I'm working on this platform concept for quite some time, long before this crisis but now, more than ever, it's needed to be implemented, as it can help practically every other COVID-19 related initiative.
With the first wave of COVID-19 and isolation we are observing many groups organizing online and offline initiatives to combine supply and demand for donations and volunteer help. The general needs started on medical supplies, groceries and meds for people on risk groups. But more and more on top of these, people started to also need emotional and financial support as the isolation is prolonged. And unfortunately, as the health crisis has a deep economical aspect, many other needs are going to emerge.
But this situation is not only observed in this crisis or other crisis, it's everyday, and I'm observing it on the social impact field since I started working on it, 10 years ago.
There is an absurd mismatch between supply and demand for resources for social and environmental causes. By that, one side we constantly see organizations and individuals in need for resources such as food, shelter, clothes, money, skills, abilities, time. And looking at it might seem that these resources are scarce, but the reality is that they are in abundance. There are plenty of people wanting to contribute and volunteer.
The problem is just the flow.
And this problem, this mismatch, has serious consequences for both the environment, with increased amount of resources that could be reused or repurposed treated as waste, and for individuals, with a general sense of lack of community, lack of purpose.
In general, we know that donating and volunteering is great for others and for ourselves, but why don’t we do it more? This happens because of a simple cost-benefit analysis: it takes too much time and money to find an individual or organization working in a cause that is aligned to your values, that need exactly what you have to offer that moment, and that you can trust.
Looking at this scenario it's clear that technology can help it, shifting this scale and applying the same concepts of circular and reputation economy to social and environmental causes engagement.
What it does
It’s basically a mix of a social media network (think here in Linkedin) and a digital marketplace (such as the Polish Alegro, or Amazon).
On the social network part individuals and organizations can create profiles, saying who they are and what they care about. There is no “donor” or “receiver” profile, everybody is both.
In this profile users can also track contributions made and received, and how these resources are being used. The important feature here is that a contribution is only listed if both sides of the transaction agree that it happened in these details.
Lastly, the users’ profile will also contain a trust score, generated by recommendations and testimonials from peer users.
The second part of the platform is a digital marketplace for any type of resource available for donation or share use, such as material goods, money or time, including skills and abilities. The important feature here is that while users can browse around the listings _ the system must be able to smart match the supply and demand, messaging users to evaluate the exchange _ .
The third part of the platform is a news feed to inspire solidarity, gathering data from the other 2 parts.
How to build it
The technology needed is not that innovative. It’s basically a social media with an online ledger. It involves:
- Cloud-based computing, accessible over the internet both on desktops and mobile.
- The ideal scenario would be launching the MVP both on website and Android app, but if not possible at least as a responsive website and observing other aspects that make it mobile friendly.
- Information security and user privacy rights needs to be a high priority since day 01.
- The system needs to be easily scalable but can start on a small local base, to make tests.
- Start on code replication as the required features are already available across multiple other platforms.
- Evaluate if it can work on open source code. Or find alternatives to make the software construction and development as easy to collaborate as possible.
- Although the technology needed is not very innovative anymore there are for sure some aspects that are more complex than others. The observed complexities are: -- Matching system: this is one of the most central features, as the system must work to find possible connections and message users to evaluate. For the future one can even dream of using AI to speed this up, learning from the results of previous exchanges. But to start this match is not much more than an excel function. -- Rating algorithm: trust is complex and to measure it can’t be different. This rating system needs to be designed carefully, thinking on how not to simply favor those that give more resources. To tackle inequality is necessary to have a much deeper look. -- Online ledger for resources exchange: the ledger itself is easy, but it will require attention on data security. -- Data stored: the value of a social media relies on the quantity of users and exchanged data, and so does the cost to maintain this information.
What I learned
I learnt that this crisis is going to pass and the solidarity that is raising in people will also fade away partially. But this solution is ALWAYS needed somewhere in the world as our humanity is not equal yet, and the environmental disasters are getting more frequent. That's why I know that this solution needs to be built thinking on a social business model, not-for-profits but with incomes that will guarantee on the long term it's financially sustainable and scalable, helping each day more people. On the long term I'm thinking on a B corps model.
For now, for this MVP on the hackathon this financial aspect is not needed, I'm trusting on volunteer help and donations. But for the future it's going to be an issue and therefore I'm being transparent with anyone willing to help since day 01 as I hope to one day pay for the help given in any way, like helping a community you choose, in money or the work done, or even by becoming business partners if you'd like.
- 1. No poverty. Goals: 1.4, 1.5 & 1.A;
- 8. Decent work and economic growth. Goal: 8.4;
- 12. Responsible consumption & production. Goals: 12.5, 12.6, 12.8.
Where we are on this and what is needed
The solution is being designed and tested for at least a year, having several prototypes with partial features. Now we need an working MVP to take it further to the public.
Now we basically need help on two fronts: 1) Development; 2) Marketing - starting with the branding but evolving to growth hacking. As observed in other initiatives like this it's easier to enlist those who want to give and volunteer, but to reach those in need we will need to work harder and be creative;
We already have an evolved business case and deep level studies with plenty of data supporting the concept and we are happy to discuss it with anyone here, please bring your perspective and knowledge on board!
But most of all, we need hands on idealists, ready to start building the solution with full liberty and trust from our side, as I'm already an experienced agile project's manager I know that this is the strong core of any valuable product.