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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.

28 comments

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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!

Photo of Shane Zhao
Team

Great see the progress you've made Aman! In the Improve Phase, there are a couple of like-minded ideas you might like to check out. Perhaps there might be opportunities to collaborate?

Sona - information within reach: https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/urban-resilience/ideas/sona-information-within-reach

Mobile-based Early Warning of Floods: https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/urban-resilience/ideas/mobile-based-early-warning-of-floods

Photo of Aman Sadana
Team

Hi Shane,

Thank you for your support and feedback! Through this challenge, I have been able to reach out to a number of teams working on similar directions. MHS City lab is a team I have stumbled upon in Delhi ( my city). We planning to meet up soon and find opportunities for collaboration.

Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

How exciting! Keep us updated!

Photo of Tony Joseph
Team

Hi Aman , 

I think you have a brilliant idea and would help the community a lot. Just to add on top of the your idea I would mention if SEVA would have a Bulletin Board near the water stations at the slum community that would be updated once at start of day then if would help most of the people out there. The reason I think this would add value is, when I was last working with the slum community in Mumbai I found the older generated aged 50+ prefer not to carry a mobile phone let alone be a smartphone, so if we can create a notice board which would be updated once a day would help and would also strengthen the brand name SEVA and get more attention and in turn help the whole slum community. Any thoughts on this ?
Regards
Tony

Photo of Aman Sadana
Team

Hi Tony,

The idea of a Bulletin board is great! It would be a frugal, yet effective communication medium, when installed near a prominent landmark like water station. It would also be a great introduction to the concept and idea of SEWA. Once, people become used to reading and posting messages on the Bulletin board, it would be easier for them to migrate to the app based service. I shall definitely incorporate this suggestion, when I head out for my next round of research, and will keep you posted on the feedback.
Thanks!

Photo of OpenIDEO
Team

Congrats on making it to the Feedback Phase Aman! We would love it if you can take some time to answer the new Refinement questions that we've added to your original idea submission form. To answer the new questions, hit the Edit Contribution button at the top of your post. Scroll down to the entry fields of the new Refinement questions. Hit Save when you are done editing.

Also, here's a useful tip: When you update the content of your post, it'd be helpful to indicate this in your idea title by adding an extension. For example, you can add the extension " - Update: Experience Maps 11/16" to you idea title. This will be a good way to keep people informed about how your idea is progressing!

Photo of Aman Sadana
Team

Thank you for your support and guidance! I am using the Feedback received in this phase, to make the app more relevant to the target community. Alongside, I am reaching out to technology partners who can help me build this.

Photo of mHS CITY LAB
Team

Hi Aman, we absolutely love your idea and find many overlaps between your approach and ours (https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/urban-resilience/ideas/building-better-communities). We are an interdisciplinary team of architects, designers, economists and sociologists also based in Delhi (www.microhomesolutions.org/) and it would be great to compare notes with you sometime :)

Photo of Katerina Elias-Trostmann
Team

Dear Aman,

This app sounds amazing, congratulations. My colleague Lubaina and I have submitted at project that aims to crowd source data from residents to map, manage and build resilience to urban heat. Heat stress is an emerging severe climate risk that to date lacks data collection and is fatal. We have developed Individual Resilience Indicators that are multi-scale and collect data at the individual, community and urban level. We believe resilience should happen at all levels, we think by mapping resilience-specific data, we can help governments and residents identify more effective resilience building measures. Our methodology includes the design and construction of an ICT-based early warning system, and our indicators include a category on communications.

I would love to explore whether there are any collaboration opportunities with SEWA, particularly on data gathering, and communicating risks and prevention measures regarding heat. As you point out in your submission, communications is a vital tool in the fight for climate change. For example, what if we included % of residents using SEWA in our indicators? As such, we could promote SEWA as a resilience-building asset and collaborate on data collection, for example.

Let me know what you think, would be delighted to hear from you.

Thanks,
Katerina

Photo of Aman Sadana
Team

Hi Katerina,
Your project on developing Individual Resilience Indicators sounds wonderful. It takes a wholesome approach to the challenge of climate change, of which communication ( focus of SEWA) is one part. I feel that our concepts and efforts can work great in synergy. SEWA can definitely have a section for data collection which allows it to function as a resilience-building asset.

On the topic of crowdsourcing data, check out the following:
• 'Swacch Delhi' mobile app: This app has been launched by the Delhi government as a part of its cleanliness drive. Through this app, users can click photos of garbage dumps. The local municipal body immediately receives that picture along with its exact location. After its launch last week, it has received over 13,000 complaints already.
• WeatherSignal app: Samsung Galaxy S4 can collect pressure, light intensity, magnetic flux and humidity data. Even the most sensor-deprived Android phone can calculate temperature data by measuring relative differences in battery heat. The WeatherSignal app from Open Signal crowdsources this data from its user's phones to make very accurate forecasts about local weather conditions. I believe a feature like this, would be especially relevant to the problem of Heat stress that you mentioned.

Let me know how we can take this collaboration forward.

Regards,
Aman

Photo of Katerina Elias-Trostmann
Team

Dear Aman, 

Thanks kindly for your comments. We definitely feel that resilience has to exist at all levels and is a complex mixture between both quantitative (ie access to services) and qualitative (risk perception, social cohesion) data sets. By collecting this information we want to inform municipal urban planning and decision making, helping cities prepare for heat and install solutions like cooling places, water stations and launch effective communications campaigns. We need to help them understand heat and resilience first though. 

The two examples you provided are great; are they based on the SEWA technology? 

I think the Open Signal example is very interesting and could be effective for combating heat stress. 

We have questions we need to answer as our next steps on what is the most viable method/technology to collect and analyse data and also send out messages and early warning signals? I think we could explore potential collaboration around these two main questions, to identify whether SEWA fits into the project. 

Shall we set up a skype call? My email is: KElias@wri.org

Thanks,
Katerina

Photo of Awaaz.De
Team

Hi Aman, nice app and I like the "notice board" feature where members can post something. Have you piloted this or a similar app before? What has user feedback been like? Is language an issue or are they able to navigate English easily?

We're focused more on voice - feel free to take a look and see if you think there may be intersections. https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/urban-resilience/ideas/multimedia-mobile-platform-for-climate-resilience/

Photo of University Sussex
Team

Hi Aman, very good idea! Have you thought about how to create access for people who might not have a smart phone?

Photo of Aman Sadana
Team

Hi Guys! Thank you for the appreciation. Admittedly, there is still a significant part of the population which still cannot afford a smartphone. They can access the SEWA network by subscribing through SMS messages. Each time an alert goes out on the network, they will receive a message on their phones too. For posting messages, we can possibly have a toll free number on which they can call and dictate the contents to a locally elected group moderator.

Photo of University Sussex
Team

Hi Aman, thanks for the additional information. We recently posted an idea called We're here that was in part inspired by yours https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/urban-resilience/ideas/we-re-here. It would add a mobile physical space element to your idea that might make it more accessible?

Photo of Aman Sadana
Team

Hi Guys, The idea of a mobile physical space is wonderful! Villages in India traditionally have a space called the 'chaupal'. It is essentially a circular platform built around a tree where the community elders gather to discuss, deliberate and make announcements. It is seen as a public forum where all the important issues are raised. 'We're here' could be an urban, mobile version of that. I think it will compliment the 'SEWA' app very well, because people long for real, tangible spaces outside the digital domain. I look forward to collaborating on the same.

Photo of University Sussex
Team

Hi Aman, it's great to read that you see synergies between our ideas. Do you know already where you will be testing out your idea? (I know that in the next phase of the challenge we will need to get beneficiary feedback and we are considering several possible locations for that). If a PCP could make culturally-relevant connections in particular places in India, that's really interesting and could help with it being used. Do Indian cities and slum areas also have chaupals or something similar?

Photo of University Sussex
Team

Hi Aman, thanks for the additional information. We have just posted an idea called We're here that was in part inspired by yours. Maybe we could try and link the two somehow?

Photo of Shane Zhao
Team

Great to see a collaboration in progress! Here's a helpful tip: when posting a response, hit the Reply button directly below the comment that you're addressing. This way, Aman will get a notification when you post a reply to his comment. You may want to repost your reply to Aman by hitting the blue Reply button located on the lower left-hand corner of his comment.