The Blue Butterfly Collaborative takes a unique approach to children’s educational media and its impact in international development. With the goal of helping media producers in low- and middle-income countries produce, design and distribute high-quality educational media for young children, Blue Butterfly partners with organizations on the ground in different countries in order to develop media programs that are both educationally appropriate and culturally sensitive to the specifics of the particular region.
Blue Butterfly was co-founded by Dr. Charlotte Cole, former Senior Vice President of Global Education at Sesame Workshop, and her sister, Suzanne Cole in October 2013. The organization is currently working in Ethiopia, partnering with WhizKids Workshop on its Healthy WhizKids TV program that educates children and parents about healthy lifestyles, and in Haiti, developing a media program called Lakou Kajou that uses original animated characters to teach curricular skills.
Lakou Kajou follows brother-and-sister six-year-old twins Lili and Tilou on their adventures. Each episode will center around a different theme—for example, plants and growing—and, much like Sesame Street, will combine live-action and animated segments in order to teach children basic literary and mathematical concepts. The first six episodes of the program are set to be released by the end of 2015.
The characters of Lili, Tilou and their pet gecko Zandolin were designed by Chevelin Pierre, a Haitian illustrator and comic book artist based in Port-au-Prince, who is just one of many Haitian professionals with whom Blue Butterfly is collaborating for this project. "All of the creative drive comes from our partners," Dr. Cole explains. "We’re catalysts for local teams—they’re the ones that develop essentials such as the program name and the characters. We provide a framework and a production process."
The show will be broadcast on television and available through the Internet. Blue Butterfly also plans to present the videos to children in remote regions of Haiti through partnerships with community organizations and schools. "We have a crowd-funding site on HIPGive to raise money for those community viewing events," says Suzanne Cole. "Funds raised through the crowdfunding campaign will go toward coordinating the events with our community partners and placing the content on tablet computers in Haitian schools."
Blue Butterfly follows a unique model in its approach to international development. Rather than being uni-directional, i.e. "teaching people to fish instead of giving people fish," the organization believes in a multi-directional structure, Dr. Cole says. "While [the fish model] is preferable to providing a hand-out, we see it as having a flaw," she explains. "It’s uni-directional – experts building local capacity. We believe that international development projects work best when there is a rich dynamic between all players, where everybody is an expert and everybody is a learner." And that’s why the organization’s name deliberately includes the word 'collaborative.' "We’re really oriented towards that belief that we’re all working as a team and we’re there to support and catalyze change," Dr. Cole adds.
Blue Butterfly targets young children up to age 12. This emphasis on early childhood education as key to international development is very much aligned with—and even ahead of—current international discussions. In September, the United Nations will implement the Sustainable Development Goals, which will replace the Millennium Development Goals when they expire at the end of 2015. Included in the Sustainable Development Goals are specific objectives related to early childhood development, recognition that Dr. Cole says is particularly important to Blue Butterfly’s work.
The organization’s ultimate goal is to build a network of producers and educators who can work together and help each other in educating children around the world. "Education is at the heart of all human development," says Dr. Cole. "When people are educated they are more able to contribute to their own societies in a more positive and productive way. We’re hoping to increase the odds that children, particularly children in disadvantaged and disenfranchised situations, gain access to educational opportunities."