We strongly agree with what Huadong Guo, Chairman of Academic Committee, Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth, has stated regarding the current pandemic: the COVID-19 outbreak has evolved into the first truly global, systemic and real threat to global sustainable development efforts.
To address this challenge, we agree that certain targets need to be introduced into the SDG framework, including the option to manage help requests, onboard and mobilize volunteers remotely during a major health crisis. By doing so, we can ensure the continuity of SDG projects during major health crisis.
Zelos was launched in autumn 2019 to bridge the digital gap that exists between brick-and-mortar organisations and their volunteers. The powerful Zelos API can be connected to other solutions used by institutions, while volunteers can access their tasks 24/7 via a mobile-friendly app. In other words, Zelos streamlines the process that happens from task request to task completion for volunteers and project coordinators.
The appearance of COVID-19 (a new variety of Coronavirus), provided the Zelos team with the unique opportunity of pushing the boundaries of the application and create a new solution to defuse the overload of local health services.
When the Coronavirus crisis hit Estonia, the Zelos team realized there were two issues in our immediate community:
- According to Statistics Estonia, our country has a considerable senior population (19.7%), which has a high risk of suffering the adverse effects of COVID-19.
- There were people who wanted to help others, but were not finding an opportunity of doing so in the midst of the crisis. Hence the emergence of initiatives like #HackTheCrisis organized by Garage48, which sought ways to ensure the wellbeing of individuals, health professionals and public institutions.
It was then that the team decided to create a new solution called COVID-Help which served as a link between a helpline for senior citizens who might not be tech-savvy, and local volunteers ready to help them during the government-mandated quarantine.
To test this idea, the co-founders from Zelos signed up for the first ever #HackTheCrisis, a remote hackathon focused on solutions to help the Estonian community cope with the quarantine.
What makes COVID-Help different
The new COVID-Help app combines a landline, Trello and Zelos to enable new and already existing SDG projects to crowdsource items and support from local volunteers during a crisis. In addition to serving the elderly, we envision other future uses such as:
- Organizing lunch deliveries to children that must stay at home, ensuring their food security during school closures.
- Finding and onboarding volunteers digitally to combat the effects of climate change.
- Engage local volunteers in taking care of their at-risk neighbours, to create more resilient and inclusive communities.
- Sending self-care tasks to students to teach and reward hygienic practices to boost sanitation programmes.
- Promote mental wellness via self-care tasks that remind people to release stress healthily.
From hackathon idea to the first helpline launch
Over 30 projects were started and evaluated during the 48 hours in which #HacktheCrisis took place. The COVID-Help team connected the Zelos volunteer management app with a task triage board on Trello, and set up a call center hotline. The resulting COVID-Help API accepted, prioritized, and completed help requests from Estonian seniors who called the helpline or filled the webform at https://kogukondaitab.ee/.
The volunteer recruitment was basically a call-to-action published via Facebook and Instagram. In the first 12 hours, there were over 1,000 volunteer applications of local people interested in helping the elderly community.
The website https://kogukondaitab.ee/ was designed and published so people could find information about the project in Estonian, Russian, and English.
By providing a working hotline for seniors and finding willing volunteers, the newly-created COVID-Help won the top prize in #HackTheCrisis and started helping the local community with the support of Tele2 which provided the phone lines, and Accelerate Estonia which provided the funds.
Strategic Partnerships and the road forward
COVID-Help is now being used nationwide in Estonia and Latvia, with the approval of both national governments. After the win in #HackTheCrisis Estonia, COVID-Help received over 2000 volunteer applications during the first week of use. This has resulted in the creation of 20 volunteer groups organized geographically that serve 16 counties and 4 cities in Estonia.
The COVID-Help API has also been used by Latvian initiative Paliec Mājās (or “Stay Home” in English) which placed 5th in #HackTheForce, a TechChill remote hackathon. Paliec Mājās sourced local partners in order to help their own senior population, while also using the Zelos COVID-Help integration to power their task delegation process.
We know that safety and privacy might be a top concern for some SDG projects. We think that the COVID-Help solution can be used in combination with identity verification applications, which could fasten the approval and background check of potential volunteers in at-risk areas.
Let’s Fight the COVID-19 Crisis together
The new and improved COVID-Help API created by Zelos and international collaborators at TheGlobalHack will be scalable and support other countries and regions. To launch a community helpline, all that is needed is a group of volunteers (we started with 4!), a landline, and some funds to cover software expenses.
We hope that the new and improved COVID-Help we work in TheGlobalHack results in the endurance and creation of more SDG movements around the world that may face health crisis in the future. As we have seen with COVID-Help, it only takes 48 hours to create helplines for existing projects to reactive their current network of volunteers or even create a new one.