HSE First-Year Students Develop a Telegram Bot to Help the Homeless
This summer, university students from all over Russia took part in the Digital Transformation of the Charity Sector Summer School in Moscow. Students from HSE University and other universities presented digital solutions to make non-profit organizations more efficient and even save lives.
The national Digital Transformation of the Charity Sector Summer School is a joint initiative of the School of Software Engineering of the Faculty of Computer Science at HSE University, IBM Russia/CIS, and the Donors Forum. It was conceived as an educational and hands-on intensive programme for the study and implementation of digital technology in non-profit organizations and social institutions.
Why NPOs Need Digital Technology
Nonprofit organizations know and solve the problems of real people. But behind this mission is almost always the time-consuming work of collecting and storing data by hand, not to mention the necessary liaising between different departments and stakeholders. Digitalizing a step of an NPO’s work flow (by creating a web service, app, or chat bot) improves its efficiency, significantly expedites decision making, and reveals the potential for scaling up successful processes. And since these processes often concern the lives and health of a community’s most vulnerable people, the ideas of ‘effectiveness’ and ‘scale’ take on special significance.
Leading NPOs are already beginning to implement innovative approaches and new solutions, but another problem arises. ‘We understand that the stratification of nonprofit organizations in terms of their knowledge and digital capabilities will only increase in the coming years,’ says Alexandra Boldyreva, Executive Director of the Donors Forum. ‘And this summer school is a crucial partnership for us with Russia’s largest IT company and a leading university—it is our attempt to equip NPOs with specific resources and digital developments that they can incorporate into their daily work and see what advantages using new technology brings an organization.’
About the Summer School
The school, which was held from July 1 to July 12, brought together 10 nonprofit organizations from Moscow, Cherepovets, St. Petersburg and Rostov-on-Don, which were selected at a design ideas competition. They presented their problems (tasks) to 30 students of leading Russian universities from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Perm, and Ufa. At the end of the first day of school, students broke up into teams, listened to presentations by NPOs, chose projects, and began working on them.
The school included workshops for immersion in subject areas and design thinking, which allowed customers and students to find a common language. But most of the school was devoted to working with distributed ledger platforms, machine learning, artificial intelligence and chat bots, and developing direct digital solutions.
For us as a university, the main idea of this school was to form student teams who are capable of working together on a tech project and can quickly learn and achieve results. Creating startups for the third sector is a win-win for our students: they help those in need and also make some money.
10 Projects Developed at the School:
Wonder Technologies: Automation of Charity Tree campaigns
Team Spirit (‘Chuvstvo loktia’): an event aggregator for NPOs in St. Petersburg and the surrounding Leningrad Region
Web tracking for the Need Help Foundation
Information system for SamuSocialdeMoskva, which helps the homeless and other marginalized groups
Evolution and Philanthropy: a service that can predict the social effect of a project based on its description and an analysis of the results of existing NPO projects
AppealBot: a chat bot for the NPO Sunflower, which helps people diagnosed with immunodeficiency or other orphan diseases
Automated compilation of the NPO openness rating for the Donors Forum
Family_Ledger: a blockchain platform for the NPO Homeward Bound, which helps parentless children
Search for the deaf and blind via machine learning: a predictive model for the Union Foundation
The City and US: a website for animal rights activists
How the Winning Projects Were Selected
The top three winners were determined by an expert jury, which included Olga Zakharova, Deputy General Director of the Agency for Strategic Initiatives; Natalya Poppel, Head of Corporate Citizenship and the Severstal PJSC brand; Vlad Lavrichenko, Event Manager for Social Technology Greenhouses; Igor Sobolev, Advisor to the Presidential Grants Foundation; Oleg Byakhov, Director of Government Programmes at IBM; and Irina Efremova-Hart, Head of Corporate Citizenship at IBM.
The jury evaluated projects in terms of their depth of elaboration, teams’ understanding of the potential for the introduction of their technology into practice, teams’ organizational potential, and prospects for the introduction of the new technology, teams’ organizational potential, and MVP (that is, the viability of the finished solution).
In the end, the jury awarded third place to AppealBot, a project for NPO Sunflower, which was designed by HSE students Nikolai Zhamgaryan (Bachelor’s programme in Software Engineering), Roman Piskunov (HSE Campus of Perm), and Artem Evsikov, who will be entering HSE University this fall. Their chat bot automates the collection of contact information and data of patients who need life-saving drugs. (NPO staff otherwise spend 25 hours a week on processing these applications.)
Dmitry Gordeichuk and Alexander Mitropolsky of HSE’ s School of Software Engineering placed second with their website, which allows anyone to prepare and submit a legal statement reporting animal abuse to the appropriate state agency as well as inform animal rights activists about the incident.
And the Winner Is…
First place went to team members Dmitry Kara (Bachelor’s Programme ‘Software Engineering’, HSE University), Nikita Smirnov (Bachelor’s Programme ‘Software Engineering’, HSE University), Batyi Mangyr (Finance University), and Arseny Chekanov (alumnus of School No. 179) for their work with the charity foundation SamuSocialdeMoskva, which helps the homeless and other socially marginalized individuals.
The organization has teams that travel around Moscow in order to locate homeless people and provide them with medical and psychological assistance. However, the organization’s current accounting system is very inconvenient for employees: they record all information by hand on paper and then transfer it manually to a database. The student team therefore came up with a way to digitalize this process.
‘We are very pleased, because now we will have the opportunity to improve the database containing the data of our beneficiaries, collect more useful information, and develop our services and programs further,’ representatives of SamuSialialdeMoskva said at the end of the summer school.
Dmitry Kara, a first-year undergraduate student in the Software Engineering programme, spoke with HSE News Service about the project:
‘This is not my first experience working with non-profit organizations. Before this, I participated in a hackathon for similar causes. Then we were offered the opportunity to participate in this summer school as a way of gaining hands-on experience. The project we worked on was assigned to us randomly, by a drawing, and our team just happened to get the project that we were most interested in—a project to help with monitoring the homeless.
At the beginning of the school, we had several face-to-face meetings with representatives of SamuSocialdeMoskva, and after that we maintained constant contact with them remotely. We were very lucky to have them as a customer: they clearly understood what they wanted. We were almost immediately able to identify all the requirements and necessary conditions for the project—how it was going to work and what it would look like.
We’ve created a service that facilitates NPO staff work. It’s a Telegram-bot that helps you locate homeless individuals already entered in the organization's database, as well as add new ones by filling out a questionnaire. Employees have access to information about recent team trips and diagnoses. This is important because each field team has a doctor, and knowing about an individual’s health problems in advance allows the doctor to help him or her more effectively right then and there. By the way, the personal data (which will include prescriptions as well) in entered into a blockchain system, which ensures its safety and transparency.
Our system is tested and fully ready for use. It also helps NPO administrators - they can analyze information from a certain period, identify trends, and better organize the work of the teams.
Icons: flaticon.com/ Cole Bemis
Photo: The Donors Forum, HSE University, American Center Moscow
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