How this San Francisco-headquartered open-source platform is providing a chatbot to NGOs

San-Francisco-based Glific, an open-source, two-way communication platform, is helping NGOs to connect and communicate with their beneficiaries.

How this San Francisco-headquartered open-source platform is providing a chatbot to NGOs

Friday August 13, 2021,

5 min Read

Recently, many companies, NGOs, and ecommerce platforms are turning to online chatbots to assist customers and users at any time of the day.

In fact, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many NGOs leveraged social media apps, like WhatsApp, to form groups for communication. However, there were limitations to these groups due to the limited participants. 

To address these problems, San Francisco-headquartered Glific — an open-source, two-way communication platform for NGOs — was created in 2019 to smoothly connect and communicate with their beneficiaries. The code for the platform can be downloaded for free.

Glific is developed under the Project Tech4Dev initiative of the Chintu Gudiya Foundation. In India, two Tech4Dev partners working on the platform as core teams — ColoredCow, Maverick Labs along with a group of interns from UC Berkeley.

Donald Lobo

Donald Lobo, Founder of Glific

The platform aims to empower social organisations to act quickly on information through a host of features — from automated responses to comprehensive analytics.

“We've put the needs of the NGOs first while building this product. From the first day, NGOs are involved to shape the product, hence making it highly relevant for the social impact sector,” says Donald Lobo, Founder, Glific.

How it came together

Donald — who is also the founder of Project Tech4Dev — has been working in the open-source sector for the last 15 years, building free and ‘Tech For Good’ driven solutions for social impact. He also previously founded CiviCRM which reached up to 11,000 NGOs, and helped his friends (Jerry Yang and David Filo) to help them start 'Yahoo!' in the early 90s.

“One of the challenges I came across in the last couple of years was the last-mile delivery of programmes and the inefficient use of WhatsApp by many NGOs to accomplish this. This was further aggravated by the advent of COVID-19, where a total cut-off from in-person interactions led to devastating results for the bottom of the pyramid communities,” Donald tells SocialStory.

He partnered with software development company ColoredCow to build a product and a SaaS ecosystem to tackle the issue and thus, started Glific.

Along with the team, Donald wants to solve about 80 percent of the challenges faced by most of the NGOs. Hence, going open-source has been a crucial decision for Glific, he says.


Donald Lobo interacting with a group of NGOs

How it works

“We're using advances in software stack such as using WhatsApp business API, natural language processing, automated conversational experiences, and deploying services as a platform,” says Abhishek Sharma, Product Manager, Glific.

The platform uses the existing communication protocols, such as the widespread network effect of WhatsApp, to build a platform that meets the needs of NGOs. 

NGOs usually have a contact number where people can connect with them. Using this number, Glific creates a chatbot interaction for users who have queries regarding the organisation — donations, volunteering, classes, benefits, etc.

The NGO members note and address these queries, which are also used to automate a chatbot response to guide the users in the future. With the phone number and chatbot in place, NGOs can communicate with their beneficiaries smoothly.


A product snapshot of Glific

“Mobile phones and cheap data are playing to our advantage to revolutionise this communication between NGOs and their communities. Moreover, a lot goes into building such tools, like quick deployment on servers, training women power, building impact measurement tools, and community support. We want to solve a big part of their problem via our solution,” says Abhishek.

At present, Glific is working with 25 different NGOs, including Reap Benefit, WeUnlearn, Dost, and Avanti, among others, providing them with chatbot solutions.

In fact, Reap Benefit leveraged Glific to create a COVID-19 chatbot to reach out to about 50,000 of its beneficiaries and helped find resources like beds, COVID-19 tests, etc.

In terms of the costs, the NGOs can use the open-source platform for free. However, since the platform is hosted on WhatsApp Business API, the cost depends on the Business Service Provider (BSP).

Glific also uses Gupshup as the BSP, which charges about Rs 0.75 per message, and for volumes beyond 750,000, it charges only for Highly-Structured Messages (HSMs).

Besides, for the ColoredCow-built SaaS platform, the NGOs are charged a monthly price of Rs 7,500 for the platform.

Glific has received funding from the Omidyar Network and has applied for more grants to develop the software.

Challenges and the road ahead

At the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, many NGOs were sceptical about getting a tech for the organisation. However, with things going back to normal, more NGOs contacted them for the solution.

“We are exploring technologies to take this even further. We want to prepare the NGOs with the much-needed technologies such as AI/ML so they can answer all those questions and handle it through,” Abhishek says.

Glific also aims to impact the NGOs’ beneficiaries. It wants to partner with large, medium, and small NGOs and help expand its reach to millions of people.

“We want to reach out to about one million beneficiaries by the end of 2021, and that can only happen if we are working with 40 medium-sized NGOs, whose user base is about 10,000 users, and about four mid and large NGOs, who have about one lakh users,” Abhishek shares.

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Edited by Suman Singh