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Helpout.org.za is transforming into LinkedTo

When South Africa went into lockdown to flatten the curve of the COVID19 pandemic, TouchFoundry and Backabuddy partnered to create Helpout.org.za, a geotagged platform where communities across the country can list their needs and services as a means to alleviate the dire economic circumstances.

Little did we know, that was just the beginning. It didn’t take long before it became clear that what we had sparked was so much bigger than ourselves. As a result of BackaBuddy’s strategic partnership with the Public Private Growth Initiative (PPGI), we were connected to the Presidency within days to do a full assessment of Helpout.org.za’s potential.

We soon realized that Helpout.org.za has a much bigger future than what we had initially envisioned. It was proposed that we expand the platform beyond inter-community relief, into a fully fledged disaster relief platform. The new vision is to transform Helpout.org.za into LinkedTo, a platform that identifies a community’s needs through multiple data points and uses built in geotagging functionality to plot out distribution of National Solidarity Fund aid, as well as act as beacon to draw in third party organizations and allow them to contribute in meaningful ways under a single banner to best coordinate their efforts.

And that’s when things began to snowball. Next thing we knew, we were a cog in a machine that was dead set on solving the crisis that COVID19 has brought upon South Africa. Countless partners stepped forward to help in this mission, notably key members of the National Solidarity Fund, data geniuses from EOH, and platform consultants at Microsoft, humanitarian workers from near and far – and many more.

Every minute that passes is another minute of hunger for hundreds of thousands of South Africans, so calling this project urgent is putting it lightly. Development of LinkedTo has been a high pressure gauntlet of one day delivery sprints through countless iterations. Once lockdown is over, the battle will have only just begun in continuing to battle the effects of COVID19. President Cyril Ramaphosa has outlined a six month roll out of aid for the needy, and we need to ensure that a flawless platform is ready to coordinate this relief effort.

Right now, our greatest challenge is attaining the necessary data and making it work for us. Data is coming in from countless sources, and standardizing into something that can produce practical results is a massive challenge. In the end, the success of this platform is entirely dependent on identifying which communities need what assistance, and we need to make the data points in the right direction.

Here’s how it works: sanitized data populates a map of communities in need all across the country. An advanced algorithm designed by the combined efforts of the LinkedTo team and executed by EOH is built into the platform and matches communities with their local supply or distribution partner to ensure that relief supplies are delivered as quickly and effectively as possible. The platform then acts as a monitoring tool that measures the effectiveness of the aid and produces real data on the state of communities once supplies have been delivered.

A key aspect of the platform is accessibility. People living in poverty across South Africa have limited access to internet connectivity which means a data friendly app is vital. We’re working on integrating whatsapp into the platform to ensure that every community member has voice and can be represented on the platform. This also ensures that the various front ends to the platform remain as lightweight and performant as possible, making every kilobyte count.

What we’re trying to achieve has the potential to be a revolutionary piece of infrastructure that remains a permanent tool to build a better South Africa. We hope to extend it beyond the COVID19 pandemic to continuously assist and uplift the lives of those in need throughout the country – a permanent disaster management program that’s so much more than an idea that we came up with one day, but a platform that works for the people, owned by the people.

The combined efforts of TouchFoundry, Backbuddy, EOH, PPGI and other consulting partners remain pro bono. The collective IP across the LinkedTo team will be transferred into a trust so that it may be safeguarded to ensure it delivers humanitarian dividends going forward.