Stokvels, forum meetings and protests are events that bring many in South Africans together and now, these can be arranged easier with a new mobile tool.
Grassroot is a USSD and web and smartphone app which communities can use to interact and exchange information on events ranging from small social group gatherings to massive community demonstrations, either by calling meetings, taking votes, or creating action lists.
Created by former World Bank specialist Luke Jordan, together with communities in and around Johannesburg, eThekwini and Polokwane, Grassroot works across all phones, is free to use as it doesn’t require data and is available in English, isiZulu, SeSotho, SePedi and SeTsonga.
“All these groups want to be able to inform their members about meetings and create a greater sense of belonging,” Jordan said.
“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,” he added.
To date over 1 000 meetings have been called, 250 votes cast and almost 150 actions completed. Messaging activity on the platform has grown twenty-fold since the start of year.
In January this year, 600 messages were sent and by the end of August, this figure had grown to 30 000.
According to Grassroot, meetings and actions have ranged from small neighbourhood safety forums meeting to discuss patrol routes, community protests, to social movements of almost a thousand people meeting and voting on what to do in response to housing allocation issues.
How it works
Communities can get started on Grassroot by creating a group and sending an invitation code, which members can use to sign up to receive regular updates from.
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 ‘record action’ tool notes actions to be taken pre- post and during meetings that are marked off when completed.
The Grassroot team is also working on two new functions: one which 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.
The other is an emergency button, which members can use to send an alert via USSD to a designated group of responders.
“In the next six months we want to reach more and more people,” Jordan said. “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 mobilise the South African community.”
To get Grassroot on your phone, simply dial *134*1994#, or visit app.grassroot.org.za.
Android users can download the smartphone app on Google Play.