Many classes in American universities feature guiding questions — a prompt designed to broaden student thinking and link the subject matter to the modern world. However, at Stanford University, one group of students took their guiding question literally and created a new way to help those in need.
Timothy Tatenda Mazai, Helen Park, and Mayuka Sarukkai came together during their class, Ending Poverty with Technology, and took the question — Can we harness new technologies to reduce poverty and inequality? — to their local communities. Specifically, they chose to create a way to improve the lives of children via improving affordability and accessibility to childcare for low-income families.
“In the ‘land of opportunity’ it only makes sense that every human being has access to the same resources and pathways to success — an ideal we are far from achieving,” said Sarukkai, Class of 2019, to Stanford News.
“Research literature points to the importance of the first five years in shaping the trajectory of entire lives and we felt really passionate about focusing our efforts around a child’s first few years. Childcare also seemed like a real cool opportunity to use technology to augment existing social patterns, rather than replacing them — a kind of inversion of some of the more detrimental effects of technology that prioritizes uplifting invaluable human resources rather than transplanting them.”
Recent studies have found that low-income families are “under-connected” to the Internet compared to the rest of the country. In fact, many low-income Americans only access the Internet through their smartphones. And since smartphones only last two years on average, reliable Internet connectivity is a major issue in rural and poor communities.
While many Silicon Valley companies are focused on expanding Internet access, the Stanford students took another approach. The group instead chose to focus on the social side of low-income families.
The students’ capstone project was influenced by the online networks between friends and family provided by social media. Facebook itself has active users numbering 1.97 billion every month. The group proposed a mobile app and web platform called CareSwap.
CareSwap is designed to use the network between friends, family, and neighbors as a means of trading childcare services for low-income families. Despite the class having ended for the year, the students still plan to continue the development of the app.
“Our idea evolved so much in the last few months after our interviews and conversations with parents and childcare experts,” the group said in a statement. “We are excited to develop it further next year. This project has become far more than a class assignment for each of us.”