How Does a Social Impact Startup Measure Impact?

Advances in computing, and in the analysis of “big data” have made it relatively simple to create complex metrics and exciting graphics. But despite these innovations, creating meaningful impact evaluations—especially for early-stage ventures—is still quite challenging.

This is because the most rigorous measures of impact, which assess whether a program is actually changing conditions in the world, typically require expensive and time-consuming longitudinal studies. The results of a 5- or 10-year impact study will arrive too late for those who are being hit by floods or suffering the effects of broken infrastructure today. This is why, according to a recent review of social impact evaluation approaches in the Harvard Business Review, that we need to be both rigorous and “realistic” about what evaluation can offer.

The good news is that by applying a systematic evaluation framework to this challenge, we can create a hybrid approach that combines outcome evaluation with impact estimates based on publicly available research.

To outline our thinking on this topic, Atma Connect has produced a white paper that estimates the benefits of improving early warnings of floods. In this paper, we analyze in depth the benefits of reducing the damage from floods. Economists at the World Bank estimate that floods caused approximately $6 billion in damages to coastal cities in 2005, and that, driven by climate change, this will increase to at least $60 billion a year by 2050.

Looking at Jakarta and nearby communities, recent floods have caused serious damage and loss of life. For instance, in 2007, extreme floods in Central Java province, which flooded 75% of the capital city of Jakarta, led to the deaths of 54 people, forced 200,000 evacuations, and caused approximately $850 million in damage. In 2013, flood waters killed 47 people in the same area (Davies, 2015). Estimated economic losses and damages from the 2013 floods exceeded $575 million, with the biggest losses suffered by retailers (The World Bank, 2016).

  • Assuming that AtmaGo can reduce damage from severe floods by 10% through more effective early warnings and improved functioning of drainage infrastructure, this would equate to $56 million to $85 million in avoided damage per severe storm.
  • Assuming that AtmaGo can help 50% of the city’s low income residents avoid damage to their mobile phones (which cost on average between $50 to $90) this would provide a benefit of $10 million to $18.5 million to the city’s poorest residents per flood.

The example above focuses on flooding, but Indonesia, like many middle-income countries, also suffers from other challenges, such as extreme traffic congestion, crime, and inequality in economic development, educational resources and health services. Based on our user interview and research, AtmaGo can provide a range of benefits to poor users that can improve community resilience and help people in developing world cities build better lives. Read our white paper to learn more.

Atma Ventures to Kenya and Hosts IDEO in Indonesia

As Spring turns to Summer in California, our user-base continues to grow in Indonesia—and our organization continues to take shape as an independent nonprofit. Last month we had over 6,000 active monthly users, and we have reached over 30,000 unique users since our launch.

And, people have been using AtmaGo to improve their communities from the ground up. These video interviews with our users on the ground in Indonesia detail the problems they face and show how AtmaGo provides useful information—to help deal with neighborhood problems, find jobs, and respond to flooding. A recent post on garbage piles in Malang, which makes problems like flooding worse, led to local government action to clean up the problem.

We were pleased to be featured in the May Global Resilience Partnership email on The Power of Participatory Data in Community Resilience. We share the mission of the Partnership to use technology to “democratize data” and unleash the resourcefulness and ingenuity of all kinds of communities across the globe.

As a winner of the Amplify Urban Resilience Challenge, we had the opportunity to send Sergio Paluch, our Chief of Product, and Alfan Rodhi, our Indonesian Field Director, to Kenya for the IDEO/Amplify design boot camp. During the week-long camp, Sergio and Alfan got a crash course in IDEO’s “human centered design” methodology and learned from design experts how to apply their frameworks to our challenges.

Alfan (front-right) and other members of the IDEO bootcamp visiting the Kibera slum in Kenya, April, 2016. Credit: Sergio Paluch.Alfan (front-right) and other members of the IDEO bootcamp visiting the Kibera slum in Kenya, April, 2016. Credit: Sergio Paluch.

And, as we write, our CEO is in Jakarta to join Atma’s Indonesian staff in hosting the design. We look forward to reports from the field!

AtmaGo App Wins’s Amplify Urban Resilience Challenge

Atma Connect—a California-based technology organization focused on connecting and empowering people in the developing world—has won the 2016 Global Amplify Urban Resilience Challenge with their urban resilience app. The Amplify Urban Resilience Challenge is a partnership of The Rockefeller Foundation, USAID, the Swedish Development Agency (SIDA), the UK Development Agency (DFID), OpenIDEO, and

“Atma is thrilled by the opportunity to work with’s Amplify Program and the Global Resilience Partnership to improve the resilience of low-income urban communities,” said Founder and CEO Meena Palaniappan. “We know that thousands of communities around the developing world face great risks from floods and other extreme weather events—and we know that climate change is going to make many of these threats more severe in coming years. But we also know that local communities have ideas and solutions that they can share with each other and the world.”

The AtmaGo web app, which was launched in January of 2015, now has over 20,000 users in three Indonesian cities—Jakarta, Malang and Lamongan. These users are sharing solutions, reporting problems, and posting information with the goal of “warga bantu warga” or neighbors helping neighbors.

“Thank you to IDEO and Amplify for this great opportunity!” said Alfan Rodhi, Atma’s Indonesia Field Director. “People in our cities have ideas on how to respond to floods and build stronger communities—but we need to unite them using technology so we can truly be ‘neighbors helping neighbors’.”

When terrorists attacked Jakarta on January 13, 2016, AtmaGo users shared news and updates. When floodwaters inundated Jakarta in February of 2015, users posted messages on how to protect essential household items before the floods, which neighborhoods to avoid due to floodwaters, and then posted updates as the waters receded. But AtmaGo provides more than just timely disaster information—users can find jobs, post community events, share recommendations and report problems.

“The IDEO-Amplify win couldn’t have come at a better time,” said Sergio Paluch, Chief of Product. “As we embark on creating an Android application, we are excited to be learning from IDEO and working together to improve AtmaGo.”

AtmaGo Reaches 20,000 Users—And We Are an Amplify Finalist…

Just a quick update today: AtmaGo has reached 20,000 users in Indonesia! Big thanks to all of our Indonesian staff for driving this forward—and to our new users for creating posts on everything from the recent terror attacks in Jakarta, to jobs, events and so much more.

We are also excited to announce that Atma Connect, the organization behind AtmaGo, is a finalist for the Amplify Urban Resilience Challenge. This is an amazing opportunity to participate in a collaborative design bootcamp and get funding from a great coalition of organizations.

AtmaGo Reaches Over 10,000 Users!

Since our last update in June, AtmaGo has reached over 10,000 users! Our users and staff in Indonesia deserve a big round of applause.

Along with expanding to new cities in Indonesia and improving our web-based software, we are very happy to report that the Cisco Foundation has pledged to help us develop an Android application next year.

In 2014, the Android operating system had a market share of 60% in Indonesia and smartphone usage is growing quickly. Given the rapid growth, users have been asking us to optimize AtmaGo for smartphones—and to provide solutions for dealing with intermittent internet access. Thus we will be building asynchronous capabilities into our app that will allow people to compose posts “offline” and then have them go live when their phones find a connection. We also want to ensure Emergency Warning Systems (EWS), which have failed poor communities in the past, can reach the last mile in poor urban communities by connecting them to AtmaGo.

With the help our new community manager David Khoirul and our field director Alfan Rodhi, we started an AtmaGo user video contest and users have uploaded nearly 30 short videos showing what challenges they face and what is interesting about their neighborhood. Check out some of the submissions. Our Facebook page, now managed by Jimmy Welles has also been very active.

Thanks to all of our donors, staff and friends for making 2015 a fantastic year—we can’t wait to show you what we are working on for 2016!

AtmaGo Launches in Two New Cities In Indonesia

In early April, we rolled out a new version of AtmaGo that adds user profiles, improves the navigation and updates the user interface. And since then, activity has been strong! We now have nearly 3,000 active users who are connecting with their neighbors to share vital information. People are using AtmaGo to find water and supplies, post about education and jobs, and report problems from fires and floods, to traffic and crime.

As we rolled out the new design, we flew to Indonesia to meet with our field director, Alfan Rodhi and our new community manager. While in Jakarta, we also met with power users in low-income neighborhoods, and held a gathering in an Internet café in the Kalibata City neighborhood.

Meena and Alfan discuss AtmaGo with a user in the Halim neighborhood of Jakarta.

Meena and Alfan discuss AtmaGo with a user in the Halim neighborhood of Jakarta.

At the user gathering, people gave us great feedback about AtmaGo and how it fits in with the Indonesian concept of gotoroyang — or community building. Social media is huge in Indonesia, but AtmaGo provides Indonesians with something different: it’s an antidote to typical “ego media” as one of our power users told us.

During our Indonesia trip we also learned that there’s a lot of interest in AtmaGo in two large cities in East Java: Malang and Lamongan. And we had the chance to hang out with David Khoirul, who has been helping us with design. So, in June we launched in two new cities—Lamongan and Malang—and added David as the AtmaGo community manager for East Java!

We’ve got a lot more in store for the second half of 2015 and we are grateful as always that you are taking the ride with us.

Memiliki Musim panas yang hebat (have a great Summer)!

-David, Alfan, Sergio, Nick and Meena

AtmaGo as the Antidote to “Ego Media”

“I love AtmaGo because it gives me a way to help other people. All the other social media is ‘ego media’—look what I am wearing or look what I am doing. AtmaGo is something different.” — AtmaGo User Fajri


Terikah kasih to all the people who came out to support our work!

Just a few weeks ago, Meena and Nick were in Jakarta, Indonesia to meet with Atma Connect’s Indonesian staff, talk with users and launch the new version of AtmaGo. Pictured above is a group of key users who came out to tell us what they love about AtmaGo—and how we can improve.

Along with holding our first user meeting in Kalibata City, we also met families and small business owners in the low-income neighborhoods of Bukit Duri and Halim—both of which had been inundated by recent floods. What we learned is that smartphone ownership has taken off in Indonesia but that, despite rapid economic growth, the country still faces a host of challenges relating to infrastructure, transportation and economics.

Many thanks to everyone who came out to our first user gathering in Kalibata City— and a special thanks to our Indonesian Field Director, Alfan Rohdi, and our Indonesian Graphic Designer, David Kohriel, for all their great work.