iDT Labs - Automated Worker Registration and Payroll Database for Ebola Response Workers

The UPS International Disaster Relief Award, supported by the UK Department for International Development, Winner (Small Company) 2016

iDT Labs developed a hazard payment solution which helped to prevent the collapse of the healthcare system in Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis and established their reputation in ICT for development.

What the judges said

  • As the health system was on the brink of collapse in Sierra Leone, iDT developed a solution to pay the emergency workers in that country. This programme is immensely inspiring. It is amazing how a company of this size tackled such a challenging issue at such speed in the midst of the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone.
  • That iDT put their core business to one side and created a solution as well as ensuring its longevity at a time of great need, and in a context that is not used to ICT solutions, is incredible.
  • This programme is an exceptional example of applied skills, commitment and great local partnerships.

Good for society and for business

  • iDT Labs' intervention helped to prevent the collapse of the healthcare system in Sierra Leone at a critical time and ensured that frontline workers received their pay.
  • The company's work generated greater awareness and acceptance of mobile payment in Sierra Leone and made the government more receptive to using open source technology.
  • The company received recognition in the development sector and local and international media, which helped them to establish their niche in the West Africa ICT4D market. This helped them to retain staff and attract two international employees to the team.
  • iDT Labs were able to adapt their hazard payments solution to create a new affordable cloud based product, the first of its kind in Sierra Leone.

Overview

Ebola Response Workers (ERWs) were on the frontline of the Ebola epidemic: transporting the sick, caring for patients, tracing the exposed, attending to the deceased, and providing security and coordination at all levels. A hazard payment system was introduced in 2014.

However in Sierra Leone and elsewhere, many of these workers were not included on national payroll or public sector registration systems, and did not have national ID cards. Although funds were available, disorganisation and miscommunication meant that many workers went without pay for months. ERWs threatened to strike daily over non-payment or underpayment of dues. To confound matters, there were also reports of patronage and duplicate pay claims.

In a bid to resolve the stand-off and build confidence in hazard payments, iDT Labs, with support from UNDP, developed a system which used mobile wallets, cloud computing, and open source information management systems. This ensured that ERWs, the cornerstone of the Ebola response, were paid for their service, that the right workers got paid the right amount, and that their payments were delivered on time.

Resolving the hazard pay issues effectively helped prevent the collapse of the healthcare system. And iDT Labs were able to adapt their solution to create a new affordable cloud based product, the first of its kind in Sierra Leone.

Support from senior management

The CEO of iDT Labs used his influence and outreach in Sierra Leone to obtain the help of the local authorities, the police and the army in arranging the security and the logistics for the project team. Additionally the board secured timely overdrafts from the banks to ensure that payments were received by the partner clients at the agreed dates.

Strong partnerships

The company partnered with Africell and Airtel, the biggest mobile network operators in the country, and Splash, a mobile payment service, which provided liquidity management and an agent network. Splash helped the company to register ERWs without registered phones, and Africell sent mass SMS alerts to the ERWs registered in the system to spread awareness about the payment drive. iDT Labs also partnered with local radio stations to broadcast announcements about the day, time, and location of the payment drive.

The right technology

A major reason for the success of the project was the company's decision to use only tried and tested, open source solutions. It also used technology to work more effectively, for example setting up a WhatsApp group to enable its office-based employees and field workers to keep in contact more easily.

Making use of local talent and networks

iDT Labs feel that perhaps the biggest reason why its approach was effective was its reliance on local talent for developing and managing the project. Local workers had a better understanding of the context, and were much more attuned to the challenges of carrying out such a large scale project in Sierra Leone.

What the Chair of the Judging panel said:

"iDT Labs have highlighted how a tiny company can deliver at speed such scale and impact. A small group of young people with amazing talent have demonstrated the power of a strong solution at a time of great need. The simplicity of the programme, the great power of ICT, and speed of execution made makes this programme replicable and scalable. It is quite simply amazing". - Luis Arriaga, Managing Director UK, Ireland and Nordics, UPS

What IDT Labs' CTO said:

“The 2014 Ebola epidemic was an unprecedented crisis in Sierra Leone,with the country’s nascent economy coming to a complete standstill. Heading a startup whose mandate was to use technology for creating long-lasting social impact, I believed it was our duty to help in alleviating the crisis. Our team's expertise in payroll systems and open source technology, coupled with insights about the local conditions enabled us to create a solution that was attuned to the ground realities.

"All businesses, from big corporations right down to the small players, must always be responsive to any disasters that threaten to upend the ecosystem in which they operate. Only by demonstrating conscientious corporate citizenry can businesses both protect their interests as well as ensure the longevity of the economy, even in testing times.”  -  Salton Arthur Massally, CTO, IDT Labs