By Badr Wadr
Badr Ward, CEO of Lamsa, a start-up explains what it takes to build an app that has taken digital learning for Arab kids by storm
Never underestimate a child’s imagination.
This inspires the fundamental principle of the app: fostering a child’s creativity and giving him or her the space and tools needed to tell a story. Lamsa is an Arabic app for children that acts as a library of educational stories, games, and songs to nurture an inspired, well-rounded generation.
In light of the UAE announcing 2016 to be the ‘Year of Reading’ to address the literature crisis, now is the time for action. Lamsa finds its purpose in combining a search for education with a pride in the Arabic language and culture. Arabic parents want to see their children’s minds grow; they want to see their children learn about all the wonderful things the world has to offer them, but also to learn about themselves.
Our target market are primarily children aged between 1 and 8, however, parents are also largely considered in the process. As long as a child is spending time on Lamsa, a parent can trust that it is time well spent. The app encourages parents to work with their children to obtain educational goals, whilst remaining fun and safe for the user. Lamsa is an app for the family and functions to cultivate personal bonds between the parent and the child.
Lamsa is named after the word ‘Lamsa’ in Arabic, which means ‘touch’. This is referencing the concept of having a wealth of knowledge and entertainment simply with one touch.
As society proves to have an increasingly extreme relationship with technology, Lamsa chose to work through an app because it is using technology as a tool to educate children through play and move with the times. This way, children can take what they learn on the app and apply it to ‘real-life’.
There are three main challenges a software developer faces when producing an Arabic app.
The first being sourcing talented developers who are focused on apps. In order for this to be overcome, Lamsa has created a hybrid of international and local talent to bridge the gap between regional and international skill-sets and allow for a knowledge transfer whilst maintaining Arabic authenticity. The team has its headquarters based in Abu Dhabi and has talent with backgrounds varying from Japanese Animation to Disney productions.
The second challenge is about staying up to date with the latest technology trends, which is both in constant flux and extremely time-consuming. This can be addressed by dedicating resources to research and development and treating it as a core function instead of a secondary accompaniment.
The third and last challenge a software developer of an Arabic app might face is access to the latest tools or software of the latest international innovation- something not easy to come by in this region. However, this can be tackled by attending international conferences and exhibitions to obtain these tools in advance and cultivate an international presence.
The current state of play in this industry when it comes to developers working on apps in Arabic is also three-fold. There are the individual developers who work in the industry as a hobby or for fun. There are those working for mega-corporations who serve as part of a chain. And then there are those who have left their job for their passion to create products that address people’s wants and needs.
The latter, the middle-ground, is the most challenging as often funding can be a problem. Thankfully, an increasing number of investors are searching to empower start-up companies.
What makes Lamsa distinctive is the fact that it is in Arabic and celebrates rich literature, culture, heritage, and language in partnership with Arabic authors, illustrators, and private organisations.
For this reason, Lamsa is too different from apps in other languages. In many respects this is the key to its success – to specialise in a language and culture that no one else knows better.
As for other sectors – namely gaming – Lamsa sees keeping a finger on the pulse of technological advancements of vital importance to ensure the incorporation of cutting-edge trends into its future products. Because of this value of ‘learning through play’, Lamsa produces stories which are highly interactive and uses gaming as a method to reiterate lessons learnt from the story.
As long as there is an interest in early years’ child development, Lamsa has a place to play in guiding a child through a learning process in order to help create a generation fuelled by imagination and innovation who are hungry for knowledge.
Launched in 2013, Lamsa app won the Arabic e-content Award at the United Nations’ World Summit Awards and was nominated and presented by Apple as one of the “Best New Apps & Games” on its app store for children. Furthermore, Lamsa was also placed among the top 20 apps of 2015 by Google.
Its content has been read over 400 million times and has over 4 million current subscribers.
Badr Ward was selected by the United Nations World Summit Award as the regional specialist in e-content and imaginative innovation for instigating the UN Agenda for the advancement of the Information Society and Millennium Development Goals.