Friday, November 13, 2015
Children outside the Al-Salam school in Turkey

The Al-Salam School in Turkey asked Rumie for tablets to help teach Syrian refugee children.


By Lucianna Ciccocioppo

Harvey Lam, JD 2010, saw first-hand the transformative power of education: his mother left an abusive relationship to raise him and sister by herself, while she went back to school for computer programming skills, supported by a government initiative. His sister became a veterinarian, and he became a lawyer, both the firsts in their family.

Now Lam, a management consultant with Accenture, is hoping to help others stay in school and achieve their educational goals. And he’s using technology, not to distract them but to teach them.

Harve Lam with a Rumie tablet

Harvey Lam, JD 2010

Lam volunteers with Rumie, a non-profit social entrepreneurship organization based in Toronto that uses low-cost technology to transport free digital educational content to underprivileged children around the globe.

Rumie crowdsources and crowdfunds to produce $50 tablets prefilled with age-appropriate educational content—books, learning games and apps, video lectures, and other teacher-requested content, about 1,000 hours in all—that can be viewed offline. It costs only about $1 a year to recharge the devices, and some use solar power.

Lam says Rumie’s mesh technology means teachers can update their tablets when wifi connected, and the nearby children’s tablets synchronize too. The data analytics show how the students are progressing, to help fine-tune the devices and source new content.

Orphans in Haiti were the first to receive Rumie’s tablets, in a pilot project launched two years ago.

“Last year, an NGO in Liberia contacted us to provide tablets to children. They were losing months of school due to the spread of the Ebola virus,” says Lam. “Our goal was to crowdfund $10,000; we raised $36,000.” And that’s how Rumie sent 502 tablets to Liberia.

The charity has also assisted a First Nations community up in northern Ontario, and is working on a possible deployment with Pathways to Education in Rexdale, in Toronto’s west end.

Right now, Lam wants to get the word out for the Learn Syria project to help Syrian refugee children in Turkey. The Al-Salam School contacted Rumie for help, and a crowdfunding campaign has been launched on to raise about US$50,000 to send 1,000 tablets. All funds go to tablet production.

Rumie is named after a famed Middle Eastern poet, Rumi, who wrote on the powers of learning. Founder Tariq Fancy added an ‘e’ at the end for education.

“Tariq had the business experience, the tablet prototype and the technology. But he didn’t know how to launch a charity in Canada,” explains Lam.

So Lam volunteered his legal expertise to incorporate the organization, put together an executive team, and launch a fundraising strategy, pulling in the first $500K with donations from Ed Clark, former TD Bank chair and Rumie board member, alumnus Mark Wiseman, JD/MBA 1996, president and CEO of the CPP Investment Board, and Rob McEwan, founder and former chair of Goldcorp. Recently, Molson’s former CEO Mickey Cohen, now counsel at Cassels Brock where Lam previously worked, became a board member. Lam’s classmate Vinh Phan, JD 2010, is also a Rumie volunteer.

“It’s very cool to make an impact beyond my day job,” Lam says. “It’s really, really rewarding. Education changed my mother’s life, my sister’s life, and it allowed me to go to one of the best law schools in the world. I’ve helped to launch three non-profits, and I’ve done some really interesting work in the private sector.”

All of which has led him to Rumie, the “game changer.”

Says Lam: “Instead of textbooks, we provide a digital library.”

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