Joining the dots: 5 Years of Apps for Good

In 2015/16, we’ve been celebrating our first 5 years in schools. Here, Founder & co-CEO Iris Lapinski looks back at our journey from one centre and 50 students in South London to over 1,500 schools and 75,000 students around the world, and at where we might be going next.

It is always easy to look back at the past and tell a convincing and logical story of what has happened and why it was unavoidable. But, as Steve Jobs already noted in his famous 2005 Stanford commencement speech, connecting the dots looking backwards is easy; what is impossible is predicting the future and knowing what dots are important and connecting them before events happen. So, you have to trust that the dots will connect somehow in the future. 

While we aren’t (yet) at the size and success of Apple, as I look back at Apps for Good’s first five years, I wanted to share some examples of what “dots” became important to us:

We never planned to work with schools. Starting from the Centre for Digital Inclusion’s model in Latin America, our original approach was to work in community centres, delivering the course to 20-25 year olds. We started in 2010 in the High Trees Community Development Trust in Tulse Hill, South London, thanks largely to the support of the amazing Margaret Jarrett. However, later that year, we were approached by Janet Chapman, then Assistant Headteacher at Central Foundation Girls School in Tower Hamlets, who convinced us that her girls needed Apps for Good as an after-school activity. This club was run by alumni-turned-educator Satwant Kenth. It was Central Foundation maths teacher, Papa Boateng, who then led the first course without us present. The leap from community centres to schools and from direct delivery to a train-the-trainer model was also made possible by our now co-CEO Debbie Forster, who joined in 2011, bringing with her education credibility and credentials. That year, we had 38 schools delivering our course framework, which we’ve been building on ever since.

We never planned to have Experts; instead, they found us. When we presented our initial feasibility study at a public event, Daniel Joseph and Rob Evans from The App Business attended. They offered us their help and expertise for free and their commercial training content powered the first ever Apps for Good idea generation workshop. Other volunteers joined: Ian Masters emailed his CV in summer 2010 showing a track record of being a video games and app entrepreneur and Charles Cadbury attended our launch at High Trees as he lived locally. Without planning any of this, we learned that some of the most talented people in technology wanted to give back and help grow the next generation of entrepreneurs, and that students loved working with them!

We never planned for Apps for Good to form part of the curriculum (or, for that matter, to be taught in primary schools or in Scotland). In our first visits to schools, we were recommending a club model, but it was Shireland Collegiate’s team, led by Sir Mark Grundy and Kirsty Tonks, who told us that our programme would work within the curriculum. We trusted them, and have watched this model thrive within our schools. Equally, Karine George, Headteacher at Westfields Junior School tirelessly pursued Debbie on and off line to convince her that Apps for Good would work in primary schools, even when Debbie tried to explain, “We don’t speak primary yet!” And our presence in Scotland is due in large part to the passion and enthusiasm of Chris Aitken, who convinced Debbie in the earliest days that the course would fit perfectly at his school in Wick, Scotland, before she even knew where Wick was.  Apps for Good succeeds or fails on the expertise and passions of our fantastic teachers and we break new ground each year because of them.

As these three things show you, you never know where you will end up. The past few years have been such an incredible journey and with 75,000 students trained by summer 2016 and more than 1,500 education partners engaged, we have shown that there is a need for what we do.

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Student teams celebrate at one of the 2016 Portugal regional events.

 

But we all feel that the most exciting times are still to come:

  1. We have started to build relationships with young people directly via our community of Fellows (i.e., graduates of the Apps for Good course). It’s an honour and privilege for us to be able to help them to build on their Apps for Good journey and learn more about how their passion and skills can match a career path.
  2. After years of – often failed – experiments, we now also know that educators and young people around the world have a need for Apps for Good. Seeing young people on stage in Oporto, Arkansas, Madrid and Gdynia tells us that great talent and great teachers truly come from everywhere.
  3.  Technology keeps evolving apace and we are evolving with it. The foundation of our approach is for young people to build a real product that’s relevant to their lives, so as new technologies become relevant and exciting to young people, we’ll integrate them into our course framework. One development for next year is a new Internet of Things course that links tools such as the BBC micro:bit with our problem-solving methodology.
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Fellows Adam and Mohima co-presented at our UK Awards in 2016 with co-CEO Debbie Forster

 

So here at Apps for Good, we are still hungry. Sometimes even a bit foolish. We are passionate to help change the world and we do hope you join us on the journey for the next five years to come. And maybe way beyond that!