Solution Overview

Solution Name:

Rural App Builders

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One-line solution summary:

Localizing Thunkable (no-code app building tool) and training youth in remote rural Indian villages to build mobile apps using Thunkable.

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Pitch your solution.

In the 21st century, mobile apps have played a key role in improving the lives of people around the world. While mobile technology has made great inroads in rural areas, app development continues to be in the hands of the urban elite. A lack of access to app development training and a lack of fluency in English is a barrier to making app building more inclusive. This leaves millions of rural people out of the opportunity of leveraging the power of mobile apps to improve their lives.   

Our plan is to create the Hindi language version of Thunkable, a no-code app building tool,  and train rural youth to use the tool  to build apps. Having a no-code app building tool in local languages will help bring millions of people into the growing mobile economy and create new employment and financial opportunities.

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Film your elevator pitch.

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What specific problem are you solving?

India’s smartphone base is estimated to reach 820 million in 2022. The annual growth in rural areas has been significantly higher than in urban areas (35% vs 7%). Unfortunately, the barrier to entry for app development has left over 700 million people in rural Indian communities and 99.9% of the world’s population to be passive consumers of mobile apps rather than active creators. Since programmers are mostly urban elite who do not grasp the opportunities and challenges of rural areas, there are not enough apps that address the needs of rural communities, leaving smartphones underutilized by rural populations. Additionally, tools created for non-programmers to develop apps are mainly focused on the English speaking world, so they cannot be utilized by non-English speakers. The Covid pandemic has particularly highlighted the value of using apps that provide much needed services efficiently. For example, we saved lives during the pandemic by providing villagers with an app to connect to doctors remotely. There are many more solutions waiting to be built for these villagers. By giving them the tools and teaching them app building, we will empower rural villagers to develop their own hyperlocal solutions to their hyperlocal issues.

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What is your solution?

Thunkable, a product that came out from the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab and the Media Lab at MIT, has created a drag-and-drop app development platform that makes it easy for non-developers to create mobile apps. The tool can be used to create cross-platform applications for Android, iOS, and web. Thunkable already has empowered a large community of over 3 million users to create interesting applications. However, Thunkable’s interface is currently in English and Chinese. In partnership with Thunkable, our team at Ekal Vidyalaya will translate the interface into Hindi and use the Hindi version of the tool to teach app building to rural youth. Ekal Vidyalaya, an organization that has a presence in over 100,000 villages works on removing the rural-urban digital divide by providing digital literacy skills to youth at our computer training labs. We will add the Hindi version of Thunkable to our training curriculum. This will not only enable our students to build mobile apps but also teach them logic and concepts of computer programming. India is a multilingual country and after our pilot we hope to translate Thunkable into other local languages and enable rural youth all over the country to create apps.

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Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?

Our focus is to empower non-English speaking people living in rural remote villages to have the ability to create mobile apps. Ekal Vidyalya is the largest education non profit in India  organization that has been working to educate and empower over 100 million people living in 100,000 remote rural villages in India. Lack of roads and other infrastructure  have made it difficult for these villagers to have viable access to education, health and economic opportunities. We run single teacher primary schools in 100,000 villages at the very low cost of $1/day. We have a health arm that focuses on preventive health care by training villagers on good health and hygiene practice. Our skill training arm has provided training that has brought significant economic benefit to the trainees.  

The extensive reach of the mobile phone network has been a game changer for connecting rural villages to resources.  Globally, mobile apps have had the ability to provide solutions to everyday challenges and improve process efficiencies. Unfortunately since the app developers are mostly urban elites, available apps do not address the challenges of rural communities effectively.  The availability of no-code app development tools makes app building easily accessible. Making these tools available and accessible to rural villagers in a language that they understand will enable them to become app builders. This will allow them to build apps to target their own challenges thus allowing them to leverage the power of mobile phones to address their challenges as it has done for the urban elites. 

The no-code app building tool Thunkable provides a huge opportunity to allow villagers to create apps. They already have a proven track record of empowering change at a local level. For example, Fast Company wrote the story of Thunkable user Anwar Al-Haddad from Yemen, who built PV Solar. Due to the war and the crisis that is going on in Yemen, the power grid that was supplied by the government was totally disconnected, hence, solar power systems became the main power supply for most homes and businesses in Yemen. However people in Yemen did not know how to install solar panels. Anwar could not find an app, especially in Arabic, to teach people how to do it. He used Thunkable to build an app to help him and his family, and now over 500,000 people have downloaded and used his app and got him recognition from Yemen's Minister of Power and Electricity. We will empower the next million Anwars in India to solve local problems that can change the lives of billions around them.

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Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Equip everyone, regardless of age, gender, education, location, or ability, with culturally relevant digital literacy skills to enable participation in the digital economy.
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Explain how the problem you are addressing, the solution you have designed, and the population you are serving align with the Challenge.

 In partnership with Thunkable and our digital literacy trainers in India, we will create a curriculum to teach app building using the Hindi version of Thunkable. We will launch the pilot with 100 villagers from Karanjo and then scale the program to 5,000 villagers in the 100 surrounding villages over the course of 12 months. The curriculum will be designed using local examples of challenges.   The curriculum will provide training on 1) identifying problems 2) designing an app prototype to address the problem 3) creating and deploying the app 4) marketing the app to target consumers.

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In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?

Burlington, MA, USA
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What is your solution’s stage of development?

Pilot: An organization deploying a tested product, service, or business model in at least one community.
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Explain why you selected this stage of development for your solution.

We will be testing the tool in our Computer Training Lab in Karanjo in the state of Jharkhand in  India. In partnership with Thunkable and our digital literacy trainers in India, we will create a curriculum to teach app building using the Hindi version of Thunkable. We will offer this training to 100 people living in the 100 remote rural villages around Karanjo and later scale it to 5000 people.  We will test the use of the tool and assess the easy of use of the Hindi version of Thunkable. The pilot will help us validate our hypothesis on the impact of local language no code tools serving as enablers of app creation. The use of and impact of the apps created locally will help us assess how much of a enabler this is in helping villagers use apps to address their own challenges and create new opportunities. 

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Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Ranjani Saigal, Executive Director, Ekal USA

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More About Your Solution

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new application of an existing technology
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What makes your solution innovative?

 No-code development tools have transformed software development. Gartner says that by 2024, 65% of all app development will be done using such tools. While many of these tools are focused on selling to businesses, no one has used these tools at scale in rural environments.  By training rural youth to use these tools today, we  can leapfrog app development in rural areas. While no-code development tools are easy to use, their English language interface is a big barrier to entry.  Our innovative approach uses a version of the tool that has a local language interface. Ekal is running computer training programs in rural areas and has trainers who know how to provide training to village youth. Adding the training on the localized  no-code development tools,  we expect to create rural app builders who will create a tremendous amount of new applications that address the challenges facing rural communities. This effort will have a dramatic impact on increasing the effective use of mobile phones in rural areas. This can present a whole new opportunity to dramatically improve the economy of rural areas.

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Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Software and Mobile Applications
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Select the key characteristics of your target population.

  • Rural
  • Poor
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Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 4. Quality Education
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In which countries do you currently operate?

  • India
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In which countries will you be operating within the next year?

  • India
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How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?

In the first pilot phase we will be training 100 people to do app development.We hope to scale that to 5000 trainees in the first year.  We hope they develop apps that are useful to the population of 60,000 who live in the 100 villages that the trainees are drawn from to address needs that are specific to their lives. There are over 500 million Hindi speakers in India. These apps could have the potential to have greater impact amongst much of the Hindi speaking rural areas. In the next year we will translate the tool to 3 more languages  and potentially to all 22 Indian languages in the next five years. This will have the potential to build apps that impact the lives of 700 million people who live in remote rural areas. The multi-lingual no code interface has the potential to have a greater impact on the population at large and will potential spur development all over India. The idea can be easily scaled globally and perhaps other countries could use Thunkable in their own languages as well. 

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How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?

We will measure the number of apps that are built and deployed. We will also monitor the use and the engagement the rural people have with the apps via the number of downloads and usage measures. In addition to documenting the apps created by our trainees, we will monitor all apps created using the Hindi version of the tool. We will monitor the apps and document they opportunities they provide in the areas of education, health and access to government services. 

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About Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?

Nonprofit

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How many people work on your solution team?

This pilot project will have a team of 5 as follows 

1. Team lead - Executive director 
2. Project manager
3. 2 Trainers
4. Thunkable product and customer support person.

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How long have you been working on your solution?

Ekal has been working on digital literacy for 5 years. Thunkable and Ekal have been working together for the last six months ideating on this solution and working on the Hindi interface for Thunkable. Ekal is a 35 year old organization and Thunkable is a 5 year old company.

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How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

Ekal is the largest NGO working on education and empowerment of villagers living in 100,000 rural remote villages in India for over 35 years. We are the recipient of the Gandhi Peace Prize, the highest prize given by the government of India to any non profit organization. Our efforts to bring digital literacy was recognized with the Digital Trailblazer award from HP and KPMG. Our trainers are chosen from the local areas and have deep knowledge of the communities they work in. Thunkable is the world's leading no code app building tool. Ekal's access and knowledge of rural India combined with Thunkable's technical expertise makes us the perfect team to implement this solution.

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What is your approach to building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive leadership team?

Ekal USA works and our counterpart in India has a very diverse pool of people in leadership roles. Our leaders come from the communities we serve. The diversity is key to our success in understanding the communities we serve and building trust. 

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Your Business Model & Partnerships

Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?

Individual consumers or stakeholders (B2C)
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Partnership & Prize Funding Opportunities

Why are you applying to Solve?

Issues facing rural remote villagers in India does not get the attention of the world. Development is lacking and these villagers do not have significant opportunities to becoming active members of the economy.  We feel strongly that mobile technology can be a game changer that can spur development in the rural areas. Ekal has been working for over 35 years in the rural areas by providing literacy, health and skill training in over 100.000 villages. Yet our work is not that well known. By becoming a solver we hope to  present our story to world we hope to attract the attention of the world. MIT solve community has brilliant minds and technology innovators who we hope will read about our work and bring new ideas and resources to spur development. These ideas could include unique ways to bring power and connectivity to entire rural populations. 

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In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Financial (e.g. improving accounting practices, pitching to investors)
  • Public Relations (e.g. branding/marketing strategy, social and global media)
  • Technology (e.g. software or hardware, web development/design, data analysis, etc.)
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Please explain in more detail here.

Our work has so far been known only in the Indiaspora community. This limits our ability to gather funds. Our public elations effort could use much help. We are not currently using social media effectively to build our brand. We need advice on innovative low cost solutions to for hardware and connectivity. 

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What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?

We would like to partner with the following companies

1. Google - We expect our apps to use google services for maps etc. We would like their help to provide support for these tools.  We also expect our users to use Android tools and their support to get the hardware would be very helpful 

2. Telecom companies -We need data and connectivity in rural areas.

3. Social media, branding and marketing companies

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The ASA Prize for Equitable Education? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The Andan Prize for Innovation in Refugee Inclusion? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The HP Prize for Advancing Digital Equity? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes, I wish to apply for this prize

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Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The HP Prize for Advancing Digital Equity to advance your solution?

Our work is targeted to advancing digital inclusion for rural remote villages in India. The solution itself can be scaled globally to any part of the world and hence we would be a good fit for this prize. 

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for the Innovation for Women Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes, I wish to apply for this prize

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Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use the Innovation for Women Prize to advance your solution?

Our training cohort will include  rural women. We think the apps the women will develop will be focused on advancing the needs of rural women and thus would be a good fit for this prize. 

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The AI for Humanity Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The GSR Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution

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Solution Team

 
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