Tools to mobilize low-income communities

Grassroot
(Pending editorial review)
South Africa (Johannesburg)

We’re deploying simple, purpose-built tools for mobile phones, to solve real problems for ordinary men and women with the fire to create change in South Africa’s marginalized communities.

In our cities, those areas account for over half of our population, only a fifth of income, and an even lower share of governance. In them, the tasks required to organize—to summon people together, to decide on priorities, to keep track of results and action—are time-consuming and expensive or provided only by political parties. This can cripple attempts to tackle those issues where neighbours trump parties, such as basic services and physical safety.

Started in early 2015, Grassroot creates and deploys simple, purpose-built tools that:
– Reduce the cost and time of the routine tasks of organizing and mobilizing in low-income communities
– Work on any kind of phone, with any quality connection
– Enable people to call meetings, take votes, record decisions, recruit and find others, and summon help in an emergency

We have built partnerships with social movements in Jo’burg, Durban and Limpopo, and almost every part of the system—from its overall design to the wording and colors on the interface—has been changed through their feedback.

To date, our tools have reached over 15,000 users, 3,000 meetings, votes, and actions called, and 100,000 messages were processed in the last quarter.

Next, we intend to bring the capabilities of machine learning to our users, to enable them to find each other, build networks of solidarity, and tell their stories. We will also be seeking to scale up, partner with large organizations, and contribute to the digital infrastructure of a more inclusive, participatory democracy.

Submitted by

Luke Jordan (04 December 2016)

Bio

After time with McKinsey in China and the World Bank in India, Luke returned home to South Africa and in early 2015 founded Grassroot. Its vision is a nation self-organizing from the ground-up, and to date it has created and deployed a set of simple, purpose-built tools for mobile phones that help ordinary people organize their neighbours. It has built partnerships in over a dozen low-income communities, from large, established social movements, to a few dozen activists who used its tools to mobilize over a thousand people against corrupt local land and housing allocation. In the last year use of its tools has grown more than 10-fold, to reaching 15,000 users, with over 3,000 meetings, votes, and actions called, handling 30-40,000 messages a month.

Project leader

Luke Jordan (Founder)

User design sessions in progress

Workers learning how to use the tools

Community meeting of early adopters

Creative Commons License

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