This aid agency is using chatbots to beat world hunger
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
Smartphones and chatbots have made services from banking to transportation more accessible across Africa. Now, aid agencies are hoping they can do the same with food.
The UN’s World Food Program (WFP), has been experimenting with text and Facebook messenger chatbots to monitor food insecurity in hard-to-reach areas, turning smartphones and social media into lifelines for the most vulnerable of refugees.
WFP first began to assess food needs using text messages and interactive voice response systems in Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2014, with help from global information and audience measurement company Nielsen. This year, they expanded to using chatbots on the Facebook messenger platform. Approximately 170 million Africans use Facebook, mostly on their phones.
Traditionally, WFP has assessed which areas are most in need of food using in-person interviews. But the success of the initial chat program prompted WFP to try more interactive bots, because they offered a wider reach that could collect more nuanced data than an SMS. The WFP’s “Food Bot,” rolled out earlier this year, works on apps like Facebook Messenger and Telegram and can be adapted to other platforms. Data collectors have been helped by the availability in developing countries of Facebook Lite, which uses less data, and ‘social bundles’ from operators which offer cheaper rates for apps like Facebook Lite and WhatsApp.
Photo courtesy of Simone McCourtie.