BizNis Africa recently sat down with, Luke Jordan, Co-Founder of Grassroot to discuss what projects the company is working on across Africa.
1) What is Grassroot?
Grassroot is an NGO enabling communities on the ground to effect participatory democracy by providing them with the technology to organise themselves.
We were founded in late 2015 and have to date reached over half a million people.
As well as working with communities on the ground, we also provide other NGOs and partners the ability to reach audiences otherwise left out of the national conversation.
For example, we helped the Big Debate run polls during its shows this season over USSD, allowing people not on social media to have their opinion counted, and worked with Health-E News to provide information on local clinics and support services to survivors of gender based violence who might not have smartphones or data.
Our set of simple tools, available through any type of phone, allows community members to interact with government, organisations or even other stakeholders. This includes factors such as the arrangement of large scale meetings, identification of volunteers and even taking community votes.
In order to manage this workload, Grassroot was born in the AWS cloud. At the core of the application is Amazon EC2 and Amazon RDS stack providing the necessary storage power? Increasingly over the last year, they have also been moving over to fully managed and serverless services. To do this they use AWS Lambda and Amazon Dynamo DB.
Before the deployment of technology, what sort of challenges did these communities face?
Technology can help communities to overcome challenges in distributing information and getting people together. As one example, prior to Grassroot, if someone wanted to call a community gathering they had to hire a guy to go around on a bakkie the whole morning with a megaphone telling people about the meeting.
A WhatsApp group wouldn’t work because still about half of people in informal settlements don’t have smartphones, or are usually out of data, and WhatsApp groups have size limits. So either you exclude people or you have to incur the costs of the bakkie and the fuel and so on, and still if someone isn’t home when the bakkie drives past, they won’t know about the meeting.
With Grassroot all of that is reduced to a 30 second menu flow on USSD, and thousands of people get notified. So the time and money that would have been used can be put into other more productive uses, and also it just means people call gatherings much more frequently, so issues are discussed more openly and frequently.
How has the use of AWS benefitted Grassroot?
It has delivered on that rationale. We have built tools used by over half a million people with a team of less than five people, and with those people almost wholly focused on engaging with users and improving the product.
Which areas are you present in?
We are most active in Gauteng, followed by KwaZulu-Natal and then Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Free State. However we have users in all nine provinces. For more information, visit our website on https://www.grassroot.org.za/