“When the story of these times gets written,” said Edward De Bono, master of lateral thinking, “We want it to say that we did all we could.”
That was a different time and place and he wasn’t speaking of the current pandemic, but his words echo the sentiment of hundreds of Indian volunteers who are helping to build solutions for COVID relief.
Matching Supply & Demand
The most immediate digital use case, of course, is to remove information asymmetry and match COVID-related resources to those seeking them.
Covering everything from hospital beds and ambulances, to medicines and oxygen, Indiacovidresources.in is one such site powered by two product communities, Creators of Product and The Product Folks. Since its launch on 25th April 2021, the site has seen more than one lakh users from over five hundred cities in India.
Products have also been created to match demand and supply in niches. Sneha Vacchaney, previously a Product Manager with MakeMyTrip launched covidmeals.in, a platform that aggregates home cooks across Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi and Mysore. Vacchaney says that in just seven days since launch, they are seeing close to a thousand users per day and people from fifteen countries have used the platform to find home-cooks for their families in India.
Going beyond medical resources, sites like CovidDonors set up by Vivek Hallakere, Co-founder, Bounce, enable peer-to-peer donations. The site displays a list of verified COVID-hit people who need funds, and allows for quick transfer of money to them. The site has already disbursed Rs. 1.75 crore rupees in donations to one hundred and fifty people in need.
Verifying at Scale
Verifying information remains one of the biggest challenges for most sites. Using volunteers to manually call and verify leads, is neither accurate nor scalable, given that the status of leads changes in near-real time. This means that many databases, created with good intention and enthusiasm, have become redundant.
Covidcitizens.org, a comprehensive database of verified COVID leads, is addressing this challenge in an interesting way.
To start with, a team of volunteers scoured the Internet for details like hospital beds and oxygen suppliers and verified them manually to create a database of about eleven thousand records across nine cities. Further verification is now crowdsourced from users via a WhatsApp bot powered by Introbot.
“Our solution to the verification challenge at scale is Introbot, a WhatsApp bot. The bot not only provides easy, conversational access to the database in a familiar interface, but also asks the user for feedback on whether the lead was helpful, unresponsive, out of stock, invalid or should be removed from the database. In the two days since launch, the site has received 300,000 queries and 20,000 leads have been marked ‘Helpful.’ Further richness and accuracy of data is going to be achieved through a supplier facing bot that will be launched shortly.”Chaitanya Ramalingegowda, Co-founder, Wakefit.co and one of the people behind Covidcitizens.org. The complete list is here.
When Tenzin Pema, Editor, YourStory, was hunting for oxygen and a hospital bed for her uncle in Bengaluru, she found that most sources circulating on social media and WhatsApp groups were a waste of time. Instead, she says, she found Introbot useful, because the suppliers it gave her were verified and actually worked. (Introbot is very simple to use. Just go to Covidcitizens.org and click on the WhatsApp helpline.)
Collaboration & Crowdsourcing
Most products are driven by informal, volunteer-driven teams, who have responded to calls on social media and WhatsApp groups. Kavir Kaycee, Senior Product Manager, Entropy Labs who helped to create indiacovidresources.in says he got involved after tweeting an open offer to create no-code apps on Glide.
More importantly, the communities behind the different databases are starting to collaborate. Covidcitizens.org is now working with sites like Verifiedcovidleads.com and Indiashield.in to integrate their data. The individual sites will continue to serve their users, but if the effort is successful, they will do so from a single, real-time verified database.
Most product owners are clear that these efforts will halt once the pandemic is under control and they are sticking to the basics to serve users. Sites have been built in a few days, even a few hours, using no-code apps. Says Vacchaney of covidmeals.in, “People are struggling to make dal chawal and our aim is to provide them exactly that. All of us want this to end and this isn’t something that we want to run forever.”
Still, as is always the case, new use cases are emerging as people flock to these sites.
For instance, Covidcitizens.org offers a voice interface, called Fireside developed by the team at Chingari. Fireside allows users to access voice helplines in English and Hindi and also offers voice chat rooms. Ramelingegowda says that they have started receiving inbound interest from doctors who want to use Fireside to give free consults to COVID patients.
How You Can Help
All product owners asked for two things from the THC community:
- Put the word out and help people use and benefit from these resources
- Give your time and skills as a volunteer. Everyone has a day job. It is time to go beyond that.
Finally, if there are any COVID-relief efforts that you want to amplify, mention them in the comments or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.