About us: UNICEF Innovation
UNICEF Innovation Fund Graduate: Rah-e-maa

Somleng: Open Source Telephony

UNICEF Innovation Fund is proud to see portfolio member, Somleng — graduate. They’ve come a long way – from numerous product iterations, to deep diving into understanding their ecosystem better, strengthening their business model, and gearing up for taking their solution to market. They’re now at a stage to collaborate on a larger scale – as they find new pathways to work with partners, investors, and the open source community.

Reflections from the Somleng team…

Our interactive voice response (IVR) platform has generated 847,000 mins worth of calls — showing significant cost savings (95%) compared to a similar solutions from the competition.

Where it all began, the journey to Somleng’s development.

You’ve probably experienced receiving a voice operated call requesting you to “press 1 for more, or press 0 to speak to the operator” wherein after you make your choice, your call is routed to an extension/call queue. These types of capabilities are dominantly powered by Twilio — a platform allowing software developers to programmatically integrate communication capabilities like voice, video, and messaging to the applications they are building.

Looking that this market is dominantly owned by one player, we saw this as an opportunity to build a more cost-effective, open source alternative.

We built – Somleng, an open source implementation of Twilio.

However, unlike Twilio, Somleng gives you complete control over where it is connected to. Somleng can connect to mobile network operators, aggregators or even your own hardware. And because Somleng’s API is an open source implementation of Twilio’s API, you can swap out Twilio for Somleng in your existing applications, seamlessly. Unlike Twilio, there’s no monthly or per-minute fees for using Somleng and all the code is Open Source and available on Github.

Over the past 12 months, we’ve worked integrated Somleng to various projects…

Implementing Somleng to support the implementation of Cambodia’s Early Warning System

Cambodia is a country consistently ranked as one of the most vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters.  In order to deliver timely and potentially life-saving information to people in disaster prone areas, People in Need Cambodia have developed an Early Warning System ‘EWS 1294’ which delivers warning messages directly to the mobile phones of people at risk.

Ensuring accessibility to all Cambodians, regardless of literacy and Internet connectivity issues — they’ve decided to implement voice-based messaging for alerts and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) for registration through Somleng. While also integrating UNICEF’s RapidPro, an open-source platform delivering rapid and vital real-time information, to manage the registration of users into the system. Read more about the project here.

Since the beginning of the early warning system project, Somleng has processed around 847 K minutes worth of registrations and 83.6 K minutes worth of alerts, resulting in a total cost saving of $85,353.29 (95%) if compared with Twilio.

Utilizing Somleng to support emergency cash-based assistance for Somali refugees

The extended drought in Somalia continues to have a devastating impact across the country. Although a quick scale-up in humanitarian assistance has averted famine, much work remains to be done to ensure full recovery of livelihoods and increase resilience. To support the recovery efforts, Africa’s Voices Foundation (AVF) have started to integrate responsive programming systems such as developing a post-distribution monitoring system for delivery of cash and outcomes for beneficiaries through SMS and IVR.  

Voice messages were sent to the mobile phones of programme beneficiaries so that they could understand their cash entitlement and receive instructions on how to claim it. Information was also provided on how to register feedback and complaints with the cash transfer programme via a toll-free SMS channel. This feedback system was deployed pairing UNICEF’s RapidPro SMS platform with Somleng, an open source interactive voice response (IVR) technology.

Somleng has already processed around 55.7K minutes worth resulting in a total cost saving of $39,618 (95%) savings compared with Twilio with the cash transfer programme focused reintegration to returnees to Somalia from the Dadaab and Dhobley refugee camps.

What’s next

To scale and decentralize Somleng through connecting it to more Mobile Network Operators, in more countries. For example in Nepal we’re working closely with People In Need and will roll out a Mobile Health (mHealth) platform and an Early Warning System in using Somleng. We’re also working closely with UNICEF to see how we can scale Somleng in multiple country offices. In addition, we’re in discussions with the World Food Program (WFP) who is looking at possibly replacing their existing IVR stack with Somleng while with Digital Impact Alliance who are looking at IVR solutions with their existing MNO partners.

Partnering with the private sector. We’re currently in discussions with SignalWire which is founded by the founders of FreeSWITCH (an Open Source Switch used by MNOs) about a possible partnership which would allow us to tap into this market segment. We want to continue to look at more avenues of collaboration that can take Somleng to the commercial market.

Providing a compatible alternative. Last year Twilio generated $399 Million in revenue (up 40%) from the previous year. Our goal is to create a new option in the market that is comparable to Twilio, through offering a Decentralized, Open Source, API Compatible alternative.

 


The UNICEF Innovation Fund is looking to make $50-90K equity-free investments to provide early stage (seed) finance to for-profit  technology start-ups that have the potential to benefit humanity.

If you’ve got a start-up registered in one of UNICEF’s programme countries and have a working, open source prototype (or you are willing to make it open-source) showing promising results, the UNICEF Innovation Fund is looking for you. Find more information visit:  https://unicefinnovationfund.org/

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About us: UNICEF Innovation
UNICEF Innovation Fund Graduate: Rah-e-maa