Published on December 4th, 2017 | by Emergent Enterprise0
South African Messaging Wonder MomConnect Launches on WhatsApp
Photo Source: Praekelt Foundation
E-E says: Sometimes limitations or restrictions on a goal can motivate incredibly innovative creativity. When an SMS message can save a life you know you are getting somewhere. The reach of MomConnect in South Africa shows how a simple platform can change lives and provide valuable information. The app also reflects the ubiquity of mobile devices in the world today as mobile allows MomConnect to reach “unreachable” locations. The execution of an idea does not always need the latest mind-blowing technology. It simply needs to meet the user’s core needs. Sometimes, simple is better.
Maternal health messaging service MomConnect, which has provided health-related information for 1.8-million South African mothers via SMS, is launching on WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging app that has over 1-billion users.
It presents a massive opportunity to expand the reach and offering of MomConnect, produced by the Johannesburg-based Praekelt Foundation, which has provided health information and services to over 100-million people in 30 countries throughout Africa since it was formed in 2006.
WhatsApp is South Africa’s most popular free app on the Android Play Store, with an estimated 16-million users, according to researchers World Wide Worx. It was described as “WhatsApp is to South Africa as Snapchat is to Ireland as WeChat is to China” by AdWeek.
“Being one of the early pilot users of WhatsApp Enterprise is a tremendous opportunity to scale our social impact work,” Gustav Praekelt, the founder of Praekelt, told me, “since it allows us to radically improve services like MomConnect by increasing engagement; improving the experience by making use of WhatsApp’s unique features; and lowering the cost of serving moms and their families”.
Providing health and maternity information is very expensive using the more popular means of email and SMS, he says. “In many countries, these means are often too expensive or simply inaccessible for many women. WhatsApp provides a cost-effective and engaging way for mothers to access this information in their language of choice. There has been an overwhelming response from moms since initiating the pilot.”
Using WhatsApp is an amplification of the existing MomConnect service because WhatsApp is so much more interactive, while its messages are easily stored and can be referenced back. “WhatsApp allows for a much richer and real-time interaction with our moms – including sending longer messages with informative images and delivering audio snippets which can be replayed many times. MomConnect already sends weekly messages via SMS, but the WhatsApp channel allows us to radically improve the quality of the content that is being delivered.”
“Besides the rich content such as including images, audio and group messages, one of the biggest differences is that WhatsApp messages are delivered over a data connection and are encrypted, making the delivery of personal messages much more secure and affordable.”
Additionally, WhatsApp is more chat-orientated meaning its recipients can ask follow-up questions. “WhatsApp is much more conversational than SMS and seems to be more engaging for our users. We’ve experienced a dramatic increase in moms communicating with the MomConnect helpdesk after introducing the service.”
Already the 1% of MomConnect subscribers using WhatsApp are now generating more than 50% of the help desk queries, he adds. Mothers can opt-in for more messages about their baby.
The first service in South Africa by the Praekelt Foundation, which is the non-profit arm of Praekelt Consulting, used SMSes to remind HIV patients to take their medication in 2007.
“The Department of Health and Minister Aaron Motsoaledi were visionary to launch the first universally available maternal health platform in Africa, and it’s been a great privilege to help them scale MomConnect to over 1.8-million moms and 4500 clinics,” Praekelt said. “We think MomConnect proves that South Africa can build innovative, cost-effective, solutions that can become the model for successful public services across Africa. WhatsApp provides the opportunity to rapidly scale up and iterate a completely new model of social impact in emerging markets.”
Praekelt’s company was mentioned by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg when an initiative to help developers build Facebook’s Free Basics apps was announced in late 2015. “We’ve also partnered with the Praekelt Foundation to give developers the tools they need to build free basic services to reach people just coming online,” Zuckerberg said at the time.
Praekelt told me: “MomConnect is a great example of innovating from necessity – by leveraging the high penetration of mobile phones in South Africa MomConnect is managing to deliver a highly personalized health information service to every single mother in South Africa. Although messaging via SMS and WhatsApp might seem limited at first, their extreme simplicity, robustness and universal availability allow us to deliver high-impact, low-cost intervention to every person in Africa.”
MomConnect has already proved that.