TulaLens

Congratulations! This Entry has been selected as a semifinalist.

TulaLens: A Balanced Perspective

Chennai, IndiaCambridge, United States
Year Founded:
2014
Organization type: 
hybrid
Project Stage:
Start-Up
Budget: 
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

TulaLens enables the poor in developing countries to provide feedback and retrieve information on products and services through mobile technology. We believe that partnering with the poor is fundamental to organizations designing products and services that improve lives.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if TulaLens could transform the poor in developing countries from passive recipients to active partners of organizations that design products and services?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The majority of the 3.4 billion people in poverty globally do not have access to an easy-to-use platform to provide feedback and retrieve information on products and services that better their lives. This leads to two key issues: 1) organizations develop ineffective products and services and 2) the poor do not have access to high-quality information to make decisions on the products and services they should use.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

TulaLens acts as a conduit between the poor and the organizations that serve them. We partner with NGOs, social enterprises and companies that create products and services for the poor, and provide them with a mobile technology as well as associated services for a fee so they can understand the needs of their beneficiaries. Organizations market TulaLens in conjunction with their offerings, agree to act upon feedback, and share feedback with other organizations. The poor can provide feedback and retrieve information on products and services in their area despite mobile carrier, language, or literacy level. We are conducting market research in Chennai where 1 million people live in poverty of which 90% have access to mobile phones.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Vandana lives in a Chennai slum. A social enterprise recently approached her, and asked her to try a bednet that they had designed. At the same time, they told her about the TulaLens technology. After using the bednet for 3 weeks, she noted two issues. Mosquitoes were squeezing through the holes of the net, and the net was beginning to rip. She decided to provide feedback on the bednet using TulaLens. Other users of the bednet noted the same. The social enterprise that provided the bednets noted this feedback, and decided to use stronger material and a different long-lasting insecticide. The organization informed Vandana of the redesign and provided her with a free bednet. She provided positive feedback on the new bednet.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Our goal is to reach 10,000 beneficiaries by the end of 2016. I’m currently working with the Centre for Public Policy Research in Chennai and Civitas to conduct market research with 100 potential users who live in the Chennai slums. The research will help me to better understand user needs, and to inform the design of the platform. We will then work to pilot the project in 2014 in partnership with one organization that designs products for the poor in India. Our aim is to measure impact using several metrics including the percentage of TulaLens users who have benefited from improved products and services, and a cost-benefit analysis for organizations using TulaLens as compared to their previous methods of evaluation. The system will empower the poor to become active partners of the organizations that serve them.
Sustainability

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

We will charge organizations a fee to use the mobile technology we develop, and the associated services organizations need to ensure user engagement and feedback. These fees will be used to cover operating costs. Any profit will be reinvested into TulaLens. In addition, we will seek funding through investors, foundations, and/or crowdsourcing as needed to start and scale the organization.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Organizations such as Ushahidi, the World Bank Institute, Voto and Good World Solutions have used innovative methods and mobile technology to better understand the impact of development from the perspective of beneficiaries and citizens. TulaLens is unique because organizations – NGOs, social enterprises and companies – will use beneficiary feedback to improve the design of specific products and services. Feedback will be shared with other organizations. We plan to use a technology such as interactive voice response to ensure that the most marginalized can access the system free of charge.
Team

Founding Story

A combination of so many powerful experiences and interactions led me to come up with the idea behind TulaLens. My frustration began when I was working with an NGO in Chennai, India. Several women had STIs, but few would enter the mobile health clinic run by the NGO. The organization had never spoken to these women to understand what was preventing them from attending. Again and again, I noticed that the user voice was lost from my experience running the PMTCT program in Guyana to the economic analyses that I’ve conducted across several African countries. Alongside rigorous research, there needs to be a platform such as TulaLens that ensures we are listening to, empowering, and incorporating the feedback of the poor to achieve impact.
About You
Organization:
TulaLens
About You
First Name

Priya

Last Name

Iyer

About Your Organization
Organization Name

TulaLens

Organization Country

, MA, Cambridge

Country where this project is creating social impact

, TN, Chennai

Impact
Full Impact Potential: What are the main spread strategies moving forward? (Please consider geographic spread, policy reform, and independent replication/adoption of the idea or other mechanisms.)

Within Chennai, the system will spread by word of mouth and by mass text messages sent to low-income mobile phone holders. Once the system has been widely adopted in Chennai, I hope to spread it to other areas in India and across other countries with high mobile phone penetration. In order to encourage organizations to use this data to improve upon products and service, I will showcase the organizations we've effectively been able to work with in order to encourage other organizations to do the same. Organizations may be located in the U.S. or the developing country.

Barriers: What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

Key barriers include creating a simple technology that users will adopt, ensuring a large sample of responses for products and services to prevent response bias, and ensuring that extremely poor and illiterate users are not underrepresented. In order to overcome these barriers respectively, I will find an excellent developer who will iterate upon the technology based on user feedback, experiment with non-monetary incentives to find the best way to ensure consistent user feedback, and work with community leaders to garner and retrieve feedback for these more vulnerable populations.

Sustainability
Partnerships: Tell us about your partnerships.

So far, I have partnered with the Centre for Public Policy Research in Chennai and an associated consulting firm, Civitas. I'm in the process of conducting market research and piloting the approach in conjunction with Civitas. At the same time, I will continue to expand my network by meeting social entrepreneurs, and relevant professionals who may be interested in collaborating once the project is further developed.

Closing the Loop
How does your project primarily ensure that feedback delivers results?

Help funders, governments, and other organizations to listen to and act on feedback.

Please elaborate on your answer to the above question.

There are two ways in which this project ensures that feedback delivers results. The first is to build strong partnerships with organizations that share the TulaLens vision, and to facilitate the process of partnering with the poor to understand their needs. The second is to build an easy-to-use technology and work closely with the poor so that they will use TulaLens to communicate frequently with the organizations that serve them, and will retrieve information on products and services to make better decisions.

Languages: In what languages are you able to read and write fluently?

English.

2nd Round Questions
Thinking about your feedback loop; what information are you trying to get from whom, to whom, and to bring about what change?

Our aim is to understand the needs of the poor in developing countries and communicate these to the organizations that design products and services for the poor. This will result in improved product and service design, and a more efficient use of resources. We also aim to create a way for the poor to retrieve information on product and service quality based on feedback we collect from other low-income people. This will help the poor make better decisions on the products and services they use.

What is the purpose of your feedback loop?

Other

If other, please specify

To improve the quality of products and services, and to improve information flow back to the poor.

What mediums or mechanisms do you use to collect feedback? (check all that apply)

Phone or voice.

If other, please specify
Could you briefly describe the way you collect the feedback?

We will collect feedback from low-income people through a mobile technology that can be accessed on a basic phone. One technology that we are currently exploring is interactive voice response.

What mechanisms are in place to protect people from retribution?

Option to provide feedback anonymously

If other, please specify
What are the immediate benefits or incentives for people to provide feedback?

Confirmation of use of feedback

If other, please specify
How do you ensure new and marginalized voices are heard?

Other

If other, please specify

User-friendly design of the mobile technology and outreach efforts if needed will ensure that all voices are heard.

What are the incentives for the intended recipient to act on the feedback?

Other

If other, please specify

Organizations will find it easier and more cost-effective to collect and act on feedback from their beneficiaries.

How does the feedback mechanism close the loop with those who provided feedback in the first place?

Other

If other, please specify

Those who provide feedback will be notified when the product or service design is improved.

How is feedback published/transparent?

Other

If other, please specify

Feedback will be made available on a website, and the poor will be able to access it via mobile phone.

Give two concrete examples of how feedback loops have brought a program or policy more in line with citizens’ desires.

D.light, is a for-profit company with the goal of eliminating kerosene use in the developing world. When developing their products, d.light consistently interacted with end users to understand factors such as the costs saved, the productive hours increased, and the number of school-aged children reached. Strong feedback loops, helped d.light develop a product that now improves the lives of more than 28 million people. A second example, is GiveDirectly, an organization that provides unconditional cash transfers to the poor in Kenya and Uganda. By understanding the needs of the poor through community focus groups, surveys, and randomized control trials, the organization has been able to create large and sustained increases in income for the poor. Despite stereotypes, alcohol and tobacco expenditure decreased or stayed constant.

If there was one thing you could change to increase the impact of your feedback loop, what would it be?

In order to increase the impact of TulaLens, I would like to be able to get feedback from the poor on the feedback loop process and the technology we propose and iterate upon it more quickly. This will require a strong partner on the ground where TulaLens is piloted, or I will need to spend an extended amount of time in the pilot area.

What are your biggest challenges or barriers in “closing the feedback loop”?

Other

If other, please specify

Non-expert opinion may be valued, but many organizations struggle to collect, analyze and use this feedback.

Are you aware of The Feedback Store?

No, but I would like to be on it

What are the main uses you can envision for the Feedback Store?

The Feedback Store is a great way for us to understand what tools exist to close the loop, and where there may be gaps. TulaLens can potentially collaborate with organizations featured in the Feedback Store, and eventually use the Feedback Store to promote TulaLens to organizations.

What is the one thing you would most like to see changed to improve the competition process?

The peer feedback portion was an excellent way to connect with other organizations in the space. It would be nice if there were more structured ways such as this during the competition process to build more lasting relationships with people that were entered in the competition.

What are you doing to make sure that feedback providers know that they are empowered by the information they can give and that they know exactly what the information they are providing?

When an organization decides to improve a product and service based on feedback, the organization will notify all users of these changes through TulaLens. Low-income people will also be able to retrieve information on products and services they plan to use improving their decision-making abilities.