Our world is always excited to search for the ‘next big thing.’ From basic call-and-text mobile phones, we now have do-it-all smartphones. From the slow and unstable dial-up internet connections, we are now witnessing wireless 4G data and fiber technology that promises faster and more stable connections. From desktop programs, we now regularly install the newest and hippest mobile apps. Consumers blessed with enough disposable income are able take advantage of the many commercialized innovations. However, let us take a moment to step back and ponder: are these advancements also benefiting those who cannot afford them?
We say that our society is more connected now than ever because of the internet, but some of us are stuck only with the most basic call-and-text cell phones while barely being able to be online. Facebook fan pages, Twitter hashtags and other forms of social media engagement platforms are useless if those who most need to be engaged by society cannot be online all the time. In our pursuit of the ‘next big thing’, are we going to leave
behind those who cannot keep up?
One social enterprise dares to tackle this challenge.
Enter engageSPARK (www.engagespark.com), based in Cebu, that has developed a platform for humanitarian organizations and other enterprises to engage with their target beneficiaries. When my mentor and I interviewed their CEO Mr. Ravi Agarwal and Business Development Director Mr. Nick Brown in their headquarters, we were amazed by their mission: “Empower anyone to easily engage customers, staff, and communities anywhere” through offering the “world’s easiest automated phone calls and 2-way SMS.”
Previously, these organizations can only blast one-way calls and texts without being able to help their beneficiaries respond due to cost implications. However, engageSPARK can let these organizations log in to engageSPARK’s website, create automated campaigns that can record voice or text responses of the target audience, and pay per call or per text utilized. The best part is that the organizations’ beneficiaries will not have to pay anything—truly establishing a seamless 2-way engagement and connection that seemed to be limited to social media platforms.
With increasing internet access, social entrepreneurs and philanthropists may be allured with the new ways we can communicate with each other. However, what I appreciate about engageSPARK’s story is that its innovation did not involve inventing new products. Rather, it reconfigured the existing call-and-text technology and combined it with the internet—creating a platform that not only reaches, but truly engages, society’s marginalized sector.
In reflecting about the story of engageSPARK, two questions entered my mind: (1) How can we reconcile new inventions with the fundamental unmet needs of the bottom of the pyramid? (2) Instead of looking for new inventions, how can we recombine existing technologies to solve unmet needs of the marginalized?
It is exciting to attempt answering these questions as new social enterprises dare to harness technology, both existing and the yet-to-be-discovered, to create meaningful value for society.
Patrick Adriel H. Aure is currently a graduate researcher under the DLSU Center for Business Research and Development. Currently finishing his MBA at the same university, he is excited about exploring cases featuring social enterprises, sustainability, innovation, and new business models. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PATRICK ADRIEL AURE