In Chile’s Slums, A Lesson in How to Make Apps for Social Good

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

How many of the hundreds of thousands of mobile phone applications seek to do truly great things, such as lift people out of poverty or improve health care for the poor?

The App Economy, to date, has largely touched the lives of those living in the developed world. This is due, in part, to the high cost of smart phones but also because app development has lacked real vision and purpose. I have found that Silicon Valley, generally speaking, doesn’t build apps to save the world or lift people out of poverty. It builds them to sell Angry Bird t-shirts and generate lots of virtual currency.

The folks at Centro de Innovación in Santiago, Chile, aim to change that.

I met Julian Ugarte, an Industrial designer, and his team during a recent trip to South America, and I was blown away by what they are trying to do. On March 22, Ugarte and Centro de Innovación launched a contest with Movistar — a mobile subsidiary of Telefonica — and TechoLab, a non-profit subsidiary of Un Techo para mi País (UTPMP) — a pan-Latin American NGO that dispatches youth volunteers on projects to eradicate the extreme poverty that affects tens of millions in Latin America. A $10,000 prize will be given to each of the creators of the best three apps that address problems facing the millions of people living at thebottom of the pyramid (BoP).

The UTPMP builds houses, provides clean water, and gives the poor tools and technologies to improve their lot in life. UTPMP executive director Javier Zuluetatold me that his team, with the help of more than 400,000 volunteers, had constructed 78,000 transitional houses in Latin America and completed numerous other anti-poverty projects. An important aspect of these projects is that the volunteers seek to include the poor in the development process by encouraging them to contribute to and guide the projects benefiting their communities. In other words, UTPMP seeks not only to give them a fish but also a fish hook and pole, metaphorically speaking, to become more self-sufficient.

Zulueta said that UTPMP had inaugurated Centro de Innovación three years ago, to develop innovative new products, services and business for those most in need. Here’s the rub. The Center seeks to do this by treating these impoverished households as customers of real economic value rather than as charity cases needing a handout.

Source: The Washington Post (link opens in a new window)

Impact Assessment, Technology
Base of the Pyramid