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We use apps to capture memories, keep track of tasks, entertain ourselves, and communicate. But what if an app could be used to help nonprofits, public libraries, and other community groups organize and solve pressing problems? Earlier this month, people from the nonprofit and technology worlds convened at the 1920c co-working space in San Francisco's historic Chinatown neighborhood to learn about a few apps that are making a difference in the community.
This was the third Social Good Apps Breakfast organized by Caravan Studios, a division of TechSoup. These events bring together app developers with people from the nonprofit world to present new ideas and improve on social good projects already in use. Here's a peek at the apps demoed at the breakfast.
Apps can help make the world just a bit more accessible. Refuge Restrooms helps trans, intersex, and gender non-conforming individuals find a safe bathroom to use. Refuge Restrooms is a web application and a mobile app (Android and iOS) that crowdsources and maps locations of gender-neutral and trans-safe bathrooms.
Carrie Phillips' Statement app helps people with hearing difficulties or speech impediments more easily communicate. Built over a weekend with a friend, Statement is a simple app that allows a person to type what he or she wants to say into her or his phone and show another person the text in a large font. Carrie commented that many of the existing apps that do similar services are ugly and overly complicated and look childish. She wanted to create something that teens and adults could use and that was also free.
Of all the projects presented, the Detroit Water Project might be the most well-known. It has been covered by TechCrunch, The Baltimore Sun, CBS News, and more. And there's good reason: the Detroit Water Project helps match families who need help with their water bills to donors by using utility data from the city of Detroit. Tiffani Bell, one of the co-creators, learned that Detroit was going to shut down water to 100,000 people and wanted to do something. The project has been able to help 900 families pay their water bills.
Caravan Studios' SafeNight app uses a similar model, in which individual donors can fund hotel rooms when domestic violence shelters are full.
211 demand is growing 10 percent year over year, according to the founders of Reach, a text-answering app for the national health and human services helpline. Gregor Ruthven, the founder, saw an opportunity to help streamline and automate the service. And with texting on the rise, particularly with low-income people, bringing the service to SMS seemed like a logical move. Rather than call the 211 hotline, Reach allows people to use text messaging to get helpful social services information.
The founder asked if the nonprofits and social services agencies in the audience would be willing to share data with Reach, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. This is a great example of how events like the apps breakfast help social change app developers get feedback on the spot from the nonprofit community.
The Community Resilience Platform also pulls together important information for citizens, but specifically in times of disaster. The platform can be used for preparedness, response, and recovery. Yo Yoshida, the founder, said that the Bayview neighborhood in San Francisco was the first to use the platform for government and nonprofit leaders to collaborate.
When Alex Petrov learned that he had pre-diabetes, he knew he had to make some serious lifestyle changes. And when he learned that there were 86 million people with pre-diabetes, he knew he wanted to do something that could help other people as well. That's why he started Yes Health.
This mobile app provides one-on-one coaching, feedback on meals and nutrition, exercise tips and motivation, and other lifestyle change help. YesHealth is currently working with the American Diabetes Association and plans to work with other healthcare providers in the future.
The Acres app helps support community wellness by connecting urban farmers with land for lease. The app is currently used in West Sacramento, California, which is a food desert, according to the app creators. The creators also have another app in the works, Farm Stand, which will connect residents with information about produce grown at nearby urban farms.
The AdoptMeApp garnered the most "awws" from the crowd. The app helps animal shelters to promote (adorable) adoptable animals. The app is exclusively used by workers at shelters to tell stories about the animals and share them online. The user can upload photos with a short story about the animal's progress or any particular traits. These stories are then collected on each pet's profile page at the shelter's website, resulting in a scrolling diary of the pet's life.
Another great instance of on-the-spot nonprofit/developer collaboration was when a staff member at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco asked if that organization could sign up for the app. Success!
The GoodyGood app is a white label platform that tracks the good things you do on a daily basis. Nonprofits can use GoodyGood to raise community engagement and engage people in a particular cause or campaign. Karuna Mukherjea, the founder, showed how the San Diego-based campaign Kill the Cup used GoodyGood to reduce consumer waste.
Sergio Medina, an attendee from the nonprofit Covenant House in Oakland, California said that events like these are a great way to get connected to the technology community. He encouraged other nonprofits to be a part of tech for social good conversations.
"Innovation is not reserved for corporations," he said. "Our clients are using technology in new ways."
Caravan Studios works to bridge the gap between the nonprofit and technology world by developing apps that help communities organize, access, and apply local resources to pressing problems. Learn more about Caravan's apps and its community-centered approach.
Image 1: Caravan Studios / CC BY-NC
Image 2: Caravan Studios / CC BY-NC
Image 3: Caravan Studios / CC BY-NC
Image 4: Caravan Studios / CC BY-NC
Ginny Mies is a Content Curator at TechSoup Global.
Are the developers being paid for their time to develop these apps? If so, by whom? Or, are they volunteers - are they unpaid, and donating their time? Do the nonprofits identify the needs, and the programmers respond to it, or, the programmers say, "Here's what I think you need"? How much input do nonprofits have in the development of the app? Who evaluates the success of the app - and how? Are apps evaluated just by how many are using them - or is how they are using them, the effect of using them, also tracked? How much nonprofit staff time does it take to manage the data created by these apps, support users, etc., and who funds this time by nonprofit staff to do this? How do nonprofits promote use of apps to their clients? I think it's great that app development for nonprofits continues (it's been going on for more than 15 years - as soon as handhelds became more than just for making a call), but I'd really love to see the conversations go to the next level and talk about these other issues.
The Apps were all pre-made and came out of hack/coding academies, COde For America, Hackathons and personal interest projects. I scoured the web to find and spotlight apps for change that were already made. Most of the apps were made and were not originally adopted by nonprofits. Our demo was a way to showcase these apps and to a room full of nonprofits who would give feedback on them, in case the developers were interested in putting in more development cycles and getting the apps used. All of the developers were eager to share what they built and hear from nonprofits. There were no apps (and I have now done this event 4 times) built for the demo. It's more of an opportunity to show nonprofits the options and to give them an unintimidating way to see what apps could do (i.e., geo-location, personalization, geo-fencing, reminder apps, etc). The apps are not evaluated in these events and the data is managed by a nonprofit that may have adopted the app when it was developed, but that is not always the case. This is just a demo event, showcasing what I have found, since developers are building them and no one is giving them an opportunity to share them. In terms of getting feedback on the needs of nonprofits on the front end, that is what our Caravan Generators are for. And we bring the ideas that are generated to hacakathons so developers are building prototypes, based on the needs of nonprofits. Hope that helps clarify things. Let me know if you have any further questions and sorry if the article wasn't clear on this point.