A new App Feedie that combines food photography with philanthropy inspires Karthik Subramanian to search for such social change-inducing initiatives in the world of mobile Apps

One of the biggest complaints about mobile devices, especially mobile Apps is they espouse consumerism and narcissism to a great extent. So much so people tend to start living in their own personal bubbles, often consumed by themselves or their niche social circle of friends and interests.

Which is why I found the news about ‘Feedie’ App refreshing. Created for the non-profit organisation Lunchbox Fund, which has on its board of directors Hollywood star Joaquin Phoenix and international celebrity chef Mario Batali, the App combines the facets of online social network and social causes beautifully to show that mobile Apps can function as an effective tool for generating revenue for non-profit organisations, even while keeping intact the fun aspects of social networking.

Free lunchboxes

What Feedie App does is simple. It enlists fine-dining restaurants — for now just American restaurants — to contribute towards non-profit organisations such as the NGOs that work in South Africa to provide free lunchboxes at schools. The way it works is simple. Users that download the 'Feedie' App can click photographs of the food served at participating restaurants and share it on their social networks. Every time, a photo of food is shared and appreciated, the participating restaurants make a small contribution to the Lunchbox Fund.

And this is where it is extremely smart: sharing food photos is already a rage with mobile phone users. Photo-sharing social networks such as Instagram are replete with photos of food shot at restaurants anyway. There is an incentive for users to share photos now, since they get to support a cause. And for restaurants too, this is great because they get positive feedback from their patrons online and this allows them to enjoy a positive vibe on social networks.

Ideas like Feedie seem to help mobile Apps and even the gadgets themselves transcend the notion that they are good only as consumer devices. Thankfully, of late, several non-profit organisations seem to be looking at mobile devices in a positive light.

Take the App ‘Budge’, for example. It is a fun Application that allows people to throw up challenges to their friends for fun. But there is a small twist. Those who lose the challenge will have to make a small contribution towards a cause selected by the winner. The challenges can be as simple as “I challenge you to run a mini marathon”.

Interestingly, ‘Get Water!’ an app developed by a Montreal-based company Decode Global, which is into development of “mobile games for social change”, addresses gender inequality and water scarcity through a game set in India. The game's protagonist is a girl called Maya, who lives in rural India, and the objective of the gamer is to help Maya fetch water to her house, avoiding all obstacles and in time, so she can attend school.

Contributing to a cause

The game offers ‘in-App’ purchases, 50 per cent of the proceeds which Decode Global gives to non-profit organisation Charity:Water, which has a global mission to provide clean drinking water to rural areas in 20 countries, including India.

Writing about the ‘Fetch Water! for India’ game in the company's blog, Nicole Darabian writes: “We believe gaming is a powerful medium through which players can experience the stories of other human beings. While the world that Maya inhabits is a virtual one, fraught with far less complexity than reality, it is exactly this accessibility which makes her story so much more compelling. For Maya’s world is a representation of our world, and when we empower players to make positive changes in the virtual world, we help them believe in the possibilities of making a positive impact in the real one as well.”

Fetch Water! for India game was released on Apple's iOS platform in September last year, coinciding with Charity:Water's campaign to bring clean drinking water to 100 villages in Orissa.

Apps such as ‘Feedie,’ ‘Budge’ and ‘Fetch Water!’ are proof that there is a growing space in mobile platforms to pave the way for using the mobile phone for social change. It is possible now more than ever before because development of such Apps is not as costly as developing a full-fledged software for a PC.