On 15 November 2016, the UNICEF Innovation Fund announces its first portfolio of investments in open source technology solutions – Somleng – Open Source Telephony is among the first five companies to receive investment.

The UNICEF Innovation Fund invests in technology start-ups from developing markets that are working on open source solutions to improve children’s lives. The Innovation Fund applies a venture capital approach to source solutions in  emergency and epidemic response, transport & delivery, identity, finance, learning, personal data and related fields.

Check out www.unicefinnovationfund.org for more information – including real-time data – on each investment.

Somleng

Somleng – Open Source Telephony

By David Wilkie (CEO & Founder))

How would you describe your solution to a child?

Somleng (សំឡេង “Voice” in Khmer), lets you automatically make phone calls or send text messages. For example, imagine you want to call all the families living in your area and  invite them to a concert next month. You also want to send all of them a reminder through a text message one week before the show. Sending calls and messages individually  would be  very time-consuming to do manually. Using Somleng you can record your voice and have Somleng make all the calls for you. You can also configure it to send text messages and reminders.

What is unique about your solution?

Other commercially available solutions allow calling or sending text messages automatically, but in the case of developing countries, these phone calls are made from abroad, making them economically unfeasible. Somleng provides the  local delivery of calls and SMS at a fraction of the cost of other commercial solutions and ensures a quality of sound that international solutions are unable to provide. Local delivery also opens the possibility of working directly with local network operators to develop sustainable telephony solutions.

Tell us the story about how your team came together?

When we were developing one of our earlier products, we realized that most of the technology required for building telephony applications is proprietary and closed source. Due to these constraints, we decided to develop our own technology built on existing open source projects. Somleng is the combination of various open source technologies –  creating a flexible and scalable solution that can be applied to a vast range of different applications. At the moment, Somleng focuses on building custom telephony solutions for different customers.

How does your solution help accelerate results and improve the lives of the world’s most vulnerable children? How did you come up with your solution?

In Cambodia alone, Somleng is already being used by a non-governmental organization (NGO) in a project focused on maternal health. Somleng connects to RapidPro, another open source system, enabling the NGO to upload voice messages and schedule calls to new mothers. In this project, new mothers are registered in the system by their midwife through an IVR (interactive voice response) call. Once registered, mothers receive weekly phone calls about  important health information for them and their baby. These regular weekly calls are essential to support and guide mothers on what to do after giving birth. Due to Somleng’s flexibility and scalability, there are now more projects relating to health, emergency response, housing and employment in the pipeline.

How will the investment from UNICEF’s Innovation Fund help you?

The investment from the UNICEF Innovation Fund allows us to focus on what we do best – building an open source telephony ecosystem that is accessible to everyone. Our goal for Somleng is to break down the barriers to building telephony applications. By reducing cost and increasing accessibility we encourage individuals, governments,and organizations to build applications that improve the lives of vulnerable children throughout the world.


Looking for seed funding for your open source tech startup? Check out www.unicefinnovationfund.org to find out more about the process and to make a submission by 1 Jan 2017.

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