Baobab by ASU

Online Engagement Platform for Sub-Saharan African Scholars

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Native to the African savannah, the baobab tree is known as the “tree of life.”

6

Years Devetry has worked on Boabab

133%

increase in uses since partnering with Devetry

11,000

Community users

In 2016, having successfully launched the Baobab platform to connect all Mastercard Foundation Scholars, ASU determined their need for a long-term development partner to build out new features, to respond to user feedback, and to keep pace with user experience. Based on technical expertise and previous project success, they chose Devetry.

Always keeping the Scholars’ needs at the center, ASU regularly gathered feedback from Scholars on the platform experience. Partnering with Devetry, design solutions were architected and built to address user needs and tackle development considerations.

As Scholars spoke, we listened.

The problem

In order for the platform user base to meet its 2023 goals, three key features needed to be addressed:  

  1. Web Accessibility

  2. Opportunity Boards

  3. One-to-One Chat

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Web Accessibility

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Opportunity Board

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One-to-one Chat

Compliance

Compliance requires a mindset that considers all users, including those using assistive technologies so that all visitors to the site have access to the same information and functions. For example, when designing a form on the Baobab site that included a date selection, a date picker was built with a series of year/month/day dropdowns instead of text inputs. The dropdowns are easier to use by mouse, keyboard, or touch, they minimize invalid inputs, and they don’t require explanation or modification, all of which make them WCAG compliant.

The same WCAG were used to design the iOS and Android mobile apps, which Scholars requested for on-the-go access to the Baobab platform. Guaranteeing the website and mobile apps were both accessible allowed all Scholars to join and engage in the community of Baobab.

Compliance

Compliance requires a mindset that considers all users, including those using assistive technologies so that all visitors to the site have access to the same information and functions. For example, when designing a form on the Baobab site that included a date selection, a date picker was built with a series of year/month/day dropdowns instead of text inputs. The dropdowns are easier to use by mouse, keyboard, or touch, they minimize invalid inputs, and they don’t require explanation or modification, all of which make them WCAG compliant. <br/> <br/> The same WCAG were used to design the iOS and Android mobile apps, which Scholars requested for on-the-go access to the Baobab platform. Guaranteeing the website and mobile apps were both accessible allowed all Scholars to join and engage in the community of Baobab.

A centralized place

Secondly, Scholars asked for a centralized place to find and post opportunities like scholarships, internships, and post-graduate employment. Likewise, Partners and Mentors wanted a convenient spot to share opportunities they knew would be a great fit for Scholars’ skills and backgrounds. Enter the Opportunity Board, a section of the platform featuring postings that can be filtered by keyword, location, and date posted.

Private chat

The one-to-one chat feature had been at the top of the list of Scholar requests since the platform’s inception. Previously, Scholars couldn’t privately chat on Baobab because the workgroup function on the platform required at least 3 users, and if a Scholar “posted to profile,” that message was then part of the public forum, visible to all. Scholars wanted the ability to have a private conversation and didn’t want to have to leave the platform to direct message other Baobab users. The most successful digital communities include one-to-one messaging as a best practice to maximize engagement because they both strengthen user relationships and increase user retention. Baobab’s private messaging feature was built using human-centered design and WCAG-compliance.

A Growing Scholar Network

When developing each of these features, data usage was a major consideration. Data usage limitations vary around the globe, and users in Africa pay for data by megabyte/gigabyte. The Baobab platform therefore needed to be quick loading to be accessible in mobile-first, low-bandwidth markets.

As such, data usage continues to inform all of Baobab’s design and architecture decisions (e.g., by limiting the amount of data displayed on the page, by choosing third-party modules optimized for low-bandwidth users/low-performance devices, etc.). Scholars could now use Baobab as a resource wherever they were without worrying about their data usage.

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The Results

Since partnering with Devetry, Baobab has seen a 133% increase in users, with participation and engagement steadily increasing. 

And as new features launch, or updates to the platform are made to meet the Scholars needs and requests, the goal remains the same: a joyful, ever-growing Scholar alumni community with roots deep and wide, like the revered Baobab tree.

Bethany Weigele

Chief Innovation Officer, EdPlus

We were searching for a partner capable of taking on design and development of our custom platform. Devetry put together a team that works closely with us to understand the vision of the project and create the right technical solutions for Baobab users.
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