Inspired by our team’s past experiences working with marginalized populations, such as individuals experiencing homelessness, we wanted to create a fintech product for social good. While many of us want to help the individuals we encounter on the streets, we are often skeptical that our donations will perpetuate the existing conditions that led to homelessness in the first place (i.e. addictions), therefore we wanted to explore a way to be assured of how our donations are being used, once they are in the hands of the recipients.
What it does
Our mobile application allows those intending to donate to the less fortunate on the street but find themselves without cash, to do so digitally by connecting their digital wallet with that of the recipient they meet in real-time. Recipients can then use their donated funds to make monitored purchases, with our application using optical character recognition to read receipts uploaded by the homeless individuals to ensure their purchases abide by our criteria of eligible purchases (i.e. cannot buy alcohol, drugs, tobacco products). If “illegal” purchases are made, these transactions are flagged, and after the 3rd flag, recipients are no longer permitted use of the application. This offers transparency and assurance to donors that their donations are actually being used for their intended purposes.
How we built it
How we built it: After outlining the recipient and donor journeys, we determined that we needed data models for users, recipients, donors, shelters, purchase orders, and transactions. After setting up our database, we defined a set of APIs that would be used by the frontend to allow recipients to receive donations and purchase goods. Lastly, we divided up the work between frontend and backend development, and then integrated and tested as a team. The collaboration was done through Slack and GitHub.
Challenges we ran into
The initial definition of the problem was the most challenging and important part of this project. We needed to take the time to understand the problem space and the needs of the people experiencing homelessness. This required a lot of research and collaborative brainstorming before we finally arrived at a feasible and innovative solution. There was a learning curve in terms of collaborating on the software and testing on the phone as opposed to the computer.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
Finding an innovative and automated solution to personal expense and donation tracking. Mocking up a full donation experience for donors and recipients. Testing and challenging assumptions we held about homeless people, who they are, and the difficulties they face.
What we learned
Presumptions about homeless people differ wildly but habits regarding donating to homeless are relatively consistent. Everyone we met and interviewed said they would donate more if they knew the money would be well-spent.
What's next for A Helping Hand - Digital Donations App
What’s next: 3 members of the team could complete the app with 2 weeks of dev time. With a grant or donations (or the prize!), we could complete this app for the holiday period 2019.