In Thika, Kenya, on the grounds of an army barracks surrounded by slums, the English literacy test scores of 130 first-graders doubled in six months. This is an extraordinary increase in a country where four out of five second-graders cannot read a paragraph in English or Swahili.

These students are benefiting from a project that is delivering literacy software on rugged computers via teachers with extensive training. The project—a collaborative effort between Intel, Orphans Overseas, The Waterford Institute, and Thika Barracks Primary School—is just one of many “shared value” initiatives that achieve social impact while helping us at Intel both understand technology needs in developing economies, and enhance relationships with communities, governments, and business partners.

These global education projects engage communities by combining three relatively traditional elements of our business: 1) Intel’s commercial offerings, especially hardware, software, and digital content such as e-textbooks and educational resources; 2) our corporate social responsibility programs for training teachers, improving digital literacy skills and empowering girls and women; and 3) our employee volunteerism programs, specifically our international skills-based program, the Intel Education Service Corps (IESC).

IESC played an important supporting role in the project at Thika Barracks Primary School, as well as projects in 19 other countries. Through IESC, Intel employees travel to developing countries on short-term assignments to set up technology in classrooms and train teachers—some of whom have never before touched a computer. At the end of the assignment, employees bring back insights that help refine Intel’s education efforts in challenging conditions—for example, in classrooms that lack reliable electricity and Internet.

Each project yields different insights. For example, at a solar computer lab in Zambia, located three hours from the nearest town, student enrollment spiked after students and teachers were able to search Wikipedia from a hard drive stored in the classroom. On another project—an after-school technology program launched in Vietnam orphanages—a caretaker noted that the children ran away less often after receiving access to digital learning tools.

But not everything is an overnight success, and translating insights into new projects and technologies takes time, as well as willingness to recognize and celebrate failures. Installing English literacy software successfully at Thika Barracks, for example, was possible in part because of an earlier deployment in Haiti; the software previously required a large server and wired classroom network. Upon arriving in Haiti, IESC volunteer John Cartwright quickly recognized the limitations of the area’s power grid and how difficult it would be to keep the server up and running. He found a way to make this work (with the help of a dedicated air conditioner and battery back-up for the server) but came back questioning its sustainability.

After returning to his “day job,” Cartwright worked with The Waterford Institute in his spare time to re-engineer the software so that it could run wirelessly using a rugged Intel Classmate PC as the server. He later took an IESC team back to Thika Barracks to install the software. The wireless router now runs off a locally available resource (a car battery), while each evening, the computers charge up in the locked principal’s office.

He also learned that IT professionals who can maintain technology solutions are scarce in developing countries and understood how quickly software requires updating. Cartwright recently transferred to the Intel Education team and is now helping develop services that enable remote support for education devices located anywhere in the world—even where Internet access is slow and intermittent.

IESC engagements of course add value to our business; they also help external stakeholders succeed. Joao Fidalgo, one of Intel’s business development managers for South Africa, matched four IESC teams with the Ministry of Education in Namibia to support the use of Intel’s education products—labtops, tablets, software, and education content—in 50 schools.

Joao explained how IESC provides face-to-face training “where the teacher actually teaches.” He noted that the volunteers ensure that the teacher really understands how to use the technology by making sure all the pieces come together. He also appreciates the message it sends to Intel’s customers, which include governments in emerging markets. “In Namibia, the program showed the Ministry of Education that we don’t just sell a solution and then walk away—we actually go back and make sure it’s working.”

We believe that social innovation engagements such as the one at Thika Barracks are enabling Intel’s vision: to allow computing technology to enrich the lives of every person on Earth. As we give our employees the chance to step outside their cubicles and experience our products far from our traditional markets, we are becoming more responsive to both our customers and the global challenges we face together.

Tracker Pixel for Entry