Four govtech startups that caught our eye

By Chia Jie Lin

From Finland to South Africa, govtech startups are providing care for the elderly and boosting citizen engagement.

Big things have small beginnings. This is certainly true for the world’s startups, where small groups of driven and creative people develop great solutions for society’s problems.

Governments across the world are now emulating startup culture in their workplaces, adopting their methods, and boosting startup ecosystems. Beyond these, the world’s govtech startups are creating new solutions to boost public service delivery, from citizen engagement to eldercare.

Governments can learn a lot from startups on how to create better services. Here, we share four govtech startups that have caught our eye.

1. Huoleti, Finland

Finnish startup Huoleti has launched a mobile app that crowdsources care and support for patients diagnosed with severe illnesses. Patients can now ask their network of family and friends for help with daily tasks via the app.

“You don’t have to ask anyone separately; the request goes to everyone in your network,” Carita Savin, chief executive of Huoleti, told Finnish media. “It lowers the barrier for asking help and no one has to say they can’t help. Instead, those who can reply to the request do.”

Texting friends and family individually for help can be taxing for patients, and the app’s creators have made this process painless for them. Now, patients can simply tick off on a checklist of tasks that they need help with, like cooking a meal or driving to the hospital. Following this, the app notifies the caretakers.

The app allows people to connect with and meet fellow patients in their vicinity, which alleviates their loneliness and allows them to cope with their own illnesses. “People are going back to communities, but increasingly they will be enabled by digital tools like ours,” Savin told Finnish media. In August 2018, Huoleti was named one of the leading startups that are transforming Europe’s govtech sector by Public, a UK-based GovTech Investment and Research firm.

2. Horizon State, New Zealand

New Zealand-based startup Horizon State is using blockchain to give people a say on public policies, shares Nimo Naamani, Chief Technology Officer of Horizon State. The startup is building blockchain-based community engagement platforms - usually as mobile apps - where citizens can deliberate and vote on public policies.

The mobile app allows all citizens to have equal say in government policies, regardless of their political affiliations or region. Citizens in countries with electoral violence can now vote remotely without fear of getting attacked by opposition voters in real life. “Government and citizens can co-create the policies and everything that happens in their life together in a safe environment,” Naamani remarks.

Rural citizens can vote from their smartphones, instead of having to travel far to reach voting booths - giving them an equal say to their urban counterparts. This decentralisation of policy-making is “baked into the system” of Horizon State’s apps, says Naamani. Its blockchain-based platforms are a “perfect match” for cultivating trust through transparency, he believes.

Earlier this year, Horizon State was selected as a Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum, which recognises companies that are pioneering new technologies that will profoundly change the world for the better.

3. GovChat, South Africa

A South African startup has built a citizen engagement app, GovChat, to help the government engage with citizens better, shared Ayanda Dlodlo, Minister of Public Service and Administration at the Innovation Labs World summit last month.

Built “right on the backbone of Whatsapp”, the free-to-use GovChat app allows citizens to give feedback and rate their local public services, ranging from utilities to hospitals - all simply by texting local authorities. “When there are blackouts, people will be able to report information on when that will be coming back on,” she said.

Prior to GovChat, poor communication with citizens had widened their lack of trust in government, Dlodlo told GovInsider. “We’re not good at feedback and reporting to citizens in a manner [so] that they understand that our government is actually working for us,” she said. But now, citizens can talk to over 10,000 government officials supporting over 30,000 public facilities and services nationally, reported The South African.

GovChat hosts online forums that allow people to discuss policies with government officials, allowing governments to build rapport and trust with their citizens. Since its inception in November 2017, seven million people have downloaded GovChat.

4. Cera, United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, social care startup Cera has developed an Uber-style platform that matches patients with professional carers. The startup has launched an AI chatbot assistant that answers questions from patients and carers during visits.

The chatbot is available both online and by text, so elderly users without smartphones can still use the service. "AI can be even more impactful with the elderly than with the young and healthy,” Ben Maruthappu, founder of Cera, told Wired.

Patients can order on-demand visits from doctors, medical prescriptions, and even auxiliary services like food delivery and calling a taxi. The platform also has a function to help caretakers with their work, giving them advice on how to care for a patient based on past interactions with said patient. Meanwhile, a live dashboard shows real-time updates in care delivery for an individual to clients, families and health professionals.

The platform is a timely solution for the United Kingdom’s social care crisis, where carers are leaving the industry due to low wages and poor working conditions, while hospitals are taking in less patients.

It will always be a challenge to reach out to millions and millions of citizens and understand their needs. But the biggest and most meaningful impact can come from little groups of determined and driven individuals, using tech to create the change that they want to see in the world.