Mobile phone apps for communities
A pioneering course is teaching young people how to develop mobile phone applications that will benefit their communities. The Stop and Search app has been downloaded more than 2,000 times and has recently received development funding.
Matthew Tanti, 25, was unemployed and looking for work when friends told him about a course they had seen advertised in the local newspaper. Tanti had had some shop work in the past, but nothing approaching a career. The advertisement offered a free eight-week course in how to develop applications (apps) for mobile phones that would benefit their local communities. Tanti and two friends became part of the first intake of nine young people on the Campaign for Digital Inclusion’s (CDI) Apps for Good course which launched in April this year in Tulse Hill, south London.
"There seemed to be a real opportunity for a programme where young people could learn about leading-edge technology in highly engaging ways," says Iris Lapinski, Apps for Good’s UK director.
CDI started in Brazil in 1995, to empower people living in the favelas around Rio de Janeiro by teaching them computing. Fifteen years on, there are now 753 CDI programmes running in 10 countries.
Participants in the Apps for Good course are aged 18 to 25 and are not in employment, education or training. They are recruited by referrals from youth, social and probation workers, by word of mouth, and through advertisements in local papers.
The course, which costs £3,000 per student and is funded by IT corporation Dell, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Unilever, is divided into four weeks of planning and four weeks of developing an app. "Prior to doing the course we had lots of ideas for apps, but having them grilled and dissected is really good. We came up with 30 ideas, 30 potential apps, and then spent four weeks analysing them and picking out the ones that already existed, or might not work," Tanti says.
Tanti teamed up with Carlos Mateus, 27, and Moses Sonson, 19, to create the app, StudentVoice. It is free to download and enables prospective and current students to research useful facilities at university. It shows where the libraries, museums, free Wi-Fi and coffee shops are, and its developers hope it will reduce dropout rates by helping students settle.
Tanti has since found work with the mobile app publishing company Zolmo. "After I finished the course, they [course staff] helped me to rewrite my CV and apply for jobs. It wasn’t like, when the course has finished, ‘Goodbye’, it was ‘What would you like to do now?’" Tanti says.
CDI works on a "one becomes 10" basis; each person that benefits is asked to mentor others that come after them. The Apps for Good team often recruits former students on to the staff and encourages other graduates to stay in touch. "I still get regular emails about events. I’ve been to see current students presenting their ideas, I feel like I’m part of the community," says Tanti.
Sonson’s brother, Aaron, 23, didn’t want to go on the course initially. "I’m not really a techie person, not into computers and all that stuff." He missed the first day, but decided to go along on the second. "It’s crazy, it shows how little decisions can affect your whole life." Six months on, he now teaches the course, and, together with Satwant Kenth and Gregory Paczkowski, developed the Stop and Search app, which aims to make the search process fair and transparent. There is a comic strip that tells users what their rights are and they can then go on to rate their experience. Their feedback becomes a marker on a Google map so that patterns can be detected.
All three young men have been stopped and searched in the past so when they were told to come up with an idea that they "were passionate about as a group", it seemed an obvious choice. The app has proved so successful that the trio have attended meetings with the National Policing Improvement Agency.
The Stop and Search app has had over 2,000 downloads and, along with the Student Voice app, has just been granted funding from Unltd (a charity that supports social entrepreneurs) to develop them.
With seven young people in the second cohort of students, it is early days for Apps for Good. It is only available in London at the moment, although there are plans to launch courses in Birmingham, Brighton and Nottingham. And Lapinski aims to expand the scheme rapidly. "For young people not in full-time employment, education or training, we work with them to advance into employment, set up their own enterprises or move ahead in education. By the end of the year we will have trained 50 young people and our aim for 2011 is to have 1,000 young people successfully completing Apps for Good."