Rafiki uses artificial intelligence to support child and youth care practitioners
AFRICA – July 6 2022

Rafiki uses artificial intelligence to support child and youth care practitioners

A new digital care assistant called Rafiki is helping caregivers, social workers and staff confront challenges and questions in their work.

Rafiki—which means ‘friend’ in Swahili—is a chatbot powered by artificial intelligence that can answer questions simulating the knowledge of a person. The digital assistant was used in a pilot phase by nearly 70 caregivers and other staff in Malawi, Nigeria and South Africa last year. Plans are now to make it available to child and youth care practitioners in more countries.   

“SOS Children’s Villages care professionals and family strengthening caregivers see Rafiki as a useful source of information and guidance,” says Oluwole Amosu, Program Development Advisor in Nigeria, reporting on his experience and that of his colleagues. “Rafiki presents a platform where they get answers to their questions in real time which they contextualize to their situation. This helps them to make better and timely decisions.” 

How it works

Rafiki is the first-ever bot used by SOS Children’s Villages’ child and youth care practitioners. It is an app on their mobile phones, tablets or computers. The care professional writes questions by either typing or speaking, and Rafiki provides an answer, which may contain links to more resources so the user can expand their knowledge. There is also a menu so if people do not know what to ask or how to ask, the menu can guide them to different submenus and information. 

Once the user receives and answer, a button lets them rate the answer as helpful or not helpful. Soon to be added is a button to contact an expert on a specific topic. If the user clicks it, an expert from the SOS Children’s Villages member association will receive a notification and address the issue.  

SOS Children’s Village professionals using the tool—among them child and youth care practitioners, family-strengthening caregivers, alternative care and family strengthening managers—see Rafiki as an opportunity to improve their own knowledge and skills. “One participant told me that the advantage of Rafiki is that she does not have to look through the many manuals and policies because Rafiki compresses the volume of documents,” says Oluwole. “By identifying key words and asking Rafiki, the system is able to pick the right information.” 

Receiving answers in real time 

The range of questions that someone can ask the chatbot are wide-ranging, from safeguarding, parenting, mental health and psychosocial support to questions on how to support young people on entrepreneurship and job search. “The wide area of coverage is remarkable,” says Oluwole. “The wider the range, the better.”  

First assessments among Rafiki users showed that all would recommend Rafiki to a colleague: 55% rated improvement in their skills. One of the Rafiki users said it had made them “a better professional worker… [and] more motivated at work.” Some participants reported a better understanding of how to address child safeguarding, as well as better capacity to manage their professional and personal life.  

The fact that Rafiki is constantly being expanded and updated was impressively demonstrated to the participants in the following situation: “Once, Rafiki responded to a query with an answer that was not helpful. A few hours later, the same question was asked, and meanwhile somebody at the backend had entered and improved the information. The colleagues were happy to see that there was someone who takes care of their concerns,” Oluwole says. 

Still under development

Of course, the pilot phase showed some areas that could be improved. Oluwole says that staff working with families in the community suggested extending Rafiki to cover the development of the users’ digital skills. “Access to digital tools is still a big issue in Africa. If family strengthening caregivers who have access to Rafiki can learn some new things on IT through Rafiki, this would improve the relevance of family strengthening work.” 

In 2022, Rafiki will be implemented in Kenya, Namibia, Malawi, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Somaliland and Italy. A local-language version in Somaliland is under development with encouraging preliminary results. Rafiki will also be used in English and Italian to support mental health workers. 

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