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AtmaGo: Building Resilience to Chronic and Acute Challenges through a Hyperlocal Social Network

Neighbors helping neighbors connect to resources and each other in Indonesia and India.

Photo of Meena Palaniappan

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EXPLAIN YOUR IDEA

AtmaGo is a community-level social network that helps urban poor communities build resilience to extreme weather, drought, and price shocks. The AtmaGo mobile app allows people to share knowledge, advice and solutions with their neighbors to better prepare for disasters, improve their access to basic needs, address chronic vulnerabilities, and provides a way to reach vulnerable communities that traditional warning systems often fail to reach. We launched AtmaGo in Indonesia at the beginning of this year, and in thousands of posts and replies, our users are: * Reporting water problems and sharing water solutions. * Sharing real time information on prices for and affordable food, fuel, and supplies. * Exchanging best strategies with neighbors on how to protect belongings and buildings from floods, conserve water, and improve nutrition in the household. * Currently, they are warning each other of locations of floods and fires. This year, we will connect to Early Warning Systems so that government early warnings can be delivered through AtmaGo to reach "the last mile" in urban poor communities. Since our launch less than a year ago, we’ve reached over 70,000 page views, 8,000 users, and 3,000 posts and replies. And our approach is already improving people’s lives—in February 2015, during the floods that inundated poor sections of Jakarta, people used AtmaGo to share tips on flood prevention, locations of flooding shelters, and updates on which areas to avoid.

WHO BENEFITS?

Our initial direct beneficiaries are low-income residents of Indonesia, and our goal is to scale globally. According to the Asian Development Bank, Indonesia is the only Southeast Asian country where poverty is on the rise. Half the population, 117 million people, live on less than $2/day. Yet, 86% of Indonesians have mobile phones. Through AtmaGo, users are already helping their neighbors solve existing neighborhood problems, access opportunities, and build resilience to crisis and disaster.

HOW DOES YOUR IDEA TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THE CONTEXT OF URBAN SLUMS AND CLIMATE CHANGE?

We know all too well that poor people will suffer the most from climate change induced extreme weather, drought, and resource scarcity. Our solution addresses challenges not well addressed by existing government and private sector programs. For example, 65 million urban Indonesians lack piped water supply: AtmaGo provides the only existing option for people to share information on affordable and reliable water vendors. Additionally, AtmaGo facilitates sharing of vendors and prices for other staples. Existing Early Warning Systems (EWS) in Indonesia and other countries have been ineffective. Among the 72,000 households at risk in Jakarta living along the 13 river banks, a survey found that the Jakarta Flood EWS had failed to reach “the last mile” and the most vulnerable communities. Since AtmaGo has a strong presence at the neighborhood level, we will be able to reach “the last mile” with warnings and critical information to reduce morbidity and mortality. We built and continue to build AtmaGo through ongoing user engagement and dialogue. We have received many user requests to make AtmaGo available on the Android-based phones, which are becoming increasingly common across the developing world. We also want to ensure Emergency Warning Systems (EWS), which have failed poor communities in the past, can reach the last mile in poor urban communities. Now that we have developed a scalable app that is improving urban poor people’s lives on the ground, we are ready to build on additional technology platforms and grow in new markets.

IN-COUNTRY EXPERIENCE

  • Yes, for two or more years

EXPERTISE

  • I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for at least two years

GEOGRAPHIC FOCUS

  • Yes

TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF

After decades of work in development, I started Atma to connect and empower poor people. Unlike other mobiles in development projects which are top down and unidirectional , we create peer to peer information flow so people can share solutions, take collective action, and build community resilience.

IS THIS A NEW OR RECENT IDEA FOR YOU OR YOUR ORGANIZATION? HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM WHAT YOU ARE ALREADY DOING?

I started Atma as a new organization last year in order to implement this idea. Atma won the Tech for Good Start-up weekend with an early version of this idea to help the urban poor share water price information. We then won funding from Cisco Foundation to develop the app. After an MVP launch in Jakarta, Indonesia in late 2014, we got feedback from users that they wanted to share information on a greater range of local issues. Based on hundreds of hours of user interviews, we relaunched AtmaGo in Indonesia at the beginning of 2015, and since then we’ve reached over 14,000 unique users and 100,000 page views. And our approach is already improving people’s lives—in February 2015, during the floods that inundated poor sections of Jakarta, people used AtmaGo to share tips on flood prevention, locations of flooding shelters, and updates on which areas to avoid. AtmaGo has already helped people get better access to food, report problems with water, and share info on jobs and education.

HOW IS YOUR IDEA DIFFERENT FROM OTHER SIMILAR INITIATIVES? WHAT ARE YOU DOING DIFFERENTLY? WHAT UNIQUE ADVANTAGES DO YOU HAVE?

Although mobiles are increasingly heralded as “changing everything” in development they are mainly used to collect information from poor people or tell them what to do. Atma believes in a fundamentally different approach to international aid: using technology to help people help each other by sharing solutions, taking collective action, and building community resilience. Existing private sector approaches (e.g., Facebook and Twitter) are not well suited to meet the place-based (or hyperlocal) information sharing needs of communities in the developing world. Atma creates new pathways for information to flow by giving poor people a way to share information with their neighbors and build their power as consumers, producers, and residents. Most non-profit technology projects fail to take a lean approach to product development. This method is core to our organization. We are constantly launching products or features, getting user feedback, and rapidly iterating to meet their needs. AtmaGo first launched as a way for people to share water prices, but our users told us they wanted to share more information-- and so we completely revamped and relaunched this new version.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR UNANSWERED QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR IDEA?

Our learning focus is: how best can we evolve our product so that it attracts a dedicated and growing user base. We have already had significant traction, with 44% monthly user growth this year, but ultimately our goal is to reach over 1 billion users, so we are always looking for ways to be more valuable to our users and become a daily source of information for them. Some of the things we are testing include: geotagging, developing newsfeeds by combining external information sources, and contests. We are constantly seeking the perfect combination of an engaging product that scales rapidly and produces significant development impact.

WHY DO YOU THINK THE PROBLEM YOUR IDEA SOLVES FOR HASN'T BEEN SOLVED YET?

Mobile phone penetration in the developing world has grown rapidly in the last decade. Ericsson estimates that global mobile penetration is at 92 percent, with mobile subscriptions at around 6.9 Billion. As smartphone costs drop to $25 dollars or less, and with an active secondary market for mobile phones, more and more people are able to access internet through their mobile phones. But, most existing approaches to mobile phones in development fail to trust users. Most M4D projects treat users as passive sources of information or users of content. Our goal is to create technology that connects people in the developing world —so they can build social cohesion and share critical information.

HOW HAS YOUR IDEA CHANGED BASED ON FEEDBACK FROM YOUR COMMUNITY?

We are constantly conducting user feedback studies, through one on one interviews, focus groups, online feedback surveys, and through email surveys. We have conducted over 200 surveys with urban poor users. We undertook a huge pivot early on in our project. We originally launched as a platform for users to share information on prices paid for water from private water vendors. Our users said they wanted to share a broader range of information. So, after testing two different directions with our users, they universally chose the hyperlocal resilience network direction. We went back into prototyping and development and relaunched AtmaGo as a hyperlocal resilience network. This received significant traction, with monthly average user growth of 44% and social media requests that we launch in new cities. Since we are constantly conducting user feedback we are also constantly iterating and improving our product. We found out that some of our user's phones were not able to use some of the Javascript functionality in our user interface, so they were not able to use the app. We then had to develop code to detect whether the phone could read Javascript, and then serve up either a javascript or non-javascript version. We also relaunched with a new design to make it easier to post, respond, and get to a neighborhood. Recently, our users have been requesting an Android app, and also connections with agencies to resolve problems. These are our new areas of focus.

WHAT WOULD YOU ULTIMATELY LIKE TO ACHIEVE WITH THIS IDEA? WHAT IS YOUR NEXT STEP TO GET THERE?

Our goal is to scale AtmaGo to connect and empower the billions of people at the base of the economic pyramid in every region of the world so they can share information that will help them build their resilience and improve their communities from the ground up. AtmaGo will help people help each other: improve access to basic needs, share opportunities, and be resilient to disasters. With the support of IDEO, our goal next year is to launch in India, build an Android app, and connect to Early Warning Systems so that they can reach the last mile in urban poor communities.

How does your idea connect to the broader system of the city where you plan to implement?

We are connected with 20 community based organizations in the cities that we are launched in (Jakarta, Malang, Lamongan). We conduct joint events with these organizations, and these organizations use the AtmaGo platform to share information with their community members and reach a broader community. We are making connections with other agency initiatives in Indonesia so that we can connect our back end databases so that the information will be extensible through many platforms. We are also making a connection with the Emergency Warning Systems agencies so that early warnings can be sent out through the AtmaGo system. Because AtmaGo will be a daily source of information for our users, it will be the ideal method to reach the last mile with critical warnings. Through an Android App we can more readily push information on warnings and time sensitive information directly to our users phones.

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https://youtube.com/watch?v=_m7LBF5iG1E,http://youtu.be/DYFDxDkl3eM, , https://youtu.be/izUweRS7GpM,https://twitter.com/UDYAMA,
,http://www.fao.org/fsnforum/users/udyamapradeep , ,http://www.linkedin.com/in/udyamapradeepmohapatra, ,http://www.waterclimatecoalition.org/members ,

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