Boost for app to help seniors find volunteers to run errands

Mr Nicholas Lim, chief executive of Outside Technologies which received funding via a government crowdsourcing initiative to boost its community app Outside. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - It has been a challenging time for volunteers amid the Covid-19 pandemic, especially during the two-month circuit breaker that ended last June, with stay-home restrictions limiting movement and interaction.

Even after some measures were lifted, safe distancing restrictions in phase two of Singapore's reopening continued to make volunteering difficult, said the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC).

Organisations needed time to match volunteers to people in need and "this was not ideal during Covid-19 as we had to find ways to swiftly address the needs of communities at large, and to reach those vulnerable groups that non-profit organisations did not have access to", said NVPC.

Enter local start-up Outside Technologies, which NVPC was paired with through a government crowdsourcing initiative called Open Innovation Platform.

Outside Technologies received $15,000 to develop a solution.

Since last December, the company has been tweaking its existing community mobile app called Outside so that it can better help seniors who live alone find volunteers to run errands for them. The tasks include buying food and cleaning their homes.

The app's interface has been simplified for seniors and designed to look similar to other apps they are familiar with, such as WhatsApp.

Outside was launched in 2019 to match people who have tasks to do with those who can fulfil them, such as students and homemakers. It has a pool of about 15,000 users.

People pay others to run errands for them and Outside Technologies takes a 10 per cent cut.

But for the senior citizen volunteering section in the app, there are no payments involved.

Outside Technologies chief executive Nicholas Lim said the idea was to encourage people to volunteer a little time to help seniors with small tasks.

The company is working with social service agencies to identify senior citizens who need help.

Singpass will be used to verify the identity of volunteers.

The agencies may screen them further to check their suitability, for errands that require more contact time with the seniors.

The agencies will initially help the seniors post the tasks that need to be fulfilled in the app. If things go well, the seniors can post the tasks themselves from among a handful of pre-set tasks.

The revised Outside app is expected to be piloted in a town - yet to be selected - for one to two months in this quarter.

Said Mr Lim: "It's always encouraging to see a user get help from a stranger."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.