Have you heard about a social innovation initiative called, ‘The Granny Cloud’? It is where U.K.-based grandmothers volunteer to help teach children in India. This project is the brainchild of Prof Sugata Mitra, who is known for his hole-in-the-wall computer scheme which put basic PCs into some of the poorest parts of India. Prof Mitra installed the first computer on the wall of his Delhi office, opposite a slum, and was amazed to see that the children, initially curious about the machine, soon became self-taught experts. Within days they were able to browse the Internet, cut and paste copy, drag and drop items and create folders.
Prof Mitra noticed that the children did best when an adult was present offering advice and encouragement over their shoulders. There was, he decided, no one so encouraging as a granny and so ‘The Granny Cloud’ idea was born. It is being supported by the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University. The official name of this social innovation project is Sole (Self Organised Learning Environments), yet it is more commonly known as the ‘granny cloud.’ The grannies, or e-mediators as they are officially known, are not teachers, and the sessions they conduct with the children in India are not lessons. Instead, they read stories to the children and talk about things relevant to them and to the U.K. They encourage, praise and became a “virtual granny” to these Indian children. There are around 300 “grannies” involved in the scheme and is growing all the time.
However, this social innovation scheme has not been without challenges. One key problem is the power cuts in India, which would mean the internet connection would go down while a granny was online. Plus, initially, Prof Mitra put his grannies to work with schools in Hyderabad, where cultural differences between the backgrounds of the U.K. volunteers and the children they were connecting to became apparent. The schools were predominately Muslim and with hindsight, it may not have been the best choice, as religion can be a sensitive topic.
In the grand scheme of things the rewards of this social innovation project have been positive and the children have gained knowledge. It has now been extended to four schools in Colombia where it is doing well. It’s now also being used in U.K. schools in Gateshead, where literacy levels are lower than the national average. Here, schools intend to use e-mediators to engage children at the very early stages of reading. There is hope that this project can be taken on by a big organisation and made to work on a global scale.
In terms of potential this social innovation approach has just scratched the surface; it shows there’s huge potential for extending the role of the e-mediators into a “retirement cloud” who can be a silent workforce of retired engineers, doctors, plumbers – all with great expertise to share. It could be an important global cultural leap in the way we view our ageing population.
This post originally appeared on the Justmeans Blog. Click here to read other posts by this author and great posts from other leading contributors.
Sangeeta Haindl is a staff writer for Justmeans on Social Enterprise. When not writing for Justmeans, Sangeeta wears her other hat as a PR professional. Over the years, she has worked with high-profile organizations within the public, not-for-profit and corporate sectors; and won awards from her industry. She now runs her own UK consultancy: Serendipity PR & Media.