Finding Thabo.

Focus Area

Daily Brain-Building Interactions

Innovation Lever

New product


Proof of Concept



Finding Thabo is an interactive ‘Where’s Wally’ inspired game. It uses a Facebook Messenger chatbot and pictures in a widely distributed South African retailer’s magazine to facilitate fun brain-building interactions between parents and children.

The Problem.

There is a lack, particularly in under-resourced communities, of interesting and easily accessible content that provides practical examples of how parents can engage their children in early brain-building interactions and activities. Because of this, many parents are unaware of how or why to engage in back and forth conversations with their young children during critical times of brain development. This lack of interaction contributes to children not developing strong learning foundations before they start school, which would allow them to benefit more from their education opportunities.

The Innovation.

Finding Thabo uses printed pictures in combination with a Facebook Messenger chatbot to help guide parents through a range of brain-building interactions with their child.

The core idea of Finding Thabo is to help parents weave activities and engagement with their children into their everyday lives. To do this, The Reach Trust has developed a set of pictures in a similar style to “Where’s Wally” that depict everyday situations. The pictures are placed in a 2-page full-colour spread in Pick n Pay’s (large SA retailer) Fresh Living Magazine, which reaches approximately 500 000 people per month. Signage in store encourages parents to take a free copy of the magazine, wherein they will find instructions about how to begin engaging with the Finding Thabo Facebook chatbot.

Once the parent has begun the Facebook Messenger chat, the chatbot sends them this message, “Let’s start! It is best to sit with your child and look at the picture together. We will send a message on Facebook, but encourage your child to look at the picture, not your phone!”

The parent will then be guided by the chatbot through a range of educational interactions with their child. The interactions are designed to build early language and mathematics skills, while activities stimulate fine and gross motor skills. Their responses to the questions will lead to further chatbot prompts which are customised to their user experience.

How it works

Here is an example of part of a chat:

Chatbot: Can you find a magic wand?
(parent asks the child to point out the magic wand in the picture)
Parent: Yes
Chatbot: Well done – the magic wand is next to the dog.
Chatbot: How many birds can you find in the picture?
(parent asks child to count all the birds in the picture)
Parent: 5
Chatbot: Have a closer look. There are 7 birds in the picture. Did you see the 2 birds on the roof of the building?

Why we invested.

This investment presented the opportunity to:

Embed technology in a nurturing environment in a cost-effective and scalable leveraging chatbot functionality

Test the feasibility of using this functionality in getting users to engage with ECD content and test and experiment with different prompts and question sets

Partner with a retailer that has a significant footprint across South Africa and Africa and who’s consumers fall within IE’s target market (caregivers of children between 0-6 living in resource-constrained communities)

Direct Finding Thabo users to applications on the ECD Launchpad, should they wish to access additional digital ECD content

If using a chatbot to engage users proves effective it could serve multiple functions in future, including supporting the onboarding of users onto ECD applications, enabling practitioner ‘refresher’ training to be offered cost effectively at scale, and creating bespoke solutions to communication challenges associated with scaling ECD programmes.

Finding Thabo also forces investors like ourselves, retailers and social media platforms to carefully consider, monitor and evaluate the risks and potential downside in using technology for good, in this case in a nurturing care environment.

The Project Team

The Reach Trust has helped more than 10 million people transform their lives through access to free education, health and counselling services on their mobile phones.