Author Julie Taylor, September 8 2016: Grassroot is a free mobile phone tool that helps groups of people in South Africa interact and exchange information, ranging from small social groups to massive community organisations. Grassroot allows communities to engage with their members, call meetings, take votes, and create actions lists, whether a small burial society or thousands of people mobilising for a rally. Grassroot works across all phones — from the cheapest entry-level phone to sophisticated smart phones. It is available in South African languages isiZulu, SeSotho, SePedi and SeTsonga. Grassroot is entirely free – it doesn’t require data, it doesn’t require airtime and it doesn’t require a smart phone.
Grassroot was founded by Luke Jordan, an ex-World Bank specialist, and has been developed in conjunction with communities in and around Johannesburg, eThekwini and Polokwane, over the last eighteen months. “All these groups want to be able to inform their members about meetings and create a greater sense of belonging,” says Jordan. “Through a very simple reactive menu Grassroot can do this. Grassroot works with communities, not for communities. As a result, the tool has been driven by the real needs of the communities, not what we, the makers, think is needed.”
To date over 1,000 meetings have been called, 250 votes cast and almost 150 actions completed. Messaging activity on the platform has grown twentyfold since the start of year: in January 2016, 600 messages were sent and by the end of August 2016, this figure had grown to 30,000.
Meetings and actions have ranged from small neighbourhood safety forums meeting to discuss patrol routes, to social movements of almost a thousand people meeting and voting on what to do in response to housing allocation issues. As one person put it, “With a cheap and simple phone we can now organize the community. It has modernized the way we call our meetings.”
The Grassroot platform is very simple: communities create a group and disseminate the joining code to existing and prospective members, who then dial in to join. Once part of the group, users receive invitations, and notifications about meetings and group activities. They can cast votes on issues relevant to their groups whilst in meetings (or at a later date), and a ‘recordaction’ tool notes actions to be taken pre- post and during meetings that are marked off when completed. This is immediately indicated to all members – thereby creating real- time status monitoring. To get Grassroot on your phone, simply dial *134*1994#, or visit app.grassroot.org.za. For those with an Android phone, there is a link to the Play Store on the website, or dial *134*1994*123# to have a link SMS’d to your phone.
The Grassroot team is also working on a function that allows similar groups to identify each other. For example, if you’re a community group engaged with water issues, you’ll become aware of - and be able to engage with - a similar group in the next town. It is also in the final stages of prototyping an emergency “help me” function, which will send a panic alert SMS to a designated group of responders, just by entering *134*1994*911#.
“In the next six months we want to reach more and more people,” says Jordan. “We hope to make a real difference to existing community groups, to growing groups, and to help groups connect with other groups. Our aim is to really mobilize the South African community.”
To get Grassroot on your phone:
Any phone, no data : Dial *134*1994#
(Dial *134*1994*123# to have the link sent to your phone, or click here.)
For more information, contact
Phone: 081 307 4085
Grassroot’s vision is a nation self-organizing from the ground up. Our mission is to create solutions that enable communities and individuals to act together with more endurance, skill and independence from above than is feasible today. Grassroot is a non-profit, public benefit organization whose funders include Making All Voices Count, the Indigo Trust, the Open Society Foundation of South Africa, the Shuttleworth Foundation, and individual contributors.
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