The cost of living crisis and fears of global recession are starting to take their toll on the amount of money people feel they can donate to support the vital work of charities and NGOs – at a time when such help is needed more than ever.
The UK is no exception here. The Charities Aid Foundation’s annual study of household donor behaviour revealed that one in eight of its 18,000 survey respondents was considering cutting back on donations over the next six months. One in 12 indicated that between March and May this year they had already done so – although there was an overall spike in giving in March due to the war in Ukraine.
Charity giving appears to be somewhat more insulated in the US though due to the existence of donor-advised funds (DAFs). DAFs, which have attracted criticism for acting as tax shelters, enable both individuals and businesses to place their money into funds that mature over time but can be accessed to give to particular causes as required. Ukraine was a key beneficiary of funds from this source too.
But donating money is not the only, or even necessarily the most effective way, of helping communities in need, believes Hari Subramanian. He is Founder of rapid application development platform provider Appify, a joint Founder of service execution management software vendor ServiceMax, and Co-founder and Chief Executive of new California-based venture, Helpall Social.
Set up with Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer Indresh Satyanarayana, former Chief Architect at ServiceMax, the social media-based giving platform is being built by a team of 14 full-time engineers based in India. Subramanian explains his rationale:
When looking at other platforms in this area, we found that they all seem to reduce giving to money. But we also found that a lot of people don’t trust these sites, even when they’re donating, as they don’t know how much is going to the platform and intermediaries rather than to the cause. They’re also leaving a lot of people out, who may not have much money but who want to help in other ways.
Creating an “Uber for help”
As a result, his platform, which is due to be launched in November, is intended to become an “Uber for help”, with the aim of connecting people needing support with people who are willing to give it. London will be an initial key site, where the focus will be on providing aid to people in war-torn Ukraine. Sri Lanka, which is experiencing a severe economic crisis, will be another.
Subramanian explains why he believes there is a gap in the market for such an offering. He says:
You can go to Instagram or Facebook to see someone’s personality, and to LinkedIn to see their professional history. But there’s no intentional place you can go today to see their ‘goodness quotient’. So it’s about facilitating people’s ability to help each other, and to celebrate that.
The idea is that interested parties sign up to a Helpall Social app running on either an iPhone or Android device via a “two-minute process”. They input where they are based, how far from their current location they are prepared to travel, what help they can offer and when they are available to offer it.
The cloud-based backend system then uses machine learning algorithms to match potential givers to people who are seeking help. Once a match is made, both parties undertake an anonymous message-based chat to establish if they are a good fit. If they are, a map is sent out so they can see each other’s whereabouts.
Post-help, givers can create an Instagram- or Facebook-like story on the Helpall Social site to showcase their activities. They can also view the activities of other “heroes who are helping” too.
Subramanian’s aim is to have as many as 10,000 stories on display by the end of the site’s first year of launch, and 500,000 within five years. To this end, the system is scheduled to support 50 languages within nine months and will be rolled out worldwide.
Tech for social good
Another kind of algorithm included within the backend system, meanwhile, is mood detection. The goal here is to “facilitate respectful, meaningful engagement” and “ensure people aren’t abusive to each other”, Subramanian explained. A further use of AI is to spot patterns relating to help requests and where they are taking place in order to optimize the user experience.
After the consumer version of the site is launched next month, an enterprise edition is scheduled to follow in the second half of 2023. Companies will pay for access using a subscription model.
The aim of this approach is to ensure that both the consumer site and a third release aimed at philanthropic organizations, such as charities and churches, can remain available on a free-of charge basis. This third release is intended to provide organizations with a platform to find volunteers outside of their usual talent pool who are happy to work on particular given causes.
While the enterprise version will be similar in nature to its consumer cousin, meanwhile, it will also enable employees to earn ‘karma points’ for their good works. These points will be displayed on a leader board to “promote healthy competition”, but managers will be able to use them as the basis for incentivizing and rewarding positive performance too.
The ultimate goal though, Subramanian says, is to “forge partnerships with Fortune 500 companies”, with the hope that over time:
Rather than just making profits, they’ll actually include the idea of reporting ‘goodness’ in their quarterly earnings as part of their ESG activities. I also have a bit of a romantic, optimistic goal too that the platform will become part of the school curriculum, so that kids learn how to help each other and show compassion. Imagine what kind of a world it would be when they became leaders themselves and how it would shape humanity.
Subramanian, who grew up in a lower middle-class family in Southern India, is trying to create a simple approach that all of us could use in order to live by the admirable values instilled in him by his father: to always help those worse off than ourselves. In a time when so much of the world seems to be in crisis, let’s hope he succeeds.