Developing apps with mutuality

I came across this article regarding the experience and unexpected challenges of building apps for low income Americans, written by a developer from Significance Labs. Significance Labs makes "middle of the diamond" products for developed world, and I found many points from her experience that are relevant to the work we are doing at the Mutuality Lab. Key takeaways include:

  • The challenges faced by low income communities in the developed world can be very similar to that of the low income communities in developing world -- "Living on a low income translates into other forms of scarcity: of power, information, respect, opportunity, time, health, security, and even of sleep”
  • Building a mutual business model would require very clear motives and steer determination -- "It’s much easier to feel good by giving away meals to starving kids in Sudan, but you are not going to solve any systemic problem in the world by doing that. This is business, and business is messy and you have to make hard decisions."
    • Sometimes even the poor communities may think that “we were a company… trying to take advantage of them”
    • Building a business model for the poor will need a lot of hard work, to win the trust of many stakeholders operating in the hybrid value chain we have set up (in the case of Project Maua / Project Bloom).
  • Intuitive knowledge is very important when trying to develop something for the low income groups
    • In Significance Labs, all six fellows are “zero or first-generation immigrants”, and “their families know what it was like to live a very different life”.
    • “Maybe the best long-term solution is to train a new generation of developers and designers from a low-income background to build their own solutions”

--Jia Yan Toh

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