If Disaster Strikes, This Knowledge-Sharing App is Here to Help with Meena Palaniappan (Episode #161)
Here’s something that rarely happens on the internet: a celebration of how technology can be used to amplify social connection, instead of amplifying social division. Yes, THIS interview is a celebration of a leap in human potential. Meena Palaniappan is the founder of a technology/communication platform—Atma Connect—that has reached 12 million people and is well-designed so that it is likely to change the lives of hundreds of millions of people in the near future.
About Our Guest:
Meena Palaniappan is a visionary creator/founder who is using her laser-like focus, engineering background, and tech savvy to expand one of the worlds most timeless and important resources: neighborliness.
She is the founder of Atma Connect, a technology platform that is specifically designed to be used by disadvantaged communities in the world when preparing for, surviving, and then rebuilding after disasters.
Atma Connect and its app—AtmaGo—are examples of what it looks like when technology is used to allow “neighborliness” to flourish at an enormous scale.
It is an organization that helps people connect and support each other in their communities when they need it the most. They use technology like inexpensive mobile phones to bring individuals together, allowing them to share experiences, knowledge, and resources.
And the best part of this story is this: Step-by-step, since 2014, Meena has guided Atma Connect in a way that puts users—everyday people who want to create a better future with their neighbors—in the driver’s seat when it comes to how the technology has expanded. From the beginning, the goal was to simply help neighbors connect around finding sources for clean water. And then, issue after issue, Atma Connect created ever growing systems to share knowledge and resources in an entirely new way.
Basically, Atma Connect creates a platform or a way for people to communicate and help each other out. For example, if someone needs advice or information on a particular topic, they can ask others in the community through Atma Connect. It’s a big network where people can share ideas, ask questions, and get help from others who might have been in similar situations.
Atma started in Indonesia, Puerto Rico, and Ukraine, and will soon begin environmental justice work in the United States. Overall, the organization aims to strengthen communities by enabling people to connect, learn from each other, and provide support when needed.
It’s a timely and inspiring vision, given the combination of 3 profoundly important factors:
- Natural disasters of all kinds seem to be happening with greater magnitude and frequency,
- The homes and communities of poor people are almost always located in places that are directly in harm’s way when natural disasters strike,
- Support for advanced communications technologies are often the weakest for these communities.
Atma Connect is built to weave together technology and human ingenuity to create a framework for user generated solutions out of those 3 problems. And that is probably the most important aspect of this leap in life-saving (and life improving) technology. Since the beginning, users have determined what happened next.
In fact, this company has closed the knowledge and resource sharing gap in communities all over the world so well that Reuters has called it “Facebook for disasters.” And they’ve gone one key step further: They are meticulously tracking and verifying impact so that factual data can be used by a global community to expand resiliency with every lesson learned.
With Atma Connect’s foundational principles, after the NGO’s and Disaster Relief services have left, every disaster becomes a major learning opportunity for the next. And the communities use this platform to rebuild stronger and better than before.
Here are a few examples:
With the way Atma Connect works, for instance, people in communities that have lost their mangrove buffer zones can see that this was a key factor in the level of destruction. So in the rebuilding phase, they can and will make replanting of the mangrove a top priority. This becomes a leap in the way of preparedness and mitigation for the next time.
In another example, during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in Indonesia, the AtmaGo users shared community-wide information about vaccine access, where to go for treatment, and how to avoid misinformation. And Atma collaborated with psychological associations to provide citizens online psychological counseling.
And here’s the proof that we can reimagine the role of the internet in our lives. It doesn’t have to be an overwhelming source of negativity, despair, and division. We can decide what to give our attention to!
Here’s just a sliver of the impact data they share on their amazing website:
- 85% say they changed their behavior based on information from AtmaGo.
- 91% say AtmaGo motivates them to take part in mutual support activities.
- 79% say AtmaGo is helpful to build community.
- 100% say Atma’s digital literacy training improved their online capabilities.
Want a spring in your step? Here’s what change really looks like when it comes to the economic impact of a leap in technology like this:
- Over 2.5 million users and growing are regularly active on the AtmaGo network.
- Their website has received over 23 million views of discussions on jobs, professional capacity building, SMEs, business opportunity, and economic development.
When it comes to climate change mitigation and response, the Atma website has had more than 2.4 million views of its information related to climate change and resilience, shared by residents.
When it comes to empowering women and youth:
- 56.8% of AtmaGo users are female.
- 43.4% of AtmaGo users are youth between the age of 18-24.
- They’ve had more than 2.5 million website views of discussions on women rights, youth empowerment and gender equality issues.
- 1,182+ people have been trained on the topic of women and children protection, women empowerment, empowering young writers, and women in agriculture.
All I can say is “Thank You” to Meena for her courage to start, perseverance through the roadblocks, and belief in human potential for good.
Meena’s work has garnered recognition and accolades in the field of social entrepreneurship, and her dedication to utilizing technology as a tool for positive social change sets a benchmark for innovation and compassion.
Mr. Rogers said, “Look for the helpers,” and Meena is one of those thoughtful, measured voices we need to help rise to the top.
You’re going to love this interview for the hope, confidence and sense of immense possibility that it gives you! And if you are dreaming of (or progressing through) your own work to make the world a better place, she will give you no end to inspiration.
- Book – A Paradise Built in Hell by Rebecca Solnit
- What is Humans for Abundance? — Helping the Rainforest at the Click of a Button with Chochi Iturralde (Episode #81)
- Sal Khan TED Talk about technology
- 00:00 – Intro & Welcome
- 03:02 – Importance of Networks
- 05:28 – Neighborliness at Scale
- 08:17 – Impact of Warnings
- 09:18 – Social Media Dynamics
- 10:10 – Nested Architecture
- 15:14 – Origins of AtmaGo
- 19:51 – Disaster & Unity
- 21:46 – Life Serving Systems
- 25:49 – Focus of AtmaGo
- 31:38 – Tech for Good
- 36:21 – Universal Contribution
- 39:50 – Creative Energy
- 41:12 – Support Atma Connect
- 42:33 – Final Thoughts