Young Entrepreneurs Awards: Mark Boots

Mark Boots established VOTO Mobile, a voice-based mobile platform which helps the world’s poorest people give feedback to the organisations that serve them.

Engaging the world’s poorest people

Mark Boots

Traditional ways of engaging the world’s poorest people are expensive and inefficient, and they leave the most marginalised people out of the conversation. Distance, infrastructure, language and literacy challenges result in unheard voices and a lack of reach and feedback for programmes.

Specialising in voice-based mobile engagement, VOTO enables organisations to easily share educational information and gather real-time feedback via citizens’ existing mobile phones.

Along with Louis Dorval, VOTO Mobile’s co-founder, Mark experienced how government agencies in West Africa were struggling to understand better the needs of their citizens and the impact of their services.

Gathering feedback effectively

The old way – complex in-person surveys involving motorbikes and clipboards – was challenging and often didn’t happen for lack of resources. In an environment where almost every household had access to a mobile phone, they agreed that there must be a better way.

Together, they started working on an SMS survey platform, but saw very low participation rates during testing and a strong male and urban bias. When they moved to voice interactions in local languages, they measured a participation rate of more than 30%, with nearly equal female/male and rural/urban engagement.

Helping companies connect

Since launching in early 2013, VOTO has been used by more than 250 organisations to engage with over 500,000 people across 72 countries. Recently, the platform was used by the World Bank to help raise voter turn-out levels in a participatory budget process in Brazil, increasing voter turn-out by more than 30%.

In Northern Ghana, it has just completed a two-year maternal health education pilot, reaching 7,000 expectant mothers, with 93% of women recommending the weekly service to their peers.

The online platform makes it easy, cost-effective and fast for any organisation to launch their own interactive mobile programmes, but VOTO’s team is also focused on human-centred design research to optimise the impact of these initiatives. VOTO’s technology also sits behind the scenes, powering sector-focused mobile content providers in Ghana and around the world.