Keeping the mother tongue alive

The birth of Lamia Tabba-Bibi’s first child proved incentive for the entrepreneur to create her own Arabic movies for kids

After Lamia Tabbaa-Bibi had her first child in London in 2003, she scoured different stores to find entertaining and colourful books and digital content in Arabic, , but to her disappointment went home empty handed. Tabbaa-Bibi decided to channel her frustration into creating a solution. She partnered with a friend and used her background in media to set up Little Thinking Minds in 2005. The duo directed and produced their first Arabic movie for kids in 2005, hitting a sweet spot with many like-minded parents.

“We wanted to create something in Arabic that children would enjoy, something that was of comparable quality to what the children were watching in English,” she said. During that time, Baby Einstein videos were popular and the idea was to produce something similar in Arabic.

“The response was phenomenal and in the last ten years we went on to release a line of around nine videos, three apps and online games,” she says.

On average, Little Thinking Minds made a movie every year and a half, until three years ago when they tapped into the world of apps, opening up new opportunities for engagement. Now, the company produces educational Arabic content for children under seven, and delivers them on DVDs, CDs, activity books and flash cards, as well as digitally via video and audio downloads, Apps and online games.

Little Thinking Minds
The business moved away from movies and embraced the digital revolution

The business benefited tremendously from the digital revolution, says Tabbaa-Bibi. For one, barriers to entry diminished, and made it easier to offer video without worrying about import-export laws in different markets, logistics when it comes to delivering the content, and dealing with issues such as piracy and distributor fees.

“I think for people who deliver content the digital revolution is massive because suddenly your audience is the entire world and the margins that you make are higher,” she says.

“Once you go digital, say iTunes, then you just pay iTunes. That’s how you split your margin. We also offer downloads and we have people in the US, Norway, Spain and other countries who are unable to buy our physical product. If they were to order the physical product they have to pay customs on it and it might arrive damaged. With digital downloads they are just able to press a button or do an in app purchase and have the movie on their tablets.”

Tabbaa-Bibi says her mission is to promote the Arabic language to children who are not speaking it today because they are either taught at international schools or it’s not the primary language of instruction at their schools.

“Children are becoming less and less fluent,” she says. “Our idea initially when we were targeting toddlers and preschoolers was to help foster a love for the language from a very early age and we did this through our videos.”

Now, with the same children getting older, they are facing different challenges at school, such as not reading or comprehending enough in Arabic. This led to the company planning its next move: developing a reading portal that will allow every child to read at their own level and to receive feedback from a teacher.

We wanted to create something in Arabic that children would enjoy, something that was of comparable quality to what the children were watching in English

“We are now working on an Arabic reading portal for kids that we are very passionate about because we recognise that reading, or the lack of it thereof, is a growing problem in our part of the world.”

The model has been successfully implemented in the US in the past decade, but hasn’t been adopted in the Arab world with Arabic literacy measures, she explains. The digital library will enable any child to have access to 300 books at any given moment, with the option to read or listen to the stories. The portal is a B2B offering that will be supplied to schools as supplementary to the curriculum.

The portal is being tested in a pilot phase across a number of schools in the UAE and Saudi Arabia up until September. 

“The idea is to do the entire GCC but probably for the first two years it will be UAE and KSA. But we’ve had interest from schools in Oman, Qatar. It’s just a question of having the bandwidth to be able to service all those schools,” she says.