent study, farmers engaging with Arifu contributed four times more to their savings, borrow more, and repay their loans faster by 5.5 days compared to those who do not engage with Arifu.
What’s next for Arifu?
Arifu will continue to grow the partnerships and content available to learners in our existing 6 countries and expand across Africa and into Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.
We will enhance our learner experience with advanced AI capabilities, making the chatbot more conversational and helping learners get to the most relevant content faster based on their needs and existing knowledge.