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SEWA- Spread the word!

SEWA app is a community notice board on which residents can share local news with or without an internet connection.

Photo of Aman Sadana
28 16

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EXPLAIN YOUR IDEA

How do I get my kids admitted in school? When will the water tanker arrive tomorrow? What documents do I need to get a Ration card? Where is the Government conducting a free eye camp? These are just some of the questions that a slum dweller faces on a daily basis. Yet there is no system/ network in place to share this information across the community. Hence, most residents are unable to take advantage of various government schemes and NGO initiatives that exist to support them. Smartphones are quickly becoming ubiquitous in the Indian context due to their rapidly declining prices. Cheap android phones are available for as low as $40 in the markets of Delhi. Hence, the time has arrived to harness their potential to assist and alleviate the conditions of the urban poor. The SEWA app seeks to bridge this communicate divide, by creating a platform on which residents of a small community can interact with each other. Sewa means ' to serve' in Hindi. The content is categorized as per the needs of its users: water, electricity, shelter, health, jobs, etc... As Mobile data services are very expensive in India, we can explore the 'Off the Grid' technology used by the popular chatting app, Fire Chat. The app uses Bluetooth to connect to nearby phones that also have the app installed. If lots of people have the app, they form a "distributed" or "decentralized" network. As slums are densely populated, the strength of the network will be very high.

WHO BENEFITS?

SEWA is an open, inclusive platform meant to knit the community into one unit. Any resident of the locality can post on this 'notice board' under one of those categories. His post will be sent to a locally appointed administrator who will moderate the content before publishing on the platform. Then, all users of the app in that area will get notifications regarding the post. Those users who have not upgraded to smartphones, can subscribe to the App notifications via SMS.

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

Communication is a valuable tool in the fight against poverty and climate change. A platform like SEWA, will enable and empower users to help themselves. It will nurture community spirit and kindle unity in a fragmented social fabric. By catering to needs like food, water, shelter, jobs, etc..., it focuses on the key issues that people in urban slums face. It is consciously designed to be simple and frugal, so that it doesn't not intimidate its users. SEWA can be used to educate the masses about an abstract concept like global warming and help contextualize it to their day to day affairs. It can be used to increase awareness about, rain water harvesting, reducing water wastage, solar cookers, etc... It will allow the government, NGOs and local residents to spread the word, regarding any initiative, issue that effects the community as a whole.

IN-COUNTRY EXPERIENCE

  • Yes, for two or more years

EXPERTISE

  • I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for less than one year

GEOGRAPHIC FOCUS

  • Yes

TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF

I am an Industrial Designer and Architect based in New Delhi. I am currently working in the Design Research & Strategy team of LG Electronics. In my research, I have tried to explore how Architecture and Planning can be used as tools to reduce crimes in Delhi.

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

The SEWA app is a recent idea, which was borne out of my design researches with urban poor in India. I currently work in the Design team of LG Electronics, where we research, strategize and design new product solutions for the Indian market. Although my forte lies in architecture and industrial design, I felt that a mobile based service would be a an apt solution for the problems we seek to address in this challenge. At this stage, I am building a digital prototype which the users can navigate to give feedback on the UI/ UX experience .

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

In my research, I was able to identify atleast two organizations who are doing pioneering work in building inclusive mobile solutions: Awaaz.De and AtmaGo. Both of them are harnessing mobile technology solutions to reach out to users cutting across language and literacy barriers. The key USPs and differentiators of the SEWA app are: • Noticeboard platform which encourages users to share information relevant to the community. Categories like, health, education, jobs, etc... help structure the notifications and make them more relevant to user needs. The content is owned, operated and consumed by the community • Offline connectivity: Mobile data costs in India are still very expensive. By using the simple technology (Bluetooth) behind the popular neworking app, FireChat, we can make the SEWA app function without the internet. This 'Free' connectivity will enable more people to use the app. • Inclusive functionality: Even those people who do not have smartphones can subscribe to this app using SMS notifications. This flexibility will allow all types of users to take benefit from the service.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR UNANSWERED QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR IDEA?

Some of the questions I would like to address through further research: • How comfortable people are in downloading and using mobile apps? The app should not intimidate users by its technology or features. • What is the extent of mobile internet penetration in slums? Even though this service can work for people without smart phones and mobile data connections, it would still be interesting to note how mobile internet is currently being consumed. • What are the various media which users want to use for reaching out to the community ( audio, video, photos, text)? Each format has its own set of limitations and opportunities, with respect to the proble

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

Before making this concept, I tried to understand the limitations of existing services with similar functionalities. The reasons these problems have not been solved yet are: •Most neworking apps are dependent on phone having an internet connection. Mobile internet costs are still prohibitive for many slum dwellers. The SEWA app can function by building 'off the grid network' using Bluetooth ( Firechat technology). Thus, the 'free usage' makes it more appealing to users. •Most mobile apps function on smartphones. A large number of people are yet to upgrade to such internet enabled phones. By allowing SEWA to additionally function using SMS, we make it more inclusive.

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

In the Beneficiary feedback phase, I got an opportunity to interact with various stakeholders within the target community. I approached 10 respondents in the Trilokpuri area of New Delhi, with a questionnaire and digital mock up of the SEWA app on my smart phone. The topics I sought to cover through this exercise were: •Problems that users face on a daily basis •Types of information, notifications that users need. •Types of mobile phones used & access to mobile internet. •Mobile apps that they currently use to network, seek news, etc... •Explore SEWA app mockup screens on a mobile phone. •Give feedback on the functionality, User Experience, etc... I received valuable feedback from these interviews. Some of the key improvements points that were suggested are: •Adding content via audio/ video/ pictures: Many residents are uncomfortable with typing and wanted an in-app functionality of adding pictures, videos or audio messages. •Local languages: In the Indian context, the app should function in the local language of the state apart from the popular Hindi and English. •Classified ads: Shop keepers felt that such a medium would be a great way to advertise their services to the local community. The money raised could be used to make the app financially sustainable. •Human face: Users wanted a community leader to be a moderator on the app. Users can reach out to him, in case of any problems or support needed.

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

SEWA is an initiative meant to empower slum dwellers to help themselves. With this app, I intend on creating a communication platform where neighbors can raise issues which are relevant to them. The app should be owned, operated and used by the slum dwellers. It would go a long way in cultivating a community bond between residents. The next steps for realizing this concept would be: • Incorporate suggestions received in the Beneficiary feedback phase. • Make a digital prototype of the app, which target users can experience for feedback. • Reach out to Open Garden ( makers of Firechat) to understand the technology behind building a network over Bluetooth.

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Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Hi Aman,

Our experts had some of the following feedback. We'd love to hear your response to it.

This has huge potential to improve slum dwellers lives' but the critical component missing seems to be who maintains and updates the information.

Brilliant to use "off the grid" tech to allow users to connect through Bluetooth rather than mobile data. really exciting! Why do you think an app like this hasn't been created before? 

Photo of Aman Sadana
Team

Hi Chioma,

Thank you for your support and feedback! We are continuously building upon the SEWA app with inputs from the field and OpenIdeo platform. Please find below, the responses for the questions raised by the experts: 


1) Off-line support: To support the Sewa app, a local community leader will be appointed as the moderator. All posts sent by members will be rooted through this moderator. They will proofread the content and publish it on the platform, to prevent spam and reposts. This person would help members engage on the platform and support them in case they face any problems.


2) Physical presence: Initially, to educate and engage the community, we are planning to have a small kiosk in a prominent part of the slum. Residents can approach the kiosk, if they want to send a message on the SEWA app or they want help downloading/ operating it. A physical, tangible presence and a moderator will give a human face to the app and will encourage people to come on board.


3) Off the grid: FireChat app has already been able to use this 'off-the-grid' technology for chatting application with great success. It is a tried and tested technology, for scenarios where there is a high density of people. Thus, this technology can easily be re-purposed for our application.

Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Thanks for your detailed response. It's great that you went out to the community to get feedback about this idea. Did you learn where or how people are currently getting the information that would be included on the SEWA app? What gives you confidence that an app is one of the best ways to disseminate this type of information? 
If you are successful, who will bring this idea to life? What support do you envision needing from the Amplify program? 

Photo of Aman Sadana
Team

In our research, we discovered that there is no existing, formal platform to disseminate information about basic services. Most of it is spread through organically through word-of-mouth ( water, electricity), small posters ( health camps), middlemen ( jobs, shelter), etc... As a result, updates often does not reach those, who need it the most. Thus, we recognized the need for a system of spreading local news and information outreach.


We envision SEWA as an all-encompassing bulletin board for the neighborhood. Initially, we plan to introduce it in the form of a black-board near the entrance of the slum cluster. Community leaders can write notices with chalk. Alongside, the SEWA app will be promoted and we will assist residents download and try out the app on the phone.


The reason for adopting an app based approach is that India, is about to reach 1 billion mobile phone subscribers by next year. It is transforming the way Indians connect and network. Yet, there are very few applications which address the local issues that we face.
SEWA does not cater to only those who own swanky smartphones or those who can afford mobile data connections. Even users of basic feature phones, can subscribe to the service through SMS technology, and those without internet can get notices using 'off-the grid' Bluetooth network.


Over the past few weeks, I have been recruiting a team of volunteers who will assist in bringing this idea to life. We have approached app developers in Delhi who have the ability to build this app and underlying technology from scratch. I will be taking care of the UI/UX component of the app. We are in talks with a local NGO, who will support us in conducting a trial run at a nearby slum cluster.


If we are successful in this challenge, we plan to quickly build a lean, beta version of the app ( Phase 1) for a trial run in Delhi. We will also take support of the friends we have made on the OpenIdeo forum, to test this app in their context and countries. Then, we will incorporate the feedback received from the trial runs to make a revised app with full functionality (Phase 2). We would be grateful if your experts could periodically mentor us as we cross each stage.

Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Thanks Aman! This is very helpful. Because of resources, we haven't typically been able to mentor non-winning ideas, but I'm curious- what type of mentorship do you think would be helpful? We're always looking for ways to iterate on what we do, too! 

Photo of Aman Sadana
Team

Hi Chioma,

Going forward, we will approach this SEWA project in 3 broad phases. After reaching each milestone, we would like to reach out for following type of mentorship:

Phase 1 ( 1 month):
• In partnership with a local NGO, we will introduce the concept of a public bulletin board at a slum cluster in the form of a black board.
• It will be updated on a daily basis, collating information from various sources. This will help us evaluate which types of information are most relevant to the community.
• Alongside, a lean, basic version of the app will be created in Hindi & English. We would be grateful if your experts could give feedback on this app prototype before we test it in the field.

Phase 2 ( 1 month):
• The first version of the app will be introduced at the same slum cluster as the blackboard. A local community member will be hired, to assist residents in downloading and using the app.
• The phone number of this local SEWA leader will be circulated, in case residents need support in posting information.
• For those residents without smartphones, we will add them to a SMS messaging list. We will be sending them daily notifications in the form of messages.
• Alongside, We will reach out to NGOs in other parts of the country/ world, to test this app out in their context and focus areas.
• At the end of one month, we would like to evaluate the results with your experts. This would enable us to make crucial decisions regarding the specification of the full, complete version of the app. Technologies like the 'off the grid' bluetooth network and multiple language support will be both time and resource intensive. With your guidance, we will finalize the design and engineering brief of the app.

Phase 3 ( 1.5 months):
• The complete version of the app will be prepared and a soft launch of the app will be done at 3 locations across the country.
• We will hire and train 2 people ( 1 man, 1 woman) at each location, to be our ambassadors within the community. They will also function as the moderators for the online SEWA bulletin board.
• After testing the app at these 3 locations, we will share feedback that we have received from the communities. We will seek advice from our mentors on how we can amplify and scale this model, to make it relevant for communities across the world.

Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Hi Aman,
It's awesome that you are thinking about the future of this idea - maybe there is a way of engaging the participants in this challenge to provide feedback to each other. If that is something that you would be interested in, let me know! 

Also, as you build out prototypes, I think that that you might find this resource helpful in deciding what you want to test at each of the different phases: https://d3gxp3iknbs7bs.cloudfront.net/attachments/92e5a7d9-7358-4037-a709-4839d8d5258f.pdf
Also, as you think about planning, you might also find the resources on prototyping from IDEO.org's Design Kit useful. You can find them in turquoise under "How do I make a prototype?" here: http://www.designkit.org/methods

Photo of Aman Sadana
Team

Hi Chioma,
Thank you for the link to these wonderful resources. They will surely come in handy, as we go onto build prototypes and the lean version of the SEWA app.
Once we have a tangible prototype of the app, it would be a great idea to engage with other participants in the challenge for feedback. It will enrich the design and help us attune it for a larger audience.

Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

You're welcome Aman! Have a great holiday season and happy new year!

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