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South Africa’s Tech Community Uses Knack to Coordinate Nationwide Pandemic Response

  • Written By: admin

Stephen van der Heijden never thought he’d be the one implementing technical solutions to help South Africa’s official response to the coronavirus pandemic. As VP of Growth at talent marketplace OfferZen, he’s not a coder. But thanks to no-code solutions, Stephen found himself leading the way on building an application that’s now coordinating volunteer efforts across the country.

What Can We Do to Help?

offerzen

By the time the effects of COVID-19 started to be felt in South Africa, OfferZen Co-Founder and CEO Malan Joubert was already talking with his network of tech industry leaders about what they could do to help. He started a “Win@COVID19” WhatsApp group with fellow company founders, investors and other industry colleagues to discuss what could be done.

“They were really keen to support each other and immediately started sharing papers, models and opinions. It also became clear that everyone in this group was determined to help curb the effects of COVID-19 on the tech industry and South Africa as a whole.”

An Urgent Request

He was also contacted by Professor Willem Fourie from the University of Pretoria, about a project that was already underway. Dr. Fourie had been working on technology to map South African communities that are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, and needed help. 

Malan immediately put a call out to his WhatsApp group for volunteers. They discussed the mapping project, as well as what it would take to manage additional projects that would likely be coming. Using Miro, a virtual white boarding app, they mapped the scope of what they would need, as well as their approach.

“Suddenly we had all these people keen to help and started sketching out what that would look like. A data model with volunteers, info about them. We figured we’d probably want to drive projects.”

A No-Code Solution

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Image courtesy of OfferZen

Stephen van der Heijden, OfferZen’s VP of Growth, had been using Knack to rapidly build no-code apps for years, and quickly put his experience to work. Within 2 hours, he had built the initial version of Unlockdown, an app to facilitate recruitment and management of volunteers, and to match skillsets with projects. 

Immediately, the Knack app helped things run more smoothly.

“We had a really encouraging number of responses from the tech community with both individuals and companies generously volunteering their services,” recounted Stephen. “Individuals and teams from a host of companies…volunteered to assist with everything, from GIS mapping to data preparation and visualization, and even building the entire interface.”

One week later, the map project was launched. Within a few days, it had attracted attention from the office of the South African Presidency. Malan and Professor Fourie were summoned to meet with leaders in the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

An Official Request
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Image by Paul Saad

What followed was something much bigger than OfferZen had expected. Dr. Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, Head of the Investment and Infrastructure Office of the Presidency, wrote to Malan.

“We applaud your most recent initiative to rapidly develop the COVID-19 Vulnerability Map. The effectiveness of your approach is already evident in the collaboration between the South African SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) Hub at the University of Pretoria and numerous volunteers from the tech industry.”

“It is critical that the government works collaboratively with South African tech companies and individuals to leverage our tech capabilities in the fight against COVID-19 and its effects. We believe that OfferZen’s position in the tech community is uniquely suited to assist us in making that happen.”

OfferZen’s foresight and quick development of their volunteer management app had put them in the perfect position to help drive the tech industry’s volunteer response. 

Why Knack?

As the opening speaker of South Africa’s DevConf Live Conference, Malan presented to an audience of application developers (via video conference due to quarantine) why his team chose Knack to develop their volunteer management app.

“You might be thinking no self-respecting coder would use a tool like that, but you don’t have to worry about data security or privacy. It’s GDPR compliant, all of that stuff. And you’re not focused on the code. You can 100% focus on the problem you’re trying to map and solve.”

“The standard thing you think as a coder is ‘what I need to do now is spin up a Rails instance and build a basic CRUD (Create, Read, Update, Delete) app,’” Malan continued, “That is how OfferZen started.  But what I have learned over the years is that while that’s pretty fun and awesome, it isn’t necessarily the best way to very quickly get something reasonably robust out.”

Today, OfferZen’s Knack volunteer management app continues to help coordinate the efforts of over 700 volunteers and multiple COVID-19 relief projects in South Africa. Their work is just one remarkable example of how everyday innovators in the UK, the Philippines and around the world are using Knack to address the new challenges of COVID-19.

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