Creating Community Connections to Help the Vulnerable in a Pandemic and Beyond

1. Project Description
HelpCentral is a technology-driven project that connects communities on an all-in-one platform to share surplus food, books and clothes with the needy. The project aggregates verified charities, campaigns, and non-profits on the website to communicate with donors. This aggregation includes providing surplus items to charities within the donor's location. HelpCentral also enables users to run social campaigns to connect with neighbours who care about sponsored causes, allowing accessible, fast, and reliable recurring donations to chosen charities. The website is the primary virtual space for created communities. Currently HelpCentral’s social media handles or channels create visibility and awareness for the various causes or campaigns sponsored on the website. Creating a mobile application for a more mobile, personable, and flexible operation is inevitable in the mid or long term. This activity relates to the SIC theme of Supporting Marginalized & Vulnerable Communities.

2. Problem Statement and Solution
HelpCentral aims to strengthen the COVID-19 response in Nigeria by using technology to create connections that will bring relief to people worst hit by the social and economic effects of the pandemic. The organisation connects individuals with a surplus with those who need it the most. Through the HelpCentral Platform, people aiming to donate are connected in real-time with those in need. Charities are matched with donors based on geo-location and can share their needs to donors across the country. This activity relates to the SIC theme of Supporting Marginalized & Vulnerable Communities.

HelpCentral aims to address and eliminate the following problems

  • Food wastage – Ensure that excess food is not wasted but can pass over to those who cannot afford meals.
  • Connection – Creating a platform for givers and receivers to identify each other and connect to meet specific needs.
  • Authenticity – HelpCentral ensures the verification of registered receivers and their claims before they are connected to a potential giver to reduce incidences of scammers.

3. Achievements
a. During this period, HelpCentral developed a Marketing Plan for a year-long engagement across the following Social Media Platforms/SMPs:

HelpCentral commenced engagement with content creators, voice-over artists, and a Social Media Manager to help drive consistency across its Platforms. They also created significant anticipation for unique campaigns for roll-out over the December holiday season. This necessary groundwork has placed HelpCentral top-of-mind as the preferred Platform to give and receive donations, particularly around the Christmas holidays.

b. Launch and Marketing of the Platform
The Marketing Plan HelpCentral, developed as part of their second set of deliverables, highlights their key strategy for creating greater awareness of the solution it aims to provide in making meaningful community connections for good.

The Platform aims to target the following audiences:

  • Middle to upper - class families with surplus food and household items accumulated over time.
  • Millennials in the process of relocating to other countries because of immigration.
  • Individuals who are interested in helping the needy but do not know of reputable charities; and
  • Individuals interested in supporting specific causes or raising awareness on disadvantaged people’s needs in society.

Social Media Marketing via Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter comprises of the following:

  1. Creation of a Year-long Content Calendar;
  2. Design of Social Media Banners with targeted messaging regarding the platform.
  3. Creation of short videos on various features of the platform.
  4. Engaging Influencers to promote the Platform for their followers;
  5. Running a Charity Challenge to garner support for specific causes while drawing attention to the platform.
  6. Running Sponsored Ads to boost the visibility of the platform; and
  7. Onboarding a dedicated Social Media Manager to respond to enquiries and engage new followers.

HelpCentral captured the offline market by printing informative flyers regarding the platform for distribution at target locations such as supermarkets, restaurants, malls, and schools (please see sample below). They also ran mini promos to encourage the use of the platform and highlight the ease of doing good.

c. Logistics Development

HelpCentral aimed to solve the challenges experienced by potential donors in reaching beneficiaries by handling the logistics associated with getting a gift from a donor to the beneficiary as part of their third set of deliverables. They wanted to improve its logistics system to position the Platform to reach more beneficiaries and empower more donors to give with ease.

The Platform enables the safe delivery of in-kind donations from donors to beneficiaries in the following way:

  1. HelpCentral picks up the gifted item from the donor’s location and delivers it to the beneficiary (currently the most popular option).     
  2. The donor is matched with a beneficiary of their choosing within their geographical location and may then opt to deliver the items in person.      
  3. The donor indicates a preferred pick-up location from which the beneficiary can collect the donated item.
  4. Items are delivered to any of HelpCentral’s designated drop-off points from where they coordinate delivery to the target beneficiary.     
  5. Individuals signed up as ‘HelpCentral Heroes’ pick up the gifted item and deliver it to beneficiaries within their vicinity.

HelpCentral optimized its logistics system in the following ways:

  1. Branded and secured drop-off boxes in locations with high foot traffic, such as supermarkets and stores.
  2. Procured food storage refrigerators to preserve perishable items before dispatch to beneficiaries.
  3. Developed partnerships with logistics service providers at a subsidized rate to assist with pickup and delivery.
  4. Provided secure designated food boxes to store perishable and non-perishable food items.
  5. Implemented a weekly schedule for donation pickups and drop-offs to beneficiaries.

d. User Feedback and Second Phase of Website Development
HelpCentral developed the map for the drop-off points to make collection of donations more accessible. Moreover, they provided a Logistics Improvement Plan and sample food drop-off boxes which were placed in strategic locations with high foot traffic (e.g., supermarkets). HelpCentral spent time setting up the collection boxes at the drop-off points, pick-ups and delivery with the logistic service outfits, and procuring the food storage boxes.
Further still, they commenced their platform improvement process, with a User Interface Designer engaged in improving the platform design. In the process, they incorporated user feedback on specific pain points in their use of their Platform. The design is complete and will be shared with a Web Application Developer for implementation.

4. Long-term Expected project results

The HelpCentral project seeks to be the go-to app for social good in Nigeria by December 2022.

●    To provide 45,000 daily meals for food-insecure people in orphanages, charity centres, and IDP camps.
●    To aggregate N1.64 trillion worth of surplus food and relief items that might be wasted in Nigerian homes, eateries, factories, and supermarkets.
●    Reach up to 50,000 children with books and essential education materials yearly.
●    To become the trust platform for Nigerians and West Africans to connect for the greater good

HelpCentral aims to distribute its marketing content through its social media pages on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and influencer accounts with a significant following (e.g., Diary of a Naija Girl (DANG) with over 400,000 followers). It also plans to do the same with sponsored advertisements and offline marketing through in-person agents. HelpCentral is currently tracking its social media reach and engagement on the platforms deployed, and the number of new users and platform visitors acquired from the commencement of active marketing.