Lively Minds was founded by Alison Naftalin, a British Government Lawyer, in 2008.
Within one year and just £3,000, Lively Minds initially set up ten Play Schemes reaching over 1,200 children and training over 250 volunteers, demonstrating how one lively mind can make a difference through passion and creativity.
In 2007, Alison spent two months volunteering in Ghana. She observed the complex challenges that were preventing children from gaining access to quality education.
She saw that children weren’t given the opportunities to question or reason and as a result were lacking in creative-thinking skills. She wanted to find a way to give children in rural Ghana the opportunities to learn through play (as we do in the UK) as these techniques are crucial for a child’s development.
On her return to the UK, Alison began to research the importance of learning through play in early childhood development. Calling on the expertise of trustees, Dr Susanna Payne and Dr Amanda Sinai, Alison gave up her job and returned to Ghana to try and achieve her vision with £1,000.
She spent time consulting with other development organisations, specialists, and community members before developing the Lively Minds projects.
"I wanted to give children an opportunity to play and learn with interactive and stimulating games.
I believed strongly that giving children the opportunity to develop creative-thinking skills from a young age would give them a better start in life.
So, I hit on the idea of setting up Play Schemes, full of educational toys, where they could learn and develop crucial skills through play".
"I knew that access to the games would have to be free of charge so that all children would have the opportunity to participate no matter what their financial status.
I also wanted the Play Schemes to be run by the communities themselves. Rather than make the communities dependent on external assistance, I wanted to use local resources and to build up local skills. This meant that I would have to train volunteers from villages to run the Play Schemes.
The volunteers had no previous experience of educational games and so it was important to give them plenty of time to master these games and the participatory teaching methods.
I commissioned local carpenters to make wooden games. I also got everyone I knew in Ghana to start collecting cardboard boxes, bottle-tops and buttons, that I used to make the games".
Alison partnered with local organisations, CALID and CID Ghana, to pilot three Play Schemes in Kotingley, Vittin and Wayamba villages. Once the Play Schemes were up and running these NGOs took on responsibility for monitoring and supporting the projects.
After six months in Ghana, Alison travelled to Uganda to pilot Play Schemes in rural communities there partnering with 2 community groups (Samika and HOGU) and Child Fund International. Within four months she had successfully set up 7 Play Schemes and realised the huge positive impact the Play Schemes were having on the volunteers.
“The people most willing to volunteer their time were the people with the least amount of education and the least amount of confidence in their own abilities.
It quickly became apparent that attending the training course had a huge impact on the volunteers themselves.
They gained enormous amounts of confidence, self-esteem and learned to work together as a team".
Sarah Kanyonga (Samika founder) was so impressed with project she asked whether she could continue setting up Play Schemes in other villages – Lively Minds Uganda was born!
Sarah was employed to continue the work with Joshua Buluke (HOGU Director) employed as Programme Manager.
In November, Alison returned to Ghana to check progress of the programme. All three Play Schemes were working well. David Abukari, her partner at CALID, expressed his interest in getting involved too.
David was employed as Country Manager and local primary school teacher, Augustus Ninfaa, was the Assistant Country Manager. Lively Minds Ghana was born!
In 2009, Alison returned to the UK and ran Lively Minds remotely, on a voluntary basis. The day-to-day running was carried out by in-country staff.
Over the next few years, Lively Minds continued to grow in both Ghana and Uganda. A new base was opened in the Upper East region of Ghana. In Uganda, Lively Minds partnered with UNICEF to roll-out a Child Sacrifice Prevention programme.
Towards the end of 2012, we received a grant from the Waterloo Foundation, which enabled Alison to run Lively Minds on a full-time basis.
In 2013, we received multi-year grants from the UK Department for International Development (DfID) and Comic Relief to expand the Play Scheme project in Uganda and Ghana. We were able to build our staff teams in each country to support this expansion.
In 2014, Lively Minds won an Innovations in Education award from UNICEF, and a Results for Development and Re-imagine Learning Award from Lego Foundation and Ashoka. Having established proof of the concept, we wanted to find a way to scale our programme and reach many more communities.
In 2015, we piloted a new training of trainers delivery method in Ghana. Instead of staff training the Mothers in each community, we trained primary school teachers centrally and in turn the teachers trained and supported the mothers in their own communities. Our hope was that through this training of trainers method we could reach far more communities at lower costs, and at the same time we could improve the primary school system.