One Degree, “The Yelp of Social Services”
You introduce yourself as “the Yelp of social services”. Can you enlighten us about this concept?
R. F. : We wanted to use an analogy with the well-known application that allows people to look for restaurants or bars nearby and leave a review. One Degree, based on the same model, gives access to relevant NGOs and social services, depending on your situation. In the San Francisco Bay, where we are based, there are over 1,500 of them. Despite that, we realized that there is no centralized directory to help underprivileged people find organizations and thus get the resources that will truly change their life. We also want to allow users to report on the quality of the social sector, in the same way we leave online restaurant reviews.
How does the platform work?
R. F. : We facilitate access to a full range of social or non-profit services: healthcare, food, banking, affordable or temporary housing, as well as help fighting against domestic abuse, assistance to LGBT or suicide prevention hotlines. Users can choose to provide their location and more information: their income, the size of the household, languages spoken. Depending on these parameters, we point them towards the appropriate structure, specify its address, its hours of operation and, above all, help them to apply. It is important because each organization in the USA has its own procedure to follow. One may ask to fill three pages of forms, another to spend some time talking around a desk, and yet another one to book an appointment way ahead of time. With One Degree, this information is super easy to find and share.
Is One Degree only for people living in poverty?
R. F. : As a technological organization, we had to focus our energy on a specific population to build a reliable product. So we started with single underprivileged mothers as well as isolated individuals. Then, we realized that One Degree could be useful to others, in particular social workers and health professionals. We work with hundreds of NGOs. We train them to use our platform as a search tool for digital resources. We also launched One Degree Referrals, which allows them to send referrals to the people they assist, directly by email, text message or post. They can then see if their audience follows up or not. Eventually, the digitization helps social workers do their job better.
Why develop this app in a very prosperous area like California?
R. F. : It is the wealthiest area in the USA, and maybe in the world, and this is the way it is perceived from the outside. But it is exactly the reason why One Degree is legitimate there: this wealth is concentrated in the hands of a tiny portion of the population and inequalities are extremely high. 1.3 million people here live under the poverty line and cannot even meet basic needs such as healthcare. Rent has become outrageous, and we have lost count of the number of single mothers who have to work three jobs and are at the mercy of the first economic shock. The results are pockets of silent misery and a great many homeless people living side by side with opulence. We plan on expanding to other cities soon, chiefly Los Angeles.
What are the upcoming challenges for One Degree?
R. F. : We want to continue facilitating access to social organizations and understand why people use them or not. One of our biggest projects is to create a single form for applying to several entitlements. For now, poor families looking for housing must fill out forty requests for forty different apartments. Another challenge: make our economic model sustainable. In the beginning, we raised funds by calling on philanthropy. But we recently launched One Degree Plus, a paid offer that allows NGOs and social services to have access to statistics and to measure their impact, because the data we collect is valuable.
Does the election of Donald Trump, who has promised serious cuts in assistance and health programs, affect your work?
R. F. : It is simple: we have four times more requests linked to legal immigration and 40 % more users in Spanish. It is also one of the strengths of this platform to be able to obtain information about our community and know their needs. To be honest, we are prepared for anything with this government. But many social services in the USA do not depend on federal financing. What Trump will destroy will be made up for by philanthropy and local policies. I was a Filipino immigrant myself, arriving in the United States at 8 years old, in 1990. My parents worked several jobs to put food on the table. Our family has struggled a lot to navigate the many social benefits. I would have liked to have had One Degree back then!
By Côme Bastin