VOTO, Part 1

Hey everyone!

In this entry, I’ll talk about the venture I spent the summer working for: VOTO Mobile. Just what is VOTO, you ask? Well, taken directly from the website:

VOTO amplifies the voice of the under-heard. Our mobile phone notification and survey platform removes the barriers to insightful mobile communication between citizens worldwide and the organizations that serve them.

VOTO is a social enterprise that started as one of EWB’s ventures in 2013, and although it has since graduated from EWB’s venture pathway, it remains closely associated with EWB. It started from a conversation that the two founders, both EWB alumni, had about the difficulties of practicing data-driven decision making in international development with no data. After some months of field research, they hired their first development team member to develop the software for the platform, and set up headquarters in Kumasi, Ghana.

VOTO functions as a platform-as-a-service company, and offers end-to-end consultancy services from survey design to report writing based on the results. Organizations that want to reach people who might be difficult to contact in person or otherwise can use the platform to send them surveys or messages over cellular phones. Clients range from NGOs, to governments, to businesses.

My role

So where do I fit into this? I’m glad that you asked I posed this rhetorical question. My placement had me serving as an intern in VOTO’s operations team. Specifically, I was responsible for writing release notes that keep clients updated about the new features of VOTO’s platform. Every two weeks, the technical team releases a set of updates to the platform, and the release notes assist clients in making the most of them so that they can have the greatest possible impact on their clients.

This task involved working closely with the technical and support teams to best understand the new features, and then communicate them in a way that would be of the greatest possible use to clients. VOTO is a strongly client-focused organization, and writing these documents required me to think about what information and presentation style added the most value for users every step of the way.

I also assisted members of the operations team in running preliminary analysis of survey data on some projects, and creating graphs based on the results.

Work and Life in the VOTO House

VOTO’s headquarters also serves as home for many of its team members, myself included this summer. During my time at the house, I was very lucky to get to know some of VOTO’s amazing team members. The one thing that all of VOTO’s team members have in common more than anything else is without a doubt their passion for the work that VOTO is doing, and the mission that it serves. Coupled with clients in time zones around the world, this can lead to long work hours, and its not uncommon to find people working at all hours.

With that being said, we tried to make time for fun and relaxation as well. I would play badminton most afternoons with the tech team interns and the other Junior Fellow, and occasionally the team would go out to dinner to celebrate major milestones. When there were birthdays among the team, we would buy a cake from a grocery store in town, and sing Happy Birthday, and celebrate. Movies were another popular social activity, and we would gather at nights to watch films like The Intern, The Jungle Book (2016), and The Lion King, as well as TV shows like Scorpio.

Another pillar of life in the house was our housekeeper’s amazing cooking. Every weekday, she would prepare lunch for the team. I was very grateful for the delicious food and large portions, as otherwise I was limited by time/competency constraints to making myself cereal for breakfast and ramen for dinner. Some of my favourite foods were red red, a dish consisting of a bean stew served over rice alongside fried plantains, and jollof rice. Jollof rice is a savoury dish of rice and diced vegetables, typically served with fried fish or chicken; it is popular in a number of West African countries, and it is a matter of ongoing rivalry about which country’s variation on Jollof rice is superior. While I’ve only tasted Ghanaian jollof, so I can’t weigh in on the relative merits of each country’s style, I will say that Ghanaian jollof is fantastic. Red red gets its name because the bean stew is red, as are the plantains, due to the palm oil they are fried in. I bought a Ghanaian cookbook, so I’ll try and make these some time soon!

For now, I’ve made myself hungry, so I gotta go snag some breakfast.

Cheers,

Alex

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