Zaki Haider, the Director of Innovation at mPower Social Enterprise talks to Share-Net Bangladesh about an SRHR chatbot that is being developed by mPower with the Share-Net International (SNI) small grant that they have received in 2020.
mPower is a social enterprise that took birth at Harvard University. Initially, the creators of mPower discovered a gap in the development sector. They realised that a lot of technology companies are providing cutting-edge solutions for corporate sectors, military, government and wherever there is money. However, this kind of cutting edge technology was absent from the development sector. Firstly, of course because there was less money in the development sector, and secondly, because technology made for the development sector is not replicable, and thus, will not be profitable for the technology companies.
mPower began its journey with the goal of filling this gap in the development sector. Their goal is to create social impact with technology and work only in the global south, that too only with the government, donors and development organizations.
mPower is developing a chatbot for educating and supporting adolescents and youths on SRHR issues. There are many chatbots that exist mostly for commercial purposes, but in the development sector, chatbots need to be more proactive. In the past, mPower has created a chatbot in partnership with ActionAid to help with their project management. When the call for small grants by Share-Net International was announced, they felt that the same chatbot can be implemented with a different iteration to disseminate information on SRHR issues.
A young or adolescent person is usually shy and intimidated to ask SRHR questions, and ends up suppressing those questions due to the fear of being judged. This person might feel comfortable asking questions to a person who is not a person at all-a robot. This is how the idea of developing an SRHR chatbot came into being. This chatbot will be accessible to users via Facebook.
The chatbot starts by asking a set of questions to the user to determine their demography (age, geographic location, gender, etc), so that correct information can be given. Next, they will be given options to figure out different information by themselves. In this step, if they also have the option to generate an appointment with a real person if they want. The project is still under construction and will be live as soon as mPower finds a partner for implementing the chatbot on Facebook. mPower is looking for a partner who actively works on SRHR and gender issues, and who has a satisfactory number of adolescent and young followers on Facebook.
Zaki Haider believes that with this project, mPower can show that it is possible to make a good case using technology because most people in the development sector shy away from testing new tools and untested technologies because of the risks involved. In such a case, the SNI small grants have been useful to test and innovate new possibilities and inspire others to use them too.
Mr. Haider was satisfied with the experience of working with SNI as a donor. According to him, unlike most donors, SNI did not ‘control’ or intervene during the project; rather they were able to work independently. He also suggested that it would be helpful if SNI connected all the grantees, so that they may explore opportunities with partnership and collaboration with each other.
With special thanks to Zaki Haider.