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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.

15 comments

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Photo of Pradeep Mohapatra
Team

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 ,

Photo of Pradeep Mohapatra
Team

congratulations. Good Initiative, difficult to start but end result is superb, UDYAMA (www.udyama.org) shall be happy to take it forward if ant plan for Odisha, India to scale it. there has lot opportunity to address the vulnerabilities, please post to udyama.pradeep@gmail.com, wish you all the best

Photo of Simone Alexander
Team

This is a super idea. I was speaking to someone yesterday about how this could support communities in Kathmandu. Congratulations!

Photo of Manik Kumar Saha
Team

Dear Meena Palaniappan,
Greetings!
This is Manik from BRAC Urban Development Programme and one of the winners of Amplify resilience challenge (https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/urban-resilience/wining-ideas/community-led-participatory-disaster-management-system-to-reduce-risk-of-fire-hazard-in-urban-slums-of-bangladesh). 
I was just wondering whether you got any direction from OpenIDEO team regarding our boot camp of Kenya and any visa related issues. 
Thanks. 

Photo of Meena Palaniappan
Team

Hello Manik,
Nice to meet you! Yes, we have been contacted on acquiring visas and tickets to attend the Bootcamp in Kenya. I will let them know you have not received communication from them. Perhaps they have an invalid email address for you? Can you contact them directly ( you can message Chioma, Rob, or Kati) and let them know? I will also let them know. Thanks! Meena

Photo of Manik Kumar Saha
Team

Dear Meena, thanks for your quick reply. We have been trying to get visa, but there is no Kenyan embassy/visa office in Bangladesh. So we are looking for AMPLIFY support. Anyway, thanks again and looking forward to meet you. 

Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Hi Meena,
Below is some feedback from our experts. We're looking forward to reading your responses!

This is exciting and could really improves people's live. However, it should fit with poor and vulnerable people's capacity, priority, and needs. If one of the target is for the EWS to reach this group, an offline intervention is also needs to be undertaken, as information itself will not do much to reduce losses and casualties to disasters. Emergency and evacuation education is also necessary, therefore a partnership with other institutions might be needed as a sustainable plan also to make sure that the initiative is achieving its desire impact. A clear monitoring system also needs to be in place, to see how the information is used by their users and what impact does it make.

This app could help completing the neighbourhood level disaster map that is initiated by the world bank and Indonesia data and map agency (BIG) if used and managed properly.

Will your intended users have access to the technology necessary for your idea to work? 

Photo of Meena Palaniappan
Team

Thank you Chioma for you comments!

Since the beginning of the year, AtmaGo has already had nearly 14,000 unique users. So yes, our users have access to the technology needed for our idea to work, because our product is already working right now in Indonesia.

What we are really excited about at Atma is the way we are 100% oriented towards the needs, priorities, and capacities of our users. We are constantly conducting user feedback, and integrating this into our product and regularly iterating on our product to be constantly responsive to user requests. We created this version of AtmaGo in response to user feedback, and we are constantly improving it based on user feedback. At the request of our users, our next step is to build an Android app to make it easier to reach AtmaGo.

We do conduct regular offline interventions including gatherings for AtmaGo users. In our next phase, we will also be partnering with Emergency Warning Systems APIs, so that early warnings that have failed to reach vulnerable communities in the past will reach the last mile through AtmaGo.

AtmaGo is a regular daily source of neighborhood information for our users, so it is the perfect and trusted source for information to prepare for and be resilient to crises and disasters when they occur. We have already seen evidence of this during the flooding in Jakarta in February when our users were posting on AtmaGo about how to prepare for the flooding, the location of government flooding shelters, posting about flooded roads and safe routes, and after the flood warning each other to watch out for signs of dengue and other waterborne disease among their children.

We have set up a monitoring system to evaluate each post and track views, replies, and shares of this post. We are also instituting a system to follow up with users to document the outcomes reached through information shared and received on AtmaGo (including better access to basic needs, critical information on solutions to common problems, access to jobs, shelter, and health care, and solutions to acute problems during disaster).

We would be interested in being part of the World Bank and Indonesian Data agency efforts on the neighborhood level disaster map, and could share relevant information generated by our users to assist in mapping efforts. In our next phase, we will have better geolocation data to share as well.

We have already served nearly 14,000 unique users through AtmaGo. Over 90% of Indonesians have a mobile phone with at least 2G internet access. We launched the first version of AtmaGo as a mobile web app, which made us accessible on feature (basic mobile) phones, smart phones, computers, and tablets; and also allowed us to iterate rapidly to meet user needs.

We are constantly seeking ways to improve access to AtmaGo among our users and our target audience of urban poor communities. Increasingly in Indonesia, our urban poor users have access to low end Android phones. They have requested a Google Playstore App to download on their phone to make it easy to use AtmaGo. Our next step is developing AtmaGo for Android phones which will solve key needs for our users including the need for asynchronous communication so that they can compose a post while off line and have the post be uploaded when they reach a wifi cafe or the office. This will help AtmaGo be even more useful in the cases of intermittent data and internet access which is prevalent in Indonesia.

Thank you! Please find out more about AtmaGo and our work in the field below:

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClHcIk8YXRzpESOYctWFfpg
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AtmaGoApp
Twitter: https://twitter.com/atmagoapp

Thank you!
Meena

Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Hi Meena,
Thank you so much for your detailed response! It's awesome that AtmaGo is so responsive to it's users. What types of things have you changed about the platform that were the result of this type of feedback? 

It's also exciting to hear that you are convening people offline too. What types of things are those gatherings about?

Have you begun any work on the app so far? Is there someone on staff who is ready to take up that work, or do you anticipate adding team members?

Finally, how are you supporting this great initiative?

Photo of Meena Palaniappan
Team

Thank you Chioma for your feedback and questions!

User Feedback: 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.

Convenings: We regularly convene our users for a variety of reasons. We partner with community based organizations to present AtmaGo at their events and build more users. We also conduct contests on AtmaGo to build users. For example our last contest was to post a video about "What I love about my neighborhood." We received over 30 entries, and we conducted convenings to give out prizes in two cities. We also conduct convenings to get feedback from our users about our product and new product directions. We are always seeking opportunities to get feedback. 

Status of Android App and Staffing: We are currently conducting user feedback surveys on features in the Android App, and are currently conducting strategic review of different directions for the Android product. These will both feed into a product requirements document which we are in the process of creating right now. We have already identified the front end developer for the Android App, and will continue to use our excellent Indonesian UI/UX designer, and  incredible back end developer who can connect the back end databases for the mobile web and the Android apps. Our Indonesian field team is ready and excited about launching the Android App, because they have heard first hand from so many of our users that this is what they most want. We will need to add a Product manager to help ramp up production on the Android App early next year.

Support: Cisco Foundation funded the initial development of AtmaGo in 2014, and has been very pleased with the results and traction we’ve achieved. In October 2015, Cisco Foundation led our next round of funding, and they would like additional partners to move this project into a new phase. Since then, we've also received contributions from three major donors who have been excited by the potential and reach of AtmaGo.
In our next phase, growth funding will allow us to launch AtmaGo in new geographies, develop an Android app, integrate emergency warnings, and reach 100,000 urban poor users to give them the tools they need to share solutions, create economic opportunities, and leverage existing knowledge and resources that exist in their communities.


We view poor and vulnerable people not as objects, but as agents in change. We know that mobile technology can create a new path to empower people in the developing world and beyond. We look forward to working with IDEO to radically reimagine how development work is done, and create the first billion user tech non profit.

Thank you again!

Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Awesome - thanks Meena!

Photo of Catherine Allinson Future Earth Ltd
Team

Hi there - sounds like Atmago would be a great app to publicise on our Communities Cockpit. There are lots of great apps on here so happy to talk more.

Photo of Meena Palaniappan
Team

We would be happy to be a resource for your work! Best, Meena

Photo of OpenIDEO
Team

Congrats on making it to the Feedback Phase Meena! 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 Meena Palaniappan
Team

Hello there!
Thank you for your message! I do not see an Edit Contribution button at the top of my post. Can you please let me know how I can do this? Thank you, Meena