Addressing illiteracy and global poverty
Listening to local stakeholders
In 2006, Amplio founder Cliff Schmidt was visiting the gravesite of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, in Atlanta, Georgia, when he had an epiphany.
"Dr. King said, 'Every person must decide whether to walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of selfishness. This is the judgment. Life's most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?' I was standing at his grave. That is what me feel that he would expect something more from me."
In that moment, Cliff began considering what he could do to help others. He thought about how those who are most affected by global poverty are impeded by illiteracy. He had volunteered for the One Laptop Per Child project, but felt there must be a more targeted and cost-effective way to help rural communities.
With this vision, Cliff led the development of the Talking Book, a durable, battery-powered audio device designed for people with low literacy skills.
When the first Talking Book prototype was field-tested with school children in northern Ghana, the idea was for kids to listen and read along to improve their literacy skills.
But local extension officers and community health workers had a different use for the Talking Book. They saw it as an innovative technology for sharing health and agricultural education with underserved rural communities.
Development workers explained that there were too many villages, too far apart. (In Ghana, for example, the extension officer to farmer ratio is as high as 1:1500 farmers.) Poor road infrastructure was also a problem. Often they only visited a community once or twice a year. When they did visit to conduct educational activities, many people couldn’t attend because they were working in their fields. And those who did attend couldn’t take notes or read printed materials due to illiteracy. Instead, they had to remember everything they heard about health or agriculture recommendations.
Also, women were far less likely to participate. They were too busy with household responsibilities. Social and gender inequalities also created barriers.
With this local input, Cliff realized how the Talking Book could be used to amplify program reach and empower communities through knowledge sharing.
Listen to our story
Cliff Schmidt share his founder story in a Microsoft Alumni Network video.
Operating in new countries and regions, including Ethiopia, Haiti, and Bangladesh. Launched a suite of self-service products to help our partners more easily and cost-effectively launch and run Talking Book programs.
Selected for the Niger Smart Villages project. Began developing a new Talking Book prototype with a rechargeable battery.
Changed our name to Amplio Network. Partnered with UNICEF Rwanda to deliver health and hygiene messages to 50,000 refugees at Mahama Camp.
Received WISE Award for innovation in education. Partnered with AGRA to deliver Talking Book programs for smallholder farmers in 73 communities in northern Ghana.
Partnered with UNICEF Ghana to reach 49 communities in the Upper West Region with maternal and child health education.
First Talking Book prototypes field-tested with rural communities in northern Ghana.
Achieved the milestone of reaching over one million Talking Book listeners! Partnered with UNICEF and Ghana Health Service on a COVID-19 awareness campaign in Ghana. Partnered with Landesa in Liberia and VSO in Zambia.
In Kenya, USAID's Afya Timiza project used Talking Books to deliver quality health education to semi-nomadic pastoralists. At intervention sites, health facilities saw a 110% increase in the number of pregnant women attending ANC visits.
Partnered with Centre for Behaviour Change and Communication to pilot Talking Books with pastoralist communities in Kenya. Developed affiliate program model.
Partnered with MEDA to provide Talking Books for over 600 women farmers groups, as part of the Greater Rural Opportunities for Women project funded by Global Affairs Canada.
First impact study completed, showing that Talking Books made a significant impact on agriculture knowledge and healthy behaviors for people with low literacy levels. Signed first partnership with World Cocoa Foundation.
Amplio was founded (as Literacy Bridge) by Cliff Schmidt, with the idea that those who are most impacted by global poverty are impeded by illiteracy.
“We can’t wait for the 800 million illiterate adults to become literate. That’s why we took a two-pronged approach—improve literacy and provide knowledge."
Cliff Schmidt, Amplio Founder