Managing Income Effectively in a Low Data Environment
Social Income is a digital wallet to help income recipients in Sierra Leone manage their assets by streamlining communication between income distributor and recipient.
Annie Zhu — Product Manager
Sam Wong — Product Manager
Thuan Vo — Developer
Aashray Shrestha — Developer
Ana Tarano — Developer
Fariha Mohamed — Developer
Ana Tarano — Data Analyst
In April of 2021, I joined Develop for Good as a Product Designer to help Social Income, a Swiss nonprofit dedicated to combating income inequality in the Global South develop an application. For 10 weeks, I worked with an amazing team of product managers and engineers across the U.S. and Canada and the wonderful Social Income team in building an Android application to help social income recipients in Sierra Leone keep track of and manage their funds.
What is Social Income?
is a Swiss nonprofit that works primarily in Sierra Leone with a simple yet radical mission: They take wealth donated by contributors and redistribute it for people experiencing poverty in the Global South.
In other words, the Social Income team is driven by a vision to make Universal Basic Income in the Global South a reality.Universal Basic Income (UBI)
Giving everyone of a community a set income on a regular basis, regardless of their employment or resources.
Combating Poverty in the Global South
Here's how Social Income describes their mission👇"If you think about it, we already have everything we need to offset inequality: those who can help and those who can use it. All we need to do now is bring them together. That’s where Social Income comes in ― to carry out a direct redistribution of wealth based on solidarity and enabled by technology.
Social Income won’t end structural inequality once and for all. But it will build a foundation for real change, helping those in need and giving everyone a chance to contribute to a fairer future. By asking for a modest contribution of 1%, we make it possible for people from all walks of life to participate."
See here to read more about the mission
Lack of Visibility & Reliance on Hypervigilance
I talked with the Social Income nonprofit team (shoutout to Sandino and Rene!), and quickly discovered a few difficulties within their current income distribution flow. Social Income currently handles all transactions and requests manually. This comes with a couple of big problems. 🤔
Digital Income Management
My team developed an application for Social Income recipients to view and manage their incomes, contact Social Income directly if they have any issues, and collect credit to use on community betterment projects.
Accessible Income Management
Empowers recipients by giving them the ability to store their income in a digital wallet before transferring to their phone.
Recipients get a full history of all their income transactions so they can feel like they have all the facts and easily confirm with the Social Income team that they received their income or let the team know something went wrong so it can be fixed ASAP.
The Social Income Team can streamline their requests by automatically being notified whenever a recipient transfers money from their wallet or contests a transaction.
Recipients can give recommendation codes to their friends, family, and community members to help them join the Social Income program. Recipients can see how far their recomendees are in the onboarding process and contact Social Income if there is an issue.
Recipients can also receive social credit with each regular income deposit which they can donate to local community betterment projects through the Social Income application.
Secure and Flexible Wallet Recovery
A lot of people in Sierra Leone don't have email addresses. The Social Income application instead gives recipients a wide variety of email-less methods to register and recover their digital wallet including QR code scanning and One Time Password input.
Recipients can have 2 other recipients or a Social Income team member vouch for them.
Sierra Leone has a literacy rate around 50% (as of 2021). This means our application has to be easy to understand from context. In addition, the text used in application needs to be as simplified as possible.
In order to mindfully build this into the application, I did some preliminary research on Plain Language by reading through the Federal Plain Language Guidelines
While these guidelines were established by the U.S. they did provide me with some valuable standard practices to follow in order to make the application more accessible to people with varying levels of reading comprehension:
Another thing I sought to understand prior to designing was what the phone market looked like in Sierra Leone. By understanding what mobile systems are popular, I could also get a sense for what phone interactions may be more familiar to recipients.
Of those with access to smartphones, a huge chunk of the market uses Android. Because Apple made up a considerable minority, we determined we should make both an Android and iOS compatible application, with a significant amount of importance placed on making the Android compatible version seamless and reliable.
Based on the fact that majority of the phone market is familiar with the Android interface, I chose to utilize Google's Material Design system for the application interface and interactions.
The Social Income team was a great source of help. They knew a lot more than me about their recipients and the area they were working in. So I took some time to learn from them about what key things were really important to deliver to their recipients.
From here we established some high level product initiatives, and also reviewed other key points to know about the recipients in Sierra Leone who would be using the Social Income application.
Initial Client Wireframes
The Social Income team created some initial wireframes to demonstrate the vision they had for their application. This helped a lot because we could see what the key features were already.
I ran quick critique sessions where I reviewed the wireframes and also got feedback from a couple peers, the Social Income team, and my Develop for Good team in order to assess what was working well with the client wireframes and what we could improve.
Understanding Income Management Process
Upon talking to the Social Income team and reviewing their preliminary wireframes for their income management process, I realized that there was a huge chunk of income management capabilities that were not yet represented through the preliminary wireframes. In order to build understanding and alignment within the team, I constructed a user flow which I reviewed with the rest of my product team as well as the Social Income team before moving forward with the next iteration of wireframes.
Prior to when I started designing, the Social Income team and I discussed getting feedback from current Social Income recipients. The organization didn't have the means to compensate recipients for their data usage and time, and recipients didn't have the data capacity or time for indepth usability sessions.
Based on this I chose to facilitate feedback sessions with as many people as I could to create a more fleshed out version of the application within the time we had, and once we had a working version, we could have recipients use a beta version of the working application.
MEDIUM FIDELITY DESIGN
Minimizing Data Loading & Simplifying User Journey
I focused on iterating on the feedback I received from the client wireframes. Here, I honed in on 2 main things.
First, I wanted to create a simple user process - with minimal steps, simple wording, and intuitive layout.
Second, I wanted to create designs that minimized the amount of data used. This meant minimizing the amount of screens that needed to be loaded without overloading the user with information.
While we used Material Design as our foundational design system, I worked on translating this system into something that would fit well with Social Income's visual language.
Social income recipients can now view their income deposits in real time, no more worrying about when it will arrive. Recipients have access to 2 wallets, one for their income and another for their social credit, which they can use to invest in local community betterment projects of their choice.
Confirm or Contest
With activities in the wallet, income recipients will be asked to confirm or contest the activity. This is to ensure that prior to paying out, recipients can make sure they're getting the proper amount of income.
This also helps the Social Income team by reducing their workload when issues pop up. Instead of reviewing all of activities constantly, now recipients can approve their own activities and the team will be notified when a problem is flagged.
In payout, recipients can move any amount of money up to the maximum that is in their Social Income wallet to their bank account. Aside from the fact that recipients need to confirm or contest deposits, recipients may have a variety of reasons from security, planning, bank issues, etc for why they may not immediately want their income transferred to their bank account.
Recipients have multiple options from having others vouch for them to a code or a one time password in order to verify their identity.
The reason for so many forms of alternative verification is that some recipients may not have access to things like email or they may be sharing their phone with multiple family members. Therefore, these multiple pathways to verification become vitally important.
Vouching and Recommending
The communities that recipients live in are often smaller and very tight-knit, oftentimes a recipient might want to refer a neighbor, family member or friend. These community members can sign up on the waiting list and the original recipient can vouch for this person's identity by approving their vouch request. This helps community members by expediting their application process into the Social Income program and also helps the Social Income team by making the verification process more efficient.
In order to help Social Income improve their operations and understand how their program is affecting recipients and their communities over a longer timeframe, the application has a built-in survey area. Because these are periodic, recipients are notified in-app whenever there is a new survey to fill out, and they are given social credit for successfully completing each survey.