A Digital Leap in the School Meals Programme in Kakuma and Dadaab, Kenya

WFP Innovation Accelerator
6 min readJul 24, 2023

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is constantly seeking innovative ways to enhance our operations and achieve better results. One significant innovation in this regard is the digitization of the School Meals Programme (SMP) data management in Kakuma and Dadaab refugee settlements, in Kenya. This transformation is intended to enhance the visibility, accountability, transparency, and accuracy of data submitted by schools, thereby significantly improving our capacity to provide aid to those in need.

By Faith Kathoka and Obutu Anyona

The School Meals Programmes in Kakuma and Dadaab face specific complexities, including fluctuating school attendance, culturally diverse eating habits, and a continuous inflow and outflow of refugees. It is not uncommon for classes to have 400 children, and Kakuma alone enrols about 74,000 children across 28 schools. In this ever-changing environment, the field teams were seeking faster and more reliable data to enhance the programme’s efficiency.

Cooks serving students meals at Mogadishu Primary School in Kakuma. Photo: WFP/Tristan Shouten
Students receive their meals at Mogadishu Primary School in Kakuma. Photo: WFP/Tristan Shouten

Traditionally, the data management process for the School Meals Programmes (SMP) in Kakuma and Dadaab has been manual and involved multiple partners. Teachers recorded data on learners’ attendance (the number of children fed each day) in a notebook, which was then shared with the implementing partner at the end of the week. Subsequently, the partner digitised the information and submitted it to WFP every month.

However, the current data management process is labour-intensive and prone to errors. During our initial user testing phase, we identified discrepancies in enrolment and attendance data. Total attendance numbers were often miscalculated, and the lack of centralised monitoring information made it difficult to manage SMP activities effectively.

User testing the School Connect App with school meals focal points in Kakuma before the implementation of the solution. Photo: WFP/Andrea Kobor

To address these challenges, we embarked on a journey to introduce a digital data management tool to the schools in these regions. Following the human-centred design (HCD) methodology, we tested two potential digital tools: School Connect, a WFP corporate tool, and NEMIS, a Government of Kenya tool designed to manage all education data.

The Power of School Connect

School Connect is a digital solution designed to manage WFP school feeding operations with the objective of minimising pipeline breaks. It incorporates essential features such as data collection, analytics, and reporting for various aspects, including student enrolment, attendance, and stock movement.

Supported by the WFP Innovation Accelerator on its path to scale, School Connect has evolved into a WFP corporate tool and has already been successfully implemented in nine countries. This innovative tool was launched in Burundi in 2020 and has since been rolled out in more than 1500 schools. Its implementation has significantly improved data monitoring and reporting accuracy, providing near real-time information with reduced errors.

Piloting the use of School Connect in a country office is supported by WFP Headquarters (WFP HQ) and WFP Regional Bureaus (WFP RBs). They provide training on the tool, assist in developing a rollout plan, and document successes and challenges throughout the process.

“This gives us a real-time report of how school feeding is going on. We get to know daily the attendance of students in the school and meals served. It is a game-changer… This is the new way for WFP; we will make it work,” said Samal Lukonu, Programme Policy Officer, Kakuma Sub Office, Kenya.

User testing the School Connect App with School Meals Focal Points in Kakuma before the implementation of the solution. Photo: WFP/Faith Kathoka

The Journey to Digital Transformation

The HCD methodology played a pivotal role in providing us with a systematic approach to finding a solution. Our journey of innovation followed an iterative process of ‘empathise, define, ideate, prototype, and test,’ enabling us to develop a user-centric solution that catered to their needs.

Our innovation journey began by delving into the current SMP data process and comprehending its intricacies and challenges. To enrich our understanding, we engaged in insightful demonstrations with both the School Connect and NEMIS teams. Further enhancing our insights, we ventured into the field, conducting missions to Kakuma and Dadaab.

During these field missions, we tested School Connect alongside the WFP field team, implementing partners, and school staff responsible for feeding data input. The reception was remarkable, propelling us into the proof-of-concept phase.

The missions were critical because we also identified several challenges that we had to consider in the implementation phase. These included a lack of internet connectivity in schools, insufficient electricity to charge the devices, and weak telco network reception. Additionally, we found opportunities we could leverage; for example, some schools had dedicated Information Communication Technology (ICT) teachers who were eager to transition to a digital solution.

Timeline of implementing School Connect in Kakuma and Dadaab. Photo: WFP/School Connect

Training, Rollout, Impact

The training of trainers (ToT) session, held in Nairobi and supported by the School-Based Programmes (SBP) team from WFP HQ, was a resounding success. In Kakuma, participants from 28 schools engaged in data entry during the SMP sessions, gaining practical experience with the system. This hands-on approach proved to be crucial in ensuring smooth operations.

Following the productive ToT session, we launched a pilot implementation phase in the 28 schools in Kakuma and Kalobeyei. During April and May 2023, we conducted comprehensive training sessions, equipped schools with digital devices (Samsung tablets), and provided hands-on support to facilitate a seamless transition.

One month after the rollout, in May 2023, we achieved an impressive reporting rate of 94 percent for the months of March and April. This high level of engagement from the schools stands as a testament to the effectiveness of the training sessions and the user-friendly nature of the School Connect system.

The digitization of the school meals program has brought about significant time savings for teachers, who would otherwise have spent considerable effort calculating the required daily food quantities. Moreover, the School Connect app offers enhanced visibility of school feeding data, enabling efficient monitoring from the school level all the way to HQ. As a result, country offices can intervene more promptly and seamlessly, thereby reducing errors and omissions in food accounting.

The WFP Kenya Innovation Unit Team’s, Anyona Obutu (Product Manager) and Faith Kathoka (HCD Expert), training School Meals Focal Points and implementing partners in Kakuma and Kalobeyei during the roll-out of School Connect. Photo: WFP/Tristan Schouten

What’s next?

But the journey doesn’t end here. We are committed to continuing our support to schools, collaborating with the M&E unit for impact assessment, and actively monitoring data submissions. Additionally, we are diligently working with the WFP HQ team to ensure that all reported system-related issues are promptly resolved. The results of the Kakuma pilot will be essential in determining the scale-up to the Dadaab camp next year.

The digital transformation of the School Meals Programme in Kakuma and Dadaab goes beyond being a mere project; it serves as a testament to the power of innovation and collaboration between WFP’s HQ, RBs, Country Office Units, Field Office staff, and the community. It’s about embracing opportunities and adapting to new challenges. With each new endeavour, we reaffirm that with determination and an open mind, we can embark on a remarkable journey of growth and positive change.

User testing the School Connect App with School Meals Focal Points in Kakuma before the implementation of the solution. Photo: WFP/Andrea Kobor

The WFP Innovation Accelerator sources, supports and scales high-potential solutions to end hunger worldwide. We provide WFP staff, entrepreneurs, start-ups, companies and non-governmental organizations with access to funding, mentorship, hands-on support and WFP operations.

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WFP Innovation Accelerator

Sourcing, supporting and scaling high-impact innovations to disrupt hunger.