Tech for good: How 3 startups leveraged a messaging app to serve the community during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic put enormous strain on public health systems and governments had to speed up their response and quickly get credible information to concerned citizens.

The scale of Facebook’s platforms means that we are able to help facilitate access to the latest and most reliable information, with people using digital channels like Messenger to stay connected and get information from trusted health authorities that are on the front lines fighting this global pandemic.

Facebook’s mission to help people connect and be closer together when everything moved to virtual was even more important to us.

To do this, we recognised the role our vibrant developer community had in forming the foundation of a collaborative effort to connect people to the right information. We launched a global programme to connect government health organisations and UN health agencies with developers that can help them use Messenger to address various needs, such as sharing official answers from health agencies to the most commonly asked questions on COVID-19; providing the latest information about the outbreak including number of cases, and addressing misinformation among others.

Startups such as Reach52, which participated in Season 1 of Facebook Accelerator Singapore and focuses on providing affordable healthcare to underserved communities, moved quickly to build a COVID Information and Symptom Checker on the Messenger platform to help curb misinformation.

In the first week alone, their solution reached over 6,500 people from rural communities across the Philippines and Cambodia. Now available in more than 15 languages, and also available in India, Reach 52 has plans to scale-up their COVID-19 solutions, including the use of FB messenger to reach over one million people in the next six months, as well as train 1,500 frontline health workers across four countries.

Also Read: Facebook reveals 13 participants selected for its Community Accelerator programme in Asia Pacific

In the Philippines, responded to the call to support the citizens of the Philippines by building a chatbot in approximately two weeks for the Department of Health (Philippines) in partnership with AI4GOV, a non-profit organisation that researches and develops AI-based solutions to improve public service delivery.

The chatbot known as K.I.R.A KontraCovid, helps to combat misinformation by disseminating official information about COVID-19 and other important facts.

Meanwhile, New Zealand’s ARK team launched a free Messenger chatbot, Āmio. Āmio uses publicly available information from the New Zealand Ministry of Health and other official COVID-19 sources to help people determine if they need to be tested, find the nearest testing lab, receive the latest recommendations, and get updates on cases.

Our community loves to build and when we combine technical skills to a social mission we can have a positive social impact. Here are some of our learnings through the process.

Using constraints to your advantage

The circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic added another layer of complexity for startups that needed to work faster than ever to bring timely and accurate information to people including underserved communities.

Driven by an urge to do good, was able to iterate quickly with partners and compress the time of its sprint process by leveraging existing platforms, its expertise in building chatbots, and focusing on local needs. However, building so quickly also meant having to overcome challenges and improving along the way.

A key takeaway for the team was using the constraints of the chatbot to their advantage. The limited conversation space meant keeping responses concise and ensuring they provide the necessary call to action. It was also important that they set expectations for every interaction so people know what they can expect from the bot, and when they can expect a response from a human for more complex queries.

Also Read: Book Excerpt: What Google, Facebook did to grow from zero to 1,000

Synthesising the use of offline-first apps and online platforms

Messenger allowed these startups to scale accessibility and provide trusted health information quickly to large numbers of people and relieve pressure on official helplines. The reach52 team used their Messenger-powered mobile application and platform to integrate with their existing primary healthcare solution for rural communities.

Synthesising the use of offline-first apps and their virtual platform, they are able to deliver screening, telehealth, health worker training, medicines, diagnostics, and insurance into communities where traditional services can’t reach.

Also, since not everyone has devices that support the download of apps, the startups were still able to deliver streamlined bot-based experiences on mobile web and Facebook Messenger Lite.

With these success stories, it is extremely heartening to see how developers have built on their strengths and channeled their ingenuity towards giving back to their local communities.

Our developer partners have also provided their services free of charge to government health organisations and UN health agencies during this crisis.

We’re proud of the commitment of the developer community to answer the challenges brought about by the pandemic.

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Image credit: Jusdevoyage on Unsplash

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