What do you do?
Annalise: I take care of the product design and marketing for iSmart. I’ve been involved since its inception – when it was a European Project – to this stage; we’ve launched the product for the market. From an early age I was involved in graphic design and my career in IT naturally followed.
Angele: I am one of the founders of iSmart – a tool for students with learning difficulties – and the main financial backer. I’ve been an entrepreneur for over 20 years in technology, always focusing on social issues like education, health and culture. iSmart is a small dream come true – we’ve managed to build software that really helps students that have dyslexia, ADHD and mild autism, to read and write with less difficulty.
Where do you do it?
Both: Our main office is located in a village in Malta called Naxxar, however you’ll usually find us roaming around Europe, for many reasons – both work and pleasure. Although home will always be where the sun shines – and that is Malta. iSmart is present in Italy, Poland and the Gulf countries and we hope to increase our reach this year towards the UK and Ireland, Finland and Sweden.
Who do you do it for?
Both: Our software is aimed at encouraging schools and classrooms to be more inclusive and was designed keeping dyslexic students in mind. It all started when one of our colleagues had a severely dyslexic child and wished for something that made students’ life easier. Research shows that one out of five students have some sort of learning difficulty – we believe that such students simply need a more visual way of seeing things.
Our software exists in English, Italian, Spanish, Polish and Maltese and we hope to keep adding more languages to reach more students. If we empower students to read and write, we will have a better world.
What has been your favourite project?
Annalise: Last August, I had the opportunity to volunteer at a school in Nepal – Maya Universe Academy. Apart from the simple lessons about life given by the students, I helped tutor one of the children, who other volunteers suspected had dyslexia. By giving him few tips, I hope he was empowered to read and write more.
Angele: This year I’ve focused on taking iSmart to Italy and participated in an event called Ho una caratteristica in piu (“I have an added feature”) in Firenze, which was animated and planned by a team of dyslexic teenagers and young adults. There were over 300 participants, and all were super-motivated to learn, showing the great untapped potential that young people have once they’re given responsibility.
Which is the most innovative, ethically-minded business that you’d love to collaborate with?
Annalise: I’d like to work with more schools who are open-minded to new methodologies – especially related to the technology use in the classroom. I recently heard about Hackney Pirates, a charity working to develop literacy, confidence and perseverance of young people in Hackney, so that they achieve both in school and the world beyond.
Angele: We want to work with organisations like Save the Children and UNESCO, that help kids in areas where there have been disasters, famine or war, to make sure that these young ones keep receiving the education they deserve. We’re also aiming to collaborate with school book publishers all over Europe. Some are starting to innovate, whilst others still focus on ‘traditional’ books and e-books. iSmart can take traditional content and change it in a way that makes it easier for children to read.
Which ethical business leaders inspire you?
Annalise: No high-profile leaders per se, but I’m really inspired when I meet young people, who – despite having struggled in their school years – still make a name for themselves. I really do believe that these unnamed heroes have a lesson to teach us, daily.
Angele: At the risk of name dropping, there have been several business and professional people with dyslexia or ADHD who made a name for themselves on the world stage. The most famous is Sir Richard Branson, but I also take my inspiration from Whoopi Goldberg, Jamie Oliver and Agatha Christie.
What are the five most interesting things that you have come across or read recently?
- “I don’t ‘suffer’ from dyslexia, I live with it and work with it. I suffer from the ignorance of people who think they know what I can and cannot do.” – Erica Cook, Learning Ally member.
I’ve stumbled on this several times – it’s something that each of us should keep in mind when we meet someone, whatever their abilities. To accept that not everyone can do the same thing the same way, will help us live in a better place.
- We’ve come across a mathematical model invented by a maths teacher, Giovanna Bali from Italy, that focuses on helping students with dyscalculia understand maths and complex concepts like fractions.
- The TED playlist about re-inventing education and re-imagining school never fails to inspire us either… You get to hear challenging concepts that push back at the ‘usual’ assumptions that many countries still make about how to educate the future generations. https://www.ted.com/playlists/24/re_imagining_school
What’s the book, books or author that most shaped your thinking for the work that you do?
Both: The books of Edward de Bono (also a Maltese!) on lateral thinking and creativity, and the use of several of his tools have been instrumental for us. We always try to think differently and out of the box.
Find out more about the work of Annalise and Angele at ismart-project.com