Thanks to the immortalizing power of Google search and the reliable stream of prospective Peace Corps volunteers scouring the web for info and stories from previous and current volunteers, this blog has somehow maintained fairly steady traffic over the years (including the reliable traffic spikes when a new class of Tanzania volunteers arrives and their worried parents flock to the internet in search of ANYTHING having to do with "Tanzania" and "Peace Corps"). I even receive emails every couple of months... usually asking about what I've done with myself since my Peace Corps service.
So, here's what I've been up to these last few years:
After letting my parents fatten me up for a couple months in Maine, I moved out to California to link up with three old Stanford Computer Science classmates who were in the process of putting together a startup (called Apture) and they conveniently needed a 4th team member. I rolled with that gig for 2 years (Apture would later sell to Google), and left in 2010 to refocus my work and life around what drove me to join the Peace Corps in the first place and what drives me to this day: building and using technology to try to solve big social problems and empower people and organizations in regions of the world that are in most need of empowerment.
So in 2010 I co-founded a tech NGO called Envaya. Envaya builds and deploys online and mobile tools that increase effectiveness of international development efforts at the grassroots level. Built for the low-connectivity environments of developing countries, Envaya's software empowers community organizations to easily establish an online presence, connect and coordinate, and directly engage the larger development sector.
Envaya serves over 850 civil society organizations across Tanzania in Rwanda, and is the largest online civil society network in East Africa. Our supporters include big US companies like Google and local African organizations like Tanzania's Commission for Science and Technology.
And recently, I co-founded a new company called Telerivet. Telerivet provides an innovative technology service that enables people and organizations to easily create and deploy their own SMS services almost anywhere in the world.
Over the 2+ years of running Envaya (and even before that as a PCV), I have run into countless entrepreneurs and organizations in all sharing similar SMS-related frustrations. Despite there being numerous SMS sites and services and toolsets out there, none cut it for quickly and easily designing and deploying across developing countries a full end-to-end SMS solution that's reliable, easy-to-maintain, greatly customizable, and affordable. I've seen too many people and organizations just plain give up on what could have been amazingly powerful SMS services and campaigns due to being overwhelmed by technical challenges at and directly above the mobile gateway level. So, Envaya's CTO, Jesse Young, and I co-founded and built Telerivet.
Developing countries are where SMS (and USSD and related technologies like m-banking) has the largest opportunity for impact… since for 1-2 billion people SMS is the main form of digital communication. Yet, options are extremely limited (and often prohibitively expensive or technologically difficult) to create and run SMS custom services. That’s where being able to quickly and easily launch one’s own gateway with just an Android device, and easily set up and run a full-scale service with minimal technical experience is so powerful. Our sincere hope is that we'll start to see all sorts of innovative SMS tools and services spring up all over the world now that the technological barriers have been so drastically lowered by Telerivet.
Users are already doing some really exciting things with it, including a social enterprise using Telerivet in Mali to implement a mobile banking system for farmers... and an NGO that has set up a Telerivet-powered service in Somalia to perform SMS-based surveying of people in Mogadishu. For these kinds of users, the alternative to running their own gateway is spending a lot of money integrating directly with local telecoms (which is neither time or cost effective nor scalable). So we make setting up one's own robust gateway and service as easy and seamless as humanly possible. Some other examples and possibilities: https://telerivet.com/page/examples
and an African blog post providing a positive perspective: http://afrinnovator.com/blog/2012/04/06/disrupting-sms-apps-space-telerivets-distributed-mobile-sms-servive-using-android-phones/
So as you can see, I've kept myself busy since my last blog update. The last couple years have been especially challenging and rewarding. Between Envaya's empowering of hundreds of grassroots civil society organizations in East Africa, and Telerivet (even though it's just getting started) building technology that could dramatically change the mobile services landscape for almost 2 billion people, I am proud to still be walking the path I set out on 6 years ago (pretty much to the day) when I signed my Peace Corps acceptance letter.