Pitch us on your solution
NeedsList is a global B2B marketplace connecting local nonprofits with government, INGOs, and corporate donors to create efficiency and transparency in crisis relief. In times of crisis, it is extremely challenging to know what supplies, information, and human resources are needed on the ground. This has huge consequences—we’re living in an era defined by massive displacement due to conflict and climate change.
NeedsList is crisis relief for the 21st century - tech enabled, locally powered, transparent, direct, and run by women. We offer real-time information sharing and tracking tools to first responders from vetted charities and make this data available to public and private sector partners. Our platform provides a transparent way to quickly and easily meet real needs for real people.
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What is the problem you are solving?
The number of displaced people is currently 70 million—higher than it’s ever been in history, and some predict 1 billion displaced by 2050. Despite these numbers, our aid system is entrenched in antiquated methods. Current data collection tools are outdated; government agencies have disaster managers who gather needs by email, docs, spreadsheets, texts, and weekly conference calls during which an excruciating process called “roll call” takes place, where each agency list their needs, while someone takes notes.
We cannot continue to rely on the same outdated systems to communicate needs during crisis. We can, and should, be using exponential technology to better understand, predict, and meet needs from those who know best, first responders from local aid organizations. We can and should be ensuring that the needs of under-represented populations are communicated quickly and effectively so responding public, nonprofit, and private sector organizations can make better decisions regarding deployment of resources.
Who are you serving?
Aid is our fallback to meet the urgent needs of displaced people, yet we face a huge funding and needs gap, over ten billion dollars at last count. Meanwhile, only .2 % of humanitarian aid goes to local efforts. We have developed NeedsList with these challenges in mind.
Our objectives at NeedsList are:
To move resources locally - to the organizations that remain serving displaced people after international NGOs have moved on. We also support local responder supply chains to build local economies following human or natural disasters.
To provide technology tools to support the communication and management of real-time needs. Our tech is data driven, aggregating needs from the ground.
To support bottoms up innovation through a membership-driven online community. Our members are under the radar, resource constrained, but grounded in "Smart Aid" - efficient and dignified responders.
We are currently in 20 countries, working with hundreds of grassroots organizations serving vulnerable communities who are disproportionately affected by displacement. We are a small but diverse team - representing 6 continents. Half of our staff are refugees, and all of us have been directly affected by displacement.
What is your solution?
This spring alone, Cyclone Idai has led to hundreds of deaths in Mozambique, while floods have wreaked havoc throughout the MidWest. From Beira to Omaha - local organizations are the best equipped to respond to rapid onset disaster - yet they face a huge barrier to access resources: nobody knows what they need.
Our B2B marketplace connects small non-profits with large NGOs, public, and private sector entities, in order to make sure that the right stuff gets to the right people quickly and efficiently. Nonprofits use our real-time tech tools to efficiently communicate what types of supplies, funding, services, and other needs are urgently needed from the ground. Our model is a SaaS enabled-marketplaces--with a tiered membership structure:
Needs Aggregation: At the core of NeedsList is a real-time needs registry. First responders can either text in needs through our chatbot, or use our webapp. All needs are aggregated into a central database, accessible to our members - both private sector and other NGOs. We are the only technology enabled platform providing real-time tools to communicate urgent needs in times of crisis. This is essential for tracking supplies and volunteers, compliance for funders, and providing donor impact reports.
Corporate Engagement Tools: We provide a trusted, transparent platform to companies that enables their employees and customers to meet specific, urgent humanitarian needs and track their impact in real-time as well as offering discounted or donated services and products to local nonprofits.
AI powered predictive modelling. As we think towards the future, AI and machine learning will form the cornerstone of our work. What if it were as easy for first responders to add to their “NeedsList” from a dynamic catalog, as it is for you to add movies your Netflix wishlist? We believe that aggregating data from the local level has the potential to fundamentally transform our existing crisis response system through disintermediation. Our vision is to create an entirely new dataset of itemized, specific supply, funding, housing, and human resource needs and make it available via a secure database to multiple stakeholders who want to help. Our vision is for NeedsList to be the primary needs data gathering, matching, and prediction tool in multiple geographies around the world. Because we will be better able to accurately predict resources for any given disaster, crisis response will become more efficient, with the right resources getting to the right people at the right time.
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Where is your solution team headquartered?Durham, NC, USA
Our solution's stage of development:
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Describe what makes your solution innovative.
We see our approach as innovative on multiple levels.
- We are collecting a dataset that has never been collected in any aggregate form - the concrete needs of communities in crisis. Without this dataset, it's nearly impossible for government and other stakeholders to distribute resources effectively.
- We are using new tools to collect this data - chatbot plus our Smart Aid assistant.
- We want to use this information in new ways, overlay it with other data, and better inform the future of FEMA decisions, government policy, and disaster preparedness.
Describe the core technology that your solution utilizes.
For the past two years NeedsList has been up and running using relatively "simple" technology - taking the same tools of the marketplace used for essentially EVERY sector and industry these days, and applying them to matching supply and demand for crisis relief and humanitarian aid. We are now piloting the use of chatbot technology as a way to allow first responders to text in their needs which are aggregated in a real-time database through our "NeedsBot."
The next step in terms of technology for us is obvious - yes, it's a logical first step to begin by providing real-time tools and aggregating data, but now we can, and should, be using exponential technology to better understand, predict, and meet needs from those who know best, first responders from local aid organizations.
Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:
Why do you expect your solution to address the problem?
We know the problem of inefficiency due to lack of knowledge of local needs from A to Z - we've witnessed it firsthand, seen hundreds of nonprofits join our platform, and brought on leading players in humanitarian innovation to our advisory board because they knew this problem was one that needs solving. We've been able to move over one million dollars worth of resources to date to local communities via our tools and attract global corporations to be our partners because there's a consensus regarding the problem. Do we know that NeedList in its current form will be the solution? Of course not, but we know we need to try. We have already pivoted based on what we have learned from the field, and we anticipate learning, growing, and iterating alongside our users.
Select the key characteristics of the population your solution serves.
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people are you currently serving with your solution? How many will you be serving in one year? How about in five years?
Over 200 local nonprofit members have distributed over one million dollars worth of needs impacting over 300,000 people. We anticipate doubling that in the next year, with NeedsList impacting over eight million people in the next five years.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
Our goals relate to product, impact, and scale. We are looking to build out the predictive modelling component of our work, in order to have a greater impact around disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. If we can nail this in North America we'll be prepared to take the model global.
What are the barriers that currently exist for you to accomplish your goals for the next year and for the next five years?
The primary barrier facing our company today is that we’re disrupting an aid system that is very much entrenched in the status quo. Although most stakeholders agree our current systems must be brought into the 21st century, large NGOs and government agencies resist technological innovation for different reasons. NGOs fear the loss of their dominance in the sector if aid becomes decentralized, and are threatened by tools they perceive as diluting donor support. Governments move slowly and lack an innovation mindset, even when presented with data and tools that could improve efficiency. Both are real obstacles to the adoption of our tool. That being said, we are at a tipping point where increasing donor demands, international agreements such as the Grand Bargain, and increasing number of people on the move are sufficiently coming together to force disruption in the sector.
Specific barriers are all related to the above - we're a small team and resource constrained given what the audacious nature of our platform. Some examples include:
- Supply chain challenges - we are committed to supporting the meeting of needs, not just the information of what they are. In times of disaster or in specific regions this is a large challenge.
- Technology constraints related to our resources and budget.
- Language barriers to ensure we are reaching linguistic minorities in the US and to scale.
How are you planning to overcome these barriers?
We continue to dream big, learn from our mistakes, and partner with institutions that lend us credibility and expertise. We've brought onexpert advisors in supply chain, machine learning, and humanitarian innovation and leverage every bit of pro bono resources that we can.
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Hybrid of for-profit and nonprofit
How many people work on your solution team?
We have 4 full-time staff, about to hire number 5 in July.
We have 4 part-time contractors.
The eight of us come from 7 different countries, it's a bit mindblowing!
We have a robust advisory network, some of whom work up to 10 hours a month as volunteers and/or for equity.
For how many years have you been working on your solution?
Why are you and your team best-placed to deliver this solution?
Natasha Freidus (Co-founder/CEO) and Amanda Levinson (Co-Founder/COO) are both social entrepreneurs with three decades of combined experience developing, marketing, and implementing tech for good initiatives. Natasha completed her Masters in MIT in 2001 with a focus on the role of technology for social good and social inclusion, and has been designing, developing, and implementing technology programming ever since for a wide range of public, non-profit, and private sector organizations including HP, the YMCA of the USA, MIT, and the State of Arizona. Amanda is a digital strategist and migration expert who has consulted for some of the largest NGOs including UNICEF and Catholic Social Services. Both write extensively on the intersection of migration, policy, and startups at the NeedsList blog and elsewhere.
Tasha and Amanda have built NeedsList out of passion for a problem they faced personally - they know this space inside and out and have built critical partnerships at a time when there is greater recognition for the need for tech enabled tools for disaster relief. We work closely with an experienced mission-driven tech team led by CTO Daniel Molinet and are supported by a range of talented advisors. The rest of the team hails from Syria, Pakistan, Sudan, and the Phillippines and bring a rich array of experience including UX/UI, social entrepreneurship, business development, and humanitarian expertise.
With what organizations are you currently partnering, if any? How are you working with them?
NeedsList isn’t just a tech platform. Our corporate and nonprofit members are at the forefront of building resilient communities and shaping the future of tech-enabled crisis response. We’re building an ecosystem of partners committed to the transformation of a new model of disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. Current partners include:
Local nonprofit organizations who use our tools to list needs. We have over 200 local partners in twenty countries.
Large NGOs including the IRC and Save the Children who both use our tools and meet needs for smaller organizations.
Companies committed to new models of aid. We currently are working with global corporations such as TripAdvisor, national suppliers including JCPenney and a network of startups in the disaster relief space.
Innovation Leaders including USAID, Grand Challenges Canada, and the Global Humanitarian Hub.
What is your business model?
NeedsList offers a tiered membership to nonprofits and companies with a range of membership packages ranging from free to premium. The tides are shifting - while aid was traditionally the realm of the non-profit sector, it is because we are a nimble, for-profit entity that we are able to bring together supply and demand more efficiently than the status quo.
Our B2B Membership model resonates with companies who want to step up their corporate citizenship in a way that reflects their talent, services, and products---not just their bank accounts. We charge companies for premium memberships to activate businesses looking for engagement tools for their customers and employees and for preferred supplier status.
The target market for the other side of our marketplaces are the nonprofits working with communities in crisis The nonprofit SaaS market is expected to reach a value of $3.4B by 2022. In Q4 2019, NeedsList will begin to sell licenses to large NGOs and foundations to engage donors in transparent and direct giving. Features include tracking and targeting of funds, and impact reporting.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
We earn revenue through premium membership from corporates, foundations, and large nonprofits. We also charge a small transaction fees on supplies purchased through our platform. Because we purchase in bulk and wholesale these fees are still less than retail. We don't charge transaction fees on cash donations to nonprofits.
Why are you applying to Solve?
Like NeedsList, Solve is a marketplace. We believe there is a great deal we can learn from current past Solve-rs about how the types of needs and challenges they have faced, what resources were essential to making them grow, and how technology can support and foster growth.
As an MIT alum, I am in constant awe of the resources and commitment to social innovation that the institution brings. I worked at MIT for several years after completing my Masters. Frankly, though, since founding NeedsList I have found it challenging to access MIT resources as an alumni. I would welcome the opportunity to have great access to MIT tech with its focus on AI given our product roadmap.
What types of connections and partnerships would be most catalytic for your solution?
If you selected Other, please explain here.
We're very interested in finding additional ways to partner with MIT given the institution's commitment to AI and social impact. We had an MIT intern last summer who was awesome. We'd love to engage faculty, students, and others in practicums, research, etc.
We're also actively seeking partnerships with public sector entities.
With what organizations would you like to partner, and how would you like to partner with them?
We are looking for the following...
- Cities! Imagine if NeedsList was like Craig'sList with a boston.needslist.co and miami.needslist.co and tokyo.needslist.co and local responders always had a real-time database of needs and offers on an ongoing basis?
- Technology partners to help us expand our development and integrate. HP, IBM, Google, Microsoft and others working on tech for good solutions.
- NGO partners who will continue to test, iterate, and learn. Given Solve's commitment to refugees there are many Solvers we'd love to partner with.
- Suppliers (J&J, Unilever, H&M, Walmart, Target) of urgently needed supplies who can become preferred suppliers and assist with global supply chain issues.
- Mobile providers to help us refine and deploy chatbot on multiple platforms.
If you would like to apply for the AI Innovations Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution. If you are not already using AI in your solution, explain why it is necessary for your solution to be successful and how you plan to incorporate it.
We've just begun to use machine learning this year and are now designing the NeedsList "SmartAid Assistant". This mobile platform will draw on NLP, image recognition and machine learning to create an intuitive interface for first responders from local nonprofit organizations to provide crucial data before, during, and after crises. Our approach is to simplify and streamline the data collection process by allowing users to select from a constantly evolving catalog of needs--as needs and data related to logistically meeting these needs (i.e. does your warehouse have a pallet jack?) are aggregated in a centralized, searchable database and overlaid with relevant data sets (demographics, housing, etc), machine learning will ultimately allow us to better predict specific humanitarian needs based on minimal user input and contextual data to ensure greater efficacy in crisis response.
If you would like to apply for the GM Prize on Community-Driven Innovation, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution.
Prosperity for vulnerable communities is at the forefront of our work. There is no question but that disasters, whether human made or natural, affect vulnerable populations disproportionately. This funding would go directly to hiring a locally-based community manager to deploy NeedsList along the border. We are deeply concerned about what is happening and are limited in our ability to maximize the potential of NeedsList without boots on the ground.
If you would like to apply for the Prize for Innovation in Refugee Inclusion, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution.
NeedsList was born out of our commitment to holistic and sustainable solutions for refugee inclusion. Our approach is to identify, support, and direct resources to innovative solutions for refugees along the trajectory of their journey, from flight to camps to resettlement to thriving in new communities.
We would use these funds to support the salary of a refugee hire to bring human centered design and NeedsList technology solutions to match corporate resources with local solutions supporting refugees.
If you would like to apply for the Innospark Ventures Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution. If your solution utilizes data, describe how you will ensure that the data is sourced, maintained, and used ethically and responsibly.
These prize funds would go directly into additional AI development. Currently our users have to manually enter their needs. Our goal with the SmartAid Assistant is to a) make it simpler for users to add needs by allowing them to take photos of supplies they need, leave voice memos, improve chatbot flow and implement SMS functionality, etc. Ultimately, we want our Assistant to automate suggested NeedsLists based on location, size and type of NGO, weather conditions, historical data, etc, as well as helping to flag most urgent needs and/or prioritize suggestions.
Through our "NeedsBot" work we have just hired a data privacy specialist to help us address issues of security and ethics as we scale. Our goal here is to obtain a statistically significant database for one country and language. We understand that this will be inherently biased towards English speakers with smartphones. We will be obtaining demographic data from our pilot partner users in order to better understand biases from this first dataset (age, race, education) over the next 18 months. Our intention is to draw on lessons learned from this pilot in order to increase dataset by adapting additional languages and geographies and to update our training and testing data accordingly.
If you would like to apply for the Morgridge Family Foundation Community-Driven Innovation Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution.
One tremendous barrier to rapid adoption from nonprofits is our marketing budget. Our ambition vision to onboard hundreds of thousands of nonprofits across the world requires a real marketing spend. We'd use these funds to directly cover paid ad spend and travel to drive user acquisition across the US and Canada.
If you would like to apply for the Everytown for Gun Safety Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution. If your solution utilizes data, describe how you will ensure that the data is sourced, maintained, and used ethically and responsibly.
We're very interested to see how NeedsList can support community response to gun violence and trauma, both in terms of immediate short-term response and longer term resiliency. It would be interesting to explore the potential of a white-labeled version of NeedsList to serve as a way to match supply and demand for parties interested in addressing gun violence.