On Saturday March 26th Breakthough successfully launched its mobile reporting platform Chatpati Chat in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. Chatpati Chat enables Breakthrough’s Rights Advocates (RAs), local volunteer activists, to use a closed mobile phone network to share stories, rapidly spread news and strengthen their community mobilization efforts.
To understand Chatpati Chat, it is useful to think of it like a unique Facebook platform engineered specifically for the Rights Advocate community in Lucknow. Only unlike Facebook, it is exclusively accessible via mobile phone—a critical feature for a community with high mobile use and limited internet access. Rights Advocates can call and connect to Chatpati Chat from virtually anywhere—in rural areas, at home, in the field—at anytime from even the most basic mobile phones. Through Chatpati Chat, Rights Advocates can further their work by sharing information and ideas. Furthermore, Chatpati Chat is a social platform. Rights Advocates can exchange meeting times, anecdotes and other fun features. We hope this will help strengthen the already vibrant RA community in Lucknow.
There are over 500 RAs in Lucknow. Prior to launching this tool, no communication mechanism existed which allowed the RAs to effectively communicate with their entire network. One RA could call another RA. Or one RA could send an email to many RAs, but internet access is often limited. In many cases RAs travel to the main Breakthrough office in Lucknow to gain information about critical events, meetings and information.
There are obvious drawbacks to these communication methods. Email use among the RAs is limited. Travel time is extensive. One person calling another is only one line of communication. In sum–the RA community cannot effectively mobilize to its fullest potential if it cannot effectively communicate internally. This problem is particularly severe because of the opportunity cost: there are over 500 RAs in Lucknow who want to connect and do great work. Here at Breakthrough we asked the question: how can we help empower them to do so?
My involvement with addressing this question began immediately when I arrived at Breakthrough in September 2010. We were confronted with the communications problem outlined above. Breakthrough wanted to create a mobile platform but we were not sure how to best do so. I worked with the Breakthrough team and former AIF fellow Charlotte Lapsansky to develop the system’s architecture.
We confronted many frustrating setbacks. This is a highly experiment pilot program. At the time of writing this, few platforms like this exist. We worked with multiple developers to try various solutions. Many attempts failed. We confronted funding issues. Our delivery timeline was extended far beyond that which we had initially outlined.
But—it is now the end of March and we were able to successfully launch what I believe is an innovative, functional and worthy new media tool, which addresses the community’s needs in an effective way.
To use Chatpati Chat, Rights Advocates call the Chatpati Chat toll free number. They are provided multiple options. They can listen to other RAs’ messages, record their own stories, access Breakthrough professionally produced messages, contests and download ringtones. It is an engaging platform with a real-world social/work element. No costs are incurred by the user.
We will begin with a test group of 500 RAs. If the program is successful, we hope to replicate the model in other communities in India. And further—looking forward—we are looking to expand the system to accommodate picture and video messaging.