Viamo’s ServicesOver the last two decades, cellphone ownership has steadily increased, with 73% of the world having mobile broadband connections in 2020. In response to this trend, a group of Canadian and Ghanaian engineers founded Viamo in 2012. Viamo is a social enterprise that uses mobile technology to distribute educational materials and compile data. Operating in more than 20 African and Asian countries, Viamo reaches millions of people a year. Over its eight-year existence, Viamo’s services have diversified thanks to partnerships with more than 500 organizations.

The 3-2-1 Service

This toll-free service offers educational content and interactive training through interactive voice response (IVR). IVR is an automated system that communicates with the listener through prerecorded or synthetic speech, thus removing the need for literacy. Furthermore, Viamo translates all content into local languages so it can reach the largest number of people.

Many of the partner projects that Viamo undertakes end up on the 3-2-1 Service once completed. For example, Viamo’s partnership with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) to create Link It, a mobile service meant to connect farmers to markets in Nepal, saw the finished product integrated into the 3-2-1 Service platform.

Another example comes from Mozambique, where Viamo partnered with a coalition of groups including Chemonics and USAID to create a storm warning system. This system has been a part of Mozambique’s 3-2-1 Service since its creation in 2016.

Besides these, Viamo’s services through 3-2-1 include audio dramas, news and children’s educational programs.

The diversity of the 3-2-1 Service has garnered it more users than Facebook in some countries, with thousands of people utilizing it at any point in the day.

Wanji Games

With the help of Viamo, Peripheral Vision International established Wanji Games. These edutainment games feature branching path narratives, where listeners role play scenarios ranging from navigating gender-based violence (GBV) to managing money. By exploring a scenario’s different endings, the player can gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter to apply it to their lives. Since these are accessible via the 3-2-1 Service, these games are free to play.

Engagement Campaigns

Viamo helps its partner organizations transmit information to the general population through its comprehensive mass messaging system combining IVR, chatbots, SMS, mobile apps and social media. For example, in the past, Viamo had remotely trained Rwandan healthcare workers on mental health using IVR.

Surveys, Polls and Call Centers

Viamo’s relationship with network operators grants it the benefit of having access to customers’ demographic information. As such, Viamo can distribute surveys and polls to achieve a sample representative of the general population. Furthermore, since network operators disclose a customer’s geographical location to Viamo, it can map the results.

Due to the conflict in South Sudan, the government has prohibited journalists from reporting in the country. To bypass this issue, Viamo and Forced Out created a phone survey to measure the displaced population in South Sudan. The survey found that the war had displaced more than 40% of the nation’s population. This provided the international community with statistics to properly gauge the scope of the refugee crisis.

Viamo also has a variety of call centers integrated into the 3-2-1 Service. One instance of this is Legal Aid Forum Rwanda. Victims can call the call center to get legal advice and possibly get connected to a lawyer who could represent them for free.

Viamo’s Reach and Future Impact

Viamo’s services have reached more than 10 million people. With plans to expand into new areas, such as Latin America, Viamo will continue to have an impact in the foreseeable future.

– Riley Behlke
Photo: Flickr

The Saroja Foundation
“I lost my brother due to paralysis when I was in 5th grade.” These are the words of Sachin Negi, a twenty-year-old college student in India. Currently, 385 million children live in extreme poverty and 25,000 of them die each day due to an illness similar to the one contracted by Negi’s brother. Although Negi was born in a middle-class family, he grew up seeing impoverished people wandering the streets or the sidewalks lining his house. He caught a glimpse of his brother’s pain in the difficulties of these people. They were begging, roaming the streets and scavenging for food. He could not bear it. That is why he started the Saroja Foundation.

The Saroja Foundation

Sachin Negi spoke with The Borgen Project in early February 2020. Negi established a nonprofit organization named the Saroja Foundation, titled in the honor of his mother. She was a hard-working housewife who guided Negi in every phase of his life. While many acknowledge that poverty cannot be eradicated completely with a single action, the organization aims to take steps to diminish it bit by bit. Specifically, the foundation visits underdeveloped neighborhoods to distribute textbooks to young children who cannot afford to go to school, helping them recognize their potential.

Though its main objective is to empower the poor with education, the organization also plans to use funds to develop programs at local colleges and other schools in Delhi. It hopes to raise awareness of extreme poverty in the community and beyond. According to the board members, combatting poverty starts with changing the mindset of others and identifying poverty as a crucial issue.

What is at the Crux of Poverty?

“The problem is that the poor and the rich do not help each other. Then, what ends up happening is that the poor stay poor, and the rich stay rich. That is it. Everyone says that they want to help, but they want to show it more than actually do it,” said Sachin Negi

Another reason for poverty and hunger is unemployment, according to Negi. When people are born poor and lack access to education, their background is not competitive enough for jobs. Consequently, they can only operate small businesses such as tea stalls or food corners. Circumstances like these are why 10% of the world’s population still lives on less than $1.90 a day in 2020.

Founding the Foundation

Throughout the process of establishing the new foundation in a society where such initiatives are rarely supported, Negi is grateful to receive immense support from his family. Negi’s father noted in the interview, “our youngest son passed away at the tender age of 6 months because of weakness. That, coupled with the death of his other 17-year-old brother, has shaken Negi and developed his passion to help the poverty-stricken. In addition to studying from books, he is always trying to give out books to those people who do not have them.”

Furthermore, his best friend, 19-year-old Chetna Rana, serves as the Social Media Manager of the foundation. “She has done more for me than anyone has. She stood by me when my brothers died and helped me set up this foundation when I had almost no one by my side. Chetna was always there to spread the knowledge of our foundation in our respective colleges,” said Negi.

Poverty Through a Different Pair of Eyes

Rana’s approach to the poverty crisis is slightly different. Though she has no specific family background that inspires her to create the foundation, Rana visited several indigent communities to deliver soap during college. She provided sanitation to thousands of children and adults. In her interview with The Borgen Project, she identified that the primary issue rests in the education system.

“Everyone focuses on bookish knowledge and memorization. There is so much of an emphasis on numbers that practical knowledge is never implemented in the curriculum. Usually, the person who reads the book the most scores the highest in the class,” said Chetna Rana.

Due to this, students entering the workforce in developing nations are often not cognizant of the impact their actions have on the surrounding environment. As for the poor, there are limited opportunities to obtain such “bookish knowledge” and, thus, a successful career. Talents, such as singing, dancing and digital marketing, are often discouraged, obliging children as young as 4-5 year-olds to work in factories to get one meal a day.

Funding the Future

To help young people realize their passions, the foundation also plans on hosting and organizing several career education programs. However, as a recently-formed organization, the Saroja Foundation is experiencing difficulty in securing funds. All founders are still students, and it costs around 10,000 to 12,000 rupees just to propose to register with the Indian government. Funds are so limited that even creating an official website is not possible. “Many people have the mentality that advocating against poverty is a waste of time. There is only one question on everyone’s minds: “Where is our money going?”

As Negi progresses in his degree in computer science, he hopes that the foundation will receive more donations. The Saroja Foundation intends on creating software that could raise awareness about poverty. It also distributes books to underdeveloped schools and collects old shoes for cobblers who can then repair them for reuse. Negi’s dream is to collaborate with Food Panda, a company that processes online food orders from customers and sends them to partner restaurants for delivery.

“Though I love the service. The issue lies in the fact that if a customer cancels an order after its processing, the food may have already been prepared. Because it is not given to the customer, it just goes into the trash. I want to develop a system to give this unconsumed food to those who cannot afford it,” said Negi.

Anyone Can Make an Impact

The Saroja Foundation would love to interact with other nonprofit organizations both regionally in India and internationally to engage more people toward the cause. Efforts will not be ceasing anytime soon. Interested organizations, as well as individuals, may visit Saroja Foundation’s webpage here. The organization is also active on Instagram and Twitter @sarojafoundation18. As Negi expresses, “The internal happiness I receive as a result of running this foundation cannot be underscored enough. It is the reason why I am here today.”

Gaytri Vasal
Photo: Flickr