Last fall, Facebook announced that it would open an office in Lagos, Nigeria, which will provide the company with a hub in the region and the first office on the continent staffed by a team of engineers. We’ve now discovered one of the first products to emerge from this office: an education-focused mobile app called Sabee, which means “knowledge” in the Nigerian Pidgin language. The app aims to connect learners and educators in online communities to make educational opportunities more accessible.
The app was published briefly on Google Play by “NPE Team,” Facebook’s internal research and development group, which has typically focused on new social experiences in areas such as dating, audio, music, video, messaging, and more.
While lessons learned from the NPE team’s apps sometimes inform Facebook’s broader efforts, the group has yet to produce an app that has evolved into a standalone Facebook product. Many of its previous apps have also been shut down, including (somewhat unfortunately), the online zine generator, for example, the Hobbi video app, the CatchUp calling app, the Bump buddy finder, the Venue podcast community app, and many others.
However, Sabee represents a new direction for the NPE team, as it is not about building another social experience.
Instead, Sabee is tied to Facebook’s larger strategy to focus more on serving the African continent, starting with Nigeria. This is a strategic move, informed by data that the vast majority of the world’s population will be in urban centers by 2030, and much of that will be on the African continent and throughout the Middle East. By 2100, Africa’s population is expected to triple, with Nigeria becoming the second most populous country in the world, after China.
To meet the need to connect these regions to the internet, Facebook has teamed up with telecom companies on 2Africa, an undersea cable project that aims to serve the more than one billion people still offline in Africa and the Middle East. These aren’t altruistic investments, of course — Facebook knows that its future growth will come from this demographic.
Facebook confirmed its plans for Sabee to TechCrunch after we discovered it, noting that it’s still a small test for now.
“There are 50 million learners, but only 2 million teachers in Nigeria,” said Emika Okafor, chief product of Facebook. “Through this early little test, we hope to understand how we can help educators build communities that make education accessible to all. We look forward to learning with our first testers, and deciding what to do from there.”
The disparity between learners and teachers in Nigeria greatly affects women and girls, and is another major focus for Sabee – and the efforts of the NPE team in the region as a whole. The company also wants to explore how to better serve groups that technology often leaves behind. In this regard, Sabee is creating an experience that works with a lower connection, like 2G.
We understand that the app is currently in preliminary testing with less than 100 testers who are subject to NDAs with Facebook. It’s not available to anyone else outside of that group at the moment, but the company hopes to elevate Sabee to the next stage before the end of the year.
There is no way to sign up for the Sabee queue, and the app is no longer public on Google Play. App store intelligence firm Sensor Tower assured us that it was available for so briefly that it was not ranked at all in any charts.
We should note that the words “sabee” and “sabi/sabis” have other, less polite meanings in different languages, according to the Urban Dictionary. But the team has no plans to change the name at the moment as it makes sense in the Nigerian market where the app is targeted.