Case Study

Helping Typhoon Survivors Using the Story of Two Characters Transmitted Via SMS

  • Provided By: NetHope
  • July 14, 2015

engageSPARK is a non-profit platform developed to empower NGOs to maximize impact. The platform and web application allows organizations to create and launch SMS and voice call campaigns particularly around social and behavior change. Organizations can create SMS blasts, send out alerts, develop complex polls, create educational curriculums, send out reminders and SMS auto replies. One of the features of engageSpark is that no technical skills are needed – simply follow the three-step wizard and you can access a bevy of features. Users will also have access to robust reports and analytics on audience responses that can inform next steps.


An interview with Ravi Agarwal

What Has engageSpark Been Doing Lately?

engageSpark’s biggest project currently is in partnership with MercyCorps, a NetHope member organization. In 2014, MercyCorps in the Philippines floated the idea of creating a SMS blast campaign to support their unconditional cash transfer programs for survivors of the recent typhoon. engageSpark suggested a more interactive program, perhaps utilizing quizzes and voice calls to support learning. By August, an innovative program was announced: a 6-7 week program that highlighted soap opera stories to communicate how to save money and make the most out of the income received by the survivors. The soap opera featured a couple, Ben and Joy. The stories centered on their discussions about finances and budgeting and were communicated via various means. One group received a phone call that each individual would answer, hear a dialogue between Ben and Joy, and then answer quiz questions. A second group received similar information but via SMS. Ultimately, engageSpark also outputted a report of each individual’s phone number, name, and their response times and details. This helped inform later phases of the project and allowed MercyCorps to understand the best mechanism through which to reach and expand their audience.

What are the Objectives of the Project?

The objectives of this project are to:

  • Inform survivors of the typhoon of the importance and value of budgeting
  • Persuade survivors of the typhoon to budget and pay attention to their financial health
  • Opt in individuals to the conditional cash transfer program

Do You Have Any Results to Share?

The detailed report revealed that those who received SMS had a lower response rate than those who received voice calls for the soap operas. The report also suggested that retargeting would be helpful. For example, for those who answered quiz questions, retargeting the messaging using different methods or words might yield higher results. The entire process illuminated how important flexibility and iteration is in such programs, particularly when it comes to customizing to a specific project’s needs.

What Are Some of the Lessons Learned?

Building a platform takes time. It takes even more time to customize such platforms. For engageSpark, the process began by going to several NGOs and asking basic questions about what they needed. engageSpark wanted to ensure that a) NGOs actually wanted a platform like the one they were proposing and b) what issues NGOs were facing and what types of solutions would work best for them. Some of the answers they received surprised engageSpark. For example, voice calls are expensive and require human and financial resources. However, NGOs were also aware that more people would respond to voice calls rather than SMS, so this was something they wanted from a platform. Customizing platforms also requires time and effort. There are several details that may go unaccounted for when creating a platform like the one engageSpark developed for MercyCorps. First, building a team in a new environment means adapting to a new work culture, understanding the differences in work environment, and more. Then, even though the MercyCorps was a pilot project, it was still massive and required a very robust platform right away. Finally, details such as the language script being right to left instead of left to right meant that engageSpark had to build around that feature for all of their programs. Other lessons learned include logistical details that arise when working with large organizations. NGOs on the scale of MercyCorps may need more time to get phases of the project approved. In addition, many might think that MercyCorps has experience with voice calls, but it actually was completely new territory that engageSpark had to provide more assistance than was initially proposed.

Ravi Agarwal is the CEO at engageSpark. An accomplished hands-on entrepreneur with a methodical problem-solving engineering background, Ravi has proven success in the different aspects of starting and growing companies including finance, marketing, sales, technology and fundraising.


This case study is the second in a series of SBCC innovation case studies provided by HC3 partner NetHope and has been republished from HC3 in an effort to facilitate collaborative learning and community knowledge-sharing. Please click here to view the story in its original form. 

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