Empowering Apps

Siyaleader CEO, Richard Hall

Empowering communities with tools at a grassroots level is one the key stepping stones towards the improvement of the lives of South African citizens.

To help government and local government in this process, mobile technology is now coming to the fore and allowing people to communicate with municipality structures in new, innovative way.

An example of one such endeavour is Siyaleader with its innovative new communications platform, STAR, which allows ordinary citizens to “See. Tell. Action. Resolve” with the touch of a button. Service magazine was afforded an exclusive with Siyaleader founder and CEO, Richard Hall, who spoke about this innovative new service and its relevance to current issues in and around communities.

Utilizing his skills gained as an entrepreneur working in both rural and urban South Africa, Hall was able to assist the LOTS Project (a NGO run by Kirsty Glass which offers training to government field workers) to develop a cost effective communications solution to enable them to monitor, communicate and evaluate their effectiveness in the field. Its was from of the successful deployment of Siyaleader, that Ubulwembu software development company was formed.

“Siyaleader was born out of a need to address a number of imbalances in South Africa today. Our belief is that through better communications we can enable and empower people to bring about solutions, change and much needed action. In its simplest form, it creates a flow of information between field workers – the people on the ground – and the structures and departments whose task it is to implement this change. It creates an opportunity for field workers to share information from the community directly into the structures that can act on that information.

“It also facilitates communication directly back to this field worker especially in terms of resolution. It creates a loop that helps identify a problem, creates accountability around that issue and then ensures closure through feedback.

We have built Siyaleader as an integrated mobile communications service delivery software system that has been customised and is unique to government. This software can be utilised on basic, feature as well as smart phones,” he says.

According to Hall, it is common knowledge that South Africa has been an is still experiencing severe backlogs in terms of service delivery, which has in turn lead to a massive increase in service delivery protests. Recognising this and in a concerted effort to help resolve these problems, Ubulwembu has created STAR (See, Tell, Action, Resolve), a practical and ‘closed loop’ solution to automate and expedite problem reporting, interventions and resolutions for service delivery difficulties.

“It is a service delivery application available to the public that offers a solution to assist with the identifying, intervening and resolving these issues through mobile communication. “S.T.A.R” gives ordinary South African citizens the power to identify and report an issue “See. Tell”, removing the process of having to contact a call-centre, travel to municipal offices and waiting in queues. Through modem technology using the GPS on smart phones we will geo-tag where the service delivery issue is being reported. The user reporting the issue will be able to provide a photo of the issue as well. For example a pothole, burst water main, blocked storm- water drain are some of the issues that can be reported with the application on their mobile phone.

“This is then escalated to the relevant municipality as well as department. Empowering municipalities to intervene. The “Action, Resolve”. The application will allow access to keep track of service delivery in each municipality and hold officials accountable, assisting in good governance. “S.T.A.R” will allow municipalities to follow-up on contractors and hold them accountable to their tenders. It has the ability to create hundreds of permanent jobs through EPWP program per municipality. Filling the mandate of the government to create jobs, assure accountability as well as speed up service delivery. “S.T.A.R, putting service delivery in your hands””, he says.

Hall points out that communication is vital in our country at the moment, especially with regards to monitoring and resolving issues more efficiently and to track the issues and report them back to the field, “a much needed loop”. He further highlights that government is desperate for a communications system that is effective. “If communication is executed better, we can attend to issues, see problem areas and monitor or track the growth from where we were, are and to where we are headed,” he says.

Some our country’s major imbalances at the moment include poverty, education, healthcare, crime and housing he mentions. Hall says that since people have access through mobile phones which are prevalent today, it expedites communication between communities and government at a grassroots level.

“People have access through mobile phones as they are prevalent today and it expedites communication between grassroots level and government. It is on record instantly, it aids monitoring and capturing of data as paper gets lost. Two way reporting as well, opening up communication. Again, it’s instant. It puts the power in their hands to be able to communicate , on our front this being apps, mxit, sms, USSD which are available on even the most basic phones. Instant communication is a very powerful tool,” he says.

Elaborating further on the concept of grassroots empowerment, Hall says that the Siyaleader has applied the principle when training fieldworkers who are at the head of a number of households in the community to communicate from the ground on issues needing to be resolved. Grassroots solutions gives people a louder voice according to Hall, who refers to mobile communication as the way forward in this regard.

Municipalities are now starting to pay attention as the trend spreads. “Local Government has paid large interest. We were recently at the GovTech Expo in Durban where delegates from around the country attended and flocked to our stand to enquire about STAR and escalate this app to their provincial meetings. By day three there was a STAR buzz in the air. We have ensured all areas are to be covered regarding the needs of civilians. It is effective regarding reporting of service delivery issues. We are in dire need of it,” he says.

Touching on the advantages of app-based solutions, Hall says that it is instant and that the process cuts out in-between work that arises when issues are reported. “A hit of a button and it is on the database and attending to it is immediate. You can follow up on reports and not have to wait in a line or on the phone until there is a response,” he says.

Hall concludes with some advice for municipalities. “We have to work together in this country, from the ground up. If there is a system to assist those in the municipal sector to make everyone’s life a bit easier, we can avoid bumping heads on the same issues.”

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