Due to the existing mobility and social restrictions caused by COVID -19, the volunteering and social organisations are getting an enormous number of requests for help from the senior citizens because they have to stay home to avoid endangering their health. Most of the requests are pretty simple: buy some groceries, walk the dog, bring something from the post or drugstore, or simply talk over the phone. The NGOs and social services weren't ready for it. Neither technically, nor they have enough volunteers. Do you know how the process works in many volunteering organisations? They get the request and register it in one spreadsheet. Then they open another spreadsheet with the list of volunteers and start calling them in order to figure out who can help. Or send it to the chat of the volunteers. If no one can pick up the request, they start calling the volunteers from the list. Imagine you are a volunteer. A trained one. How long does it take for you to burn out and just stop picking up the phone when you are getting 25 calls per day? The truth is: to buy some groceries and bring them to the senior citizen, you don't have to be a trained volunteer. You can just be a neighbour who goes shopping anyway and can buy an extra carton of milk for a senior or take out their dog for a walk. But how will the neighbours know that the senior citizen needs help?

What it does

Maneki is a distributed volunteering platform that enables any person to make small good deeds and help people in need without committing to professional volunteering.

We provide a two-sided platform that empowers the neighbours to help senior people living nearby. For those who are willing to help we provide an app. You open an app and see the requests from the senior citizens on the map, pick up the nearest one, complete the task, and confirm it. You can do it in your free time or subscribe to the notifications about certain tasks in a certain radius.

Where the requests are coming from? We extract them automatically from the databases of the volunteering organizations. Yes, even from the spreadsheets. They can also add requests to the system manually. The organisation will be notified when the task is completed – they will see the change of the status in their database.

By simplifying volunteering, we ensure the safety of those who are most vulnerable at this time. If their needs are met with volunteer help, they will be happy to stay home and won’t risk their health by going out. The Maneki team also believes that seniors and other vulnerable people who are well taken care of, will feel less scared and lonely and it will make them feel valued. We also believe that those who are helping deserve help as well, and we want our heroes to be appreciated and aided.

How we built it

We use a core platform that was developed by the Czech startup founders. It is based on Flutter, Google Apps Script, Bootstrap, Material Design, Kubernetes, PostgreSQL, etc. It was developed for different purposes but can absolutely serve ours. We onboarded the main developer to our team and signed the contract for the lifetime licensing from his side for Maneki. He is also helping us with the development. We built our team from the industry professionals. We all have the day jobs, so we figured our priorities, built the processes, and the responsibility zones inside of the team.

Challenges we ran into

It’s uneasy to find programmers who can help you on the volunteering-basis. We are looking for grants and financing from the potential corporate partners to hire several people for the full-time roles: NGOs coordinator, foreign partners’ coordinator, marketing and PR specialist.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

We found the legal volunteers to help us and got all the paperwork in order. We are working with people’s data, so it’s crucial for us. We have a preliminary agreement with 2 volunteering organisations in Lithuania to start our pilot at the end of the next week. We finished our designs and finalised our landing page. We have an MVP. We have a clear vision of the future of Maneki. We have an amazing team. We have a partner who would help us to implement the digital identification and verification of the volunteers.

What we learned

We learned that the problem is even bigger than we expected: all the non-profits we talked to are experiencing the problems with the limited number of volunteers.

What's next for Maneki

We will launch the working product until the end of April 2020. We will start the pilots with 2 volunteering organisations. After the pilot, we will onboard more organisations, social services, and volunteers’ coordinators in Lithuania. After this, we are planning to launch in the neighbouring countries: Baltics, Nordics, Poland, Belarus, and the Czech Republic. We would also add more functionality. After the quarantine situation will be milder, there still will be people in need: from unfortunate families to the lonely disabled people. The volunteer would be able to choose, what kind of help they are willing to provide and subscribe to certain types of tasks and even the #channels that are aggregating the requests from certain volunteering organisations. We are planning to add “badges” for the volunteers. Badges will show the qualification of the volunteers and will be confirmed by the volunteering organisations. We are planning to add financial aid functionality, as well. E.g. there is a request from a senior citizen to buy some groceries, but the senior citizen needs someone to pay for it. The functionality will allow one to donate the money and transfer it to the volunteer who would do the actual purchase. Based on the non-profit platform, we will launch a commercial version of the Maneki. Imagine, you want to buy something in IKEA, but you don’t want to go there and are ready to pay someone to deliver it to you? Why not post your request on the platform, so people who are currently in IKEA could see it and pick up the task? The platform will take a small commission from each deal.

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