Social Innovation Fellows: Eric Bai '15.5

"I use text messaging to improve accessibility and transparency of social welfare in Providence."


Meet Eric

Hometown: Walnut, CA
Concentration: Computational Biology
LinkedIn 

Growing up in a suburb of Los Angeles County, I am at once cognizant of and sheltered from homelessness. I remember going to a swap meet with my parents in LA when I was a little younger than ten and feeling at first confused by the sullen looks of the men and women sitting on the sidewalks and then ashamed of my relative wealth. At ten, I was unable to articulate these emotions, but, coming from a world where my first grade teacher taught me the importance of sharing and fairness, this gulf between my side of the sidewalk and theirs didn't seem fair to me.

In my sophomore year of college, I discovered computer science, what I consider to be the art of giving directions to a very capable but slightly obtuse audience of one. As the engine of the Information Age, computer science fuels the creation of countless connections between the geographically disparate and has enabled unprecedented access to our collective body of knowledge. That same year, I also participated in the homelessness group of the Winter Break Project. Over that one transformative week, I met countless homeless advocates working in housing to healthcare to civil rights and also Brown students already passionately invested in the public good. Whether young or old, male or female, previously-homeless or Ivy League-educated, all these people were able to trade in their stereotypes and presuppositions for constructive action as a unified community of advocates. In a world where so many people have computers in their pockets, where cars go online, where spy satellites can read your mail with you, I believe it's time to bring a tech-centric viewpoint to homeless advocacy. After interning at FrontlineSMS in Kenya this past summer, I am intimately familiar with the codebase, enjoy strong connections with the FrontlineSMS development team, and am well-connected in the homeless advocacy landscape. This so-called "information revolution" made possible by the telegraph, the telephone, the Internet, and mobile networks makes it unacceptable to me that access to information and dissemination of reminders remains a problem today.

TextRI

Providence, RI

TextRI is a texting platform that leverages text messaging to enable dynamic two-way communication between service providers and the homeless population of Rhode Island (RI). By aggregating and updating information on a single consolidated platform, TextRI enables service providers like homeless shelters to send text alerts with emergency information to subscribers, and allows users to query about availability of beds. TextRI aims to optimize communication in service delivery by shelters, food trucks and health clinics to create a paradigm shift in the way information is transmitted across social welfare networks in RI.

Teammate: Amanda Chew '14