DURBAN - Grassroot an NGO that was launched in 2015, is enabling communities on the ground to effect participatory democracy by providing them with the technology to organise themselves. 

Currently the platform has over 300 000 users and a few thousand activities run through it per month with only a team of three people behind the scenes. For this reason the NGO partnered with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to manage the workload. 

To date, Grassroot has reached over half a million people. They have also been working with communities on the ground and providing other NGOs and partners the ability to reach audiences otherwise left out of the national conversation. .

Luke Jordan the founder of Grassroot said, "Prior to Grassroot, if someone wanted to call a community gathering they had to hire a guy to go around on a bakkie the whole morning with a megaphone telling people about the meeting. A chat group wouldn't work because still about half of people in informal settlements don't have smartphones, or are usually out of data, and chat groups have size limits. So either you exclude people or you have to incur the costs of the bakkie and the fuel and so on, and still if someone isn't home when the bakkie drives past, they won't know about the meeting. With Grassroot all of that is reduced to a 30 second menu flow on USSD, and thousands of people get notified. So the time and money that would have been used can be put into other more productive uses, and also it just means people call gatherings much more frequently, so issues are discussed more openly and frequently". 

At the core of the application is Amazon  EC2 and Amazon  RDS stack providing the necessary storage power. Increasingly over the last year, they have also been moving over to fully managed and serverless services. To do this they use AWS Lambda and Amazon Dynamo DB. Ultimately the cloud has enabled ordinary citizens to be more participative in the state.

According to Jordan, Grassroot offers a platform (a set of tools) that allow community leaders in low-income communities to call public meetings, recruit members, take polls, and ask for volunteers, and other functions necessary for communities to act together. We provide those tools in ways that do not require a smartphone, or data, by using the USSD protocol so that anyone anywhere can participate and take action.

Jordan said that Grassroot through their partnership AWS has built tools used by over half a million people with a team of less than five people.

"We needed to build our platform in a way that was highly cost-effective, reliable and secure, and to be able to focus on working with our users and improving the product rather than managing our own servers," added the Grassroot founder. 

On the pure technology side, we're increasingly building using AWS's Serverless technology, which allows us to build even more quickly and effectively. On the user side, we're most excited about the possibility of running automated conversations.

BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE