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Ulula: Opening the Private Sector for Managing Risks & Creating Shared Value

New YorkNew York, United States
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
for profit
Project Stage:
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

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

Ulula provides mobile solutions to manage risks and create shared value between business, government and local communities. We use simple mobile technology to engage local stakeholders and supply chain actors to improve the impact of business in society.

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

we could close the loop between business and local communities to create shared value?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Weak stakeholder engagement in high impact industries (oil, gas, mining, forestry, agribusiness) have a destructive impact for business and society. In 2012 conflict at the Marikana, South Africa resulted in the death of 45. Another 14 company-community conflicts lead to 84 fatalities in a year. Between 2003 and 2010, US fatality rates in oil and gas operations were seven times higher than US average occupational fatality rates.

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

Ulula provides services and simple mobile phone technology tools (2-way SMS and Interactive Voice Response) to gather feedback from communities where large corporations operate. To ensure uptake, we co-design our system in consultation with local stakeholders. We partner with local intermediaries and leaders to raise awareness and make sure collected and published aggregate data is used. Ulula anonymizes sensitive information and brokers response from corporations to close the feedback loop. The main service lines include grievance mechanism; workforce feedback, corporate social investment consultation. The platform generates real-time data that enables new insights for decision making to minimize risks and maximize shared value.
Impact: How does it Work

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

I am Claudia from Peru. I live on a Newmont mining site and see some waste release in the river behind my house. I send a text to Ulula anonymously. Ten similar SMS have been received over the last 2h and communicated to Newmont. They immediately send a clean up team and send a community wide message to prevent damage using Ulula’s platform. We follow up with Claudia and others; ask them about their satisfaction with Newmont’s response and measure our impact in in real-time. . Newmont gets the anonymized data so that it can closely monitor the quality of its community relations.. In Peru, Newmont is standing to lose $4 billion dollars because the community does not trust them in water management and has no robust mechanism for feedback.

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

Ulula is pre-pilot. We are discussing projects with various oil, gas and mining sites from Guinea to Peru and Iraq to Madagascar. A recent report by McKinsey on maximizing the potential of resource-driven economies estimates that 540 million people from 81 countries dependent on oil, gas and mining could be lifted out of poverty by effective development and use of reserves. Ulula offers an opportunity to alleviate one of the binding constraints to improving resource management for millions of individuals living in resource rich areas –particularly women, the youth and other groups disproportionately represented at the bottom of the pyramid. An industrial scale mining project loses over $2million per day of closure or delay and the consulting firm ERM estimated that about half of mining projects suffered delays between 2008 and 2013- over 75% related to environmental and social issues.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

Ulula will focus on 2-3 pilots to learn, iterate and standardize its platform and methodology. We will scale up through partnerships with sustainability consulting and technology firms looking to broaden their tools and services. We are also considering integration with specialized information management systems and Enterprise resource planning systems such as Borealis. There are close to 10,000 active oil, gas and mining sites for intervention in over 80 resource rich countries. We will also look for application of our approach to sectors such as forestry, agribusiness and petrochemicals.

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

The main source of revenue will come from the commercialization of Ulula to corporate clients. We have developed a subscription model ensuring steady revenue sources. Because we are pioneering, we are seeking public funding from bilateral and international donors to subsidize some of the costs of the pilot phase and to make strong investment in monitoring and evaluation. After the pilot phase we will raise capital from social investors.

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

Mobile crowdsourcing have largely been used to respond crises (e.g. Ushahidi) or for public service delivery monitoring (e.g. Frontline SMS). Labor Link collects data through IVR only and focuses on workers and specific economic sectors (e.g. garment) where firm reputational risk play a central role but face risk because assets are movable and workers replaceable. Ulula uses SMS and IVR and builds its main approach on early warning systems related to operational risks. We focus on extractives where sub-soil assets and high capital investment act as a constraint to a companies’ exit options.

Founding Story

Working in the oil rich Niger Delta with civil society and communities made the gap between transparency and accountability very real. It showed me the limited value of top-down transparency initiatives whose main value lies with its potential empowerment force rather than its disinfectant power against corruption. My critical thinking found resolution when I met various innovators from Citivox and Ushaihidi who were using mobile technology to monitor elections in Kenya, urban violence in Mexico or to respond to humanitarian crises in Haiti, the Philippines and beyond. Their stories and my experience taught me not to be techno-naïve but opened the possibility of applying low-tech solutions to high impact economic sectors (oil, gas & mining)


Antoine Heuty is the sole founder of Ulula. The management team is composed of Manu Kabahizi (technology strategist- half time)- and Cornelius Graubner (Strategist - full time). Linda Pappagallo is a full time associate; Erika Rodrigues is a part time associate. Ulula has formed a board of advisors with experienced ICT4D, mining, social investment, big data and development practitioners. Details available at: http://ulula.com/#team
About You
About You
First Name


Last Name


LinkedIn URL
About Your Organization
Organization Name


Organization Country

, NY, New York

Country where this project is creating social impact

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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.)
Barriers: What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?
Partnerships: Tell us about your partnerships.

Approximately 75 words left (450 characters).

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

Demonstrate how closed feedback loops can make a difference in people’s lives.

Please elaborate on your answer to the above question.

Key elements include: (1) An elaborate engagement strategy to co-design platform with communities; (2) Stakeholder mapping to identify allies and neutralize antagonizing interests; (3) Local partnerships to help raise awareness (youth groups, religious groups, unions…) and to ensure data is used; (4) Assessment of clients’ readiness and capabilities to participate and take full advantage of a feedback; (5) Private sector driven business model ensures clients have higher commitment to using feedback ; (6) Anonymous data collection; (7) Data disclosure to community; (8) Data analytics

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

English, Spanish, French.

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?

The SMS and IVR enabled mobile platform aims to i) track, verify and respond to grievances between workers or community members and site-level management of a company, to facilitate a cost efficient, timely and effective grievance response while minimizing social and environmental risk. ii) provide a medium where private companies, governments or NGOs can send perception surveys to workers, community members or other stakeholders to verify the satisfaction and quality of service provision, grievance response or social investment project, to improve the quality and quantity of data for accurate monitoring and evaluation. iii) provide a medium where private companies, governments or NGOs can engage with stakeholders through polling surveys on content and strategies in monitoring and evaluation and participate in social investment decision- making, this co-designing aspect ensures effectiveness of community related projects since co-creation creates ownership and is contextual therefore improving uptake and scale of impact. iv) provide a medium for private companies and Ulula to close feedback loops with relevant stakeholders by asking about the effectiveness of feedback mechanisms to help optimize and reassess the mobile platform’s engagement strategy and collect data relevant for measuring the direct impact the mobile platform is having on stakeholders (measuring impact for proof of concept).

What is the purpose of your feedback loop?

Accountability to external partners

If other, please specify
What mediums or mechanisms do you use to collect feedback? (check all that apply)

SMS, Phone or voice.

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

We collect feedback through SMS and Interactive Voice Recognition (IVR) –free of charge- to lower the barriers for participation and maximize reach to illiterate and marginalized groups in the community. We expect these mechanisms to complement existing corporate feedback mechanisms (in-person, web). The specific mechanisms for collecting feedback will depend on the context. For example, mobile phone penetration rates by demographic groups, existing feedback mechanisms, laws and regulations for network providers or the culture around mobile phone usage will affect the way in which SMS and IVR based feedback is collected in a community/ workplace. To ensure maximum uptake, contextual differences are accounted for by following through four phases in our field deployment strategy: Assess, Integrate, Build and Implement.

Typically users register to the platform by texting to a phone number, basic demographic questions are asked in the registration process and users then officially become part of the Ulula platform. Feedback is sent to Ulula by texting or calling and following IVR directions to a fixed telephone number. Once Ulula receives feedback, depending on the use of the feedback (grievance, perception survey, polling or closing the feedback loop), data is anonymized and managed through a customizable dashboard. In order to minimize selection bias that can come when certain demographic groups do not have a mobile phone, or when illiteracy prevents users from joining and engaging in the platform, we will distribute community phones and create targeted incentive packages.

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?


If other, please specify

We use targeted outreach based on measured sample bias and targeted incentives if and as needed.

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


If other, please specify

Operational risk is a major driver; economic efficiency in local procurement another

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

Reports on collected information

If other, please specify
How is feedback published/transparent?


If other, please specify

Multi-channels (web, radio, media); context specific

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

1. Phonebloks (https://phonebloks.com/en/goals), a modular phone designed with the purpose of reducing electronic waste, is partnering with Motorola to build a perfect modular phone for citizens through an open platform. The primary aim is to fully engage with feedbacks from the world wide community to improve aspects of its product design, and business development strategy. At every step of Phonebloks’ progress, challenges are posted online for the community to give feedback on, share ideas and vote for solutions. Averaging 350 total idea submissions per week and with an active and growing registered community of 16,800 people Phonebloks is one of the first companies to have leveraged feedback loops at the very early stages of product design (even before the prototype is built).

2. Charles Schwab, an American brokerage and investment bank firm, decided to progressively incorporate customer- centric feedback loop mechanisms into its business operations after the business began to suffer in 2004. Through online client ratings and reviews, and closely monitoring Net Promoter Scores and re-aligning its service to customer’s requirements, the firm saw its revenues increase by 11% in 2008 and scores jump by 25%.

The examples show the potential for feedback loops in the private sector to drive design and service. Ulula is trying to adapt these lessons to high impact industries such as oil, gas, mining, forestry and agribusiness.

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

Ulula relies on human sensors to create a feedback loop that mitigates personal as well as corporate risks while creating shared value. While “human sensors” are paramount, we are limited in our ability to monitor environmental impact using simple mobile technology. The ability to integrate machine sensors and integrate them with human sensors in a cost effective manner would increase the impact potential of the tool. Ulula is looking at companies such as Planet Labs (http://www.planet-labs.com/) and Mobosens (http://nanobionics.mntl.illinois.edu/mobosens/) to assess options for integrating some innovative machine data into its platform.

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


If other, please specify

Resistance to innovation due to economic constraints and conservatism in target sector

Are you aware of The Feedback Store?

Yes, I am already on it

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

The build up of a critical mass of tools for feedback loop will contribute to the emergence of a market place for feedback approaches in the public and private sector (and in between). The need exists but it has only partially translated into actual demand. This helps bridge that gap by showing the availability of tools. It also helps create more awareness about the differences between tools and platforms –not just in terms of technology but also with respect to associated services.

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

It may be useful to consider a slightly more compact timeline. The length of the process provides ample time to revise submissions but may result in pivots that constitute new entries unrelated to initial submission. In other words the timeline may better enable with the motto “fail fast, succeed faster”. The first edition of the competition is quite generic. In considering a second edition it may create different sub-categories to provide visibility to a larger number of projects. It may also make sense to link the competition with relevant events to increase face-to-face exchange with a few selected projects (e.g. finalists), peer exchange and exposure to some other members in the feedback community.

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?

We engage with community in co-designing the platform to present the general approach and agree with them what they want to provide feedback about, how they want the data to be communicated back so that they structure this approach in the first place. We work with community leaders to explain them the role of the feedback platform, recruit them as ambassadors to raise awareness and/or neutralize them in case they see Ulula as a threat. We continuously invest in marketing the platform through media. We systematically close the loop with individual users reporting and regularly publish aggregate collected data to build trust and encourage use of data for decision-making and advocacy.