Edwin Inganji is a passionate 22-year-old programmer who loves developing Android applications. He graduated from Strathmore University in 2016. It is this passion and his entrepreneurial spirit that drive him to create IT solutions to problems that face Africans, such as the Usalama application, which he developed with three of his friends, Marvin Makau, Kenneth Gachukia and James Chege.
Tell us exactly what Usalama does. How do you ensure that the people who are supposed to respond do so?
The goal of the app is to link users to emergency services as quickly and as conveniently as possible. The app will quickly send your distress call to the nearest emergency providers, agents e.g. the nearest ambulance), Usalama users within a 200-metre radius, family and friends. To achieve this, the user can either long-press volume down or shake the phone to open the app and tap on the icon describing their emergency on the home screen of the app.
There are other utility features that help keep Usalama users safe. One such feature is the security news platform. This is an open platform where users can share security news with other users. This feature is unique as it only sends the news to users within a locality. This ensures you get relevant and timely updates on news. Other utility features are the Usalama timer, to inform your family if you don’t come home based on time you set, and walk-with-me, to allow you to virtually walk with your friends and alerts them when users enter notorious hotspots or road black spots.
What made you decide to create this app? Have you guys ever been robbed?
Usalama was a project I developed with my friends while we were in our second year of university. We wanted to participate in the annual Safaricom Appwiz challenge so we started brainstorming for ideas. We wanted to come up with an innovation that has a great impact in the society by solving key issues. To do this, we began by drawing from life experiences; what challenges had we been facing that were not only affecting us, but our friends, our families and fellow students living in crowded urban centres.
At this point we started sharing our stories. My own personal story was a mugging that happened when I was in my first year and my laptop violently stolen.
That was my story and my personal motivation to start the Usalama app with my friends. I always kept thinking, what if they had shot me and there was no one to help me. I would have needed emergency response urgently and would probably have not gotten it as quickly before I bled out. This was not the only story. A few days later after the incident, a colleague of mine was shot three times while he was running away from the muggers. He was lucky enough to get help and was rushed to hospital. He survived but he could have died.
We felt this was a concern, as crime rates in Nairobi and other third world cities are very high. . It’s not just mugging alone - there is rape, kidnapping, armed robbery, carjacking, domestic violence (mostly against women and children) and burglary. In all these circumstances, it’s the victim that is left with both physical and psychological scars. Our premise was that if the help could come a little faster, we could either reduce the damage or prevent the situation from happening at all. Our goal is to be the 'Uber' of emergency services ranging from medical emergencies, crime, road rescue services and gender violence. We would like to use technology to link all our users to emergency services conveniently and efficiently wherever they are.
How hard is it to get an application like this popular in the Kenyan market? How many people have downloaded it?
Making an app popular is not easy but it’s achievable. You do require a marketing strategy by first focusing on early adopters. These are the guys who feel they are the most affected by the problem you are trying to address and therefore need your app the most.
Right now, it’s these groups of people that we are targeting and getting a lot of feedback from which is helping us improve the app.
There are 5,000 users right now of the app and an emergency provider, the Nairobi Women’s HospitalGenderViolence Recovery Centre. We are still in negotiations with other providers such as private security firms, ambulance providers and road rescue companies who will hopefully soon join the app thus having a positive increase in terms of our users.
What are some of the challenges you encountered in trying to make this feasible in the Kenyan market? What about the other people who don't own smartphones?
People generally prefer the status quo. Our biggest challenge has been getting emergency providers (especially the government) to be part of the platform. The private sector has not really been challenging as they clearly see the app will offer unique services to their clients and hence are more willing to talk to us. However, our eventual goal is to have the government emergency services attached to our platform so that the app can be more efficient and useful to the wider public.
This app is made more feasible as more emergency providers are attached to it hence providing efficient emergency services to our users. The app only works on smartphones because it’s heavily reliant on GPS and Google Maps - easily accessible in smartphones, unlike feature phones. We had built a USSD version for non-smartphones but unfortunately, we could not overcome the GPS hurdle. We are hopeful, though, due to the statistics from the CAK (Communications Authority of Kenya) that show continuing growth in smartphone ownership among Kenyans.
What's the next app you guys are creating?
For now, we are simply focused on growing Usalama and making it work for Kenyans.