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  • Writer's pictureVaishnavi Suryawanshi

WhatsApp University? Nope, say hello to WhatsApp Chatbots!

Today, social organizations do not have to spend time traveling to reach their target audience. This article describes how Glific enabled organizations such as Antarang to use a WhatsApp chatbot to communicate with its stakeholders.

India has the largest number of WhatsApp users in the world, at 487 million. While the platform facilitates connections and relationships between users, misinformation abounds here as well. False news, scams and hate speech often spread like wildfire, inciting biases, hatred, even loss of money.

One of the current scams being run on WhatsApp, where people are contacted by so-called company representatives

Take the incident in Madhya Pradesh in August 2022, where 2 men were lynched by an angry mob of 50-60 villagers, on the suspicion that they were murderers who sold body parts for money. The source?

A viral WhatsApp forward, which the police later stated was fake.

Or these messages from unknown numbers, who claim to be HR representatives of large companies, looking to hire you and help you make money sitting at home and liking YouTube videos.

In the face of such misinformation, can WhatsApp benefit people and be used for good?

What if I were to tell you that an organization uses WhatsApp to enable 12000 students in choosing their career paths?

India is home to 315 million students. Student success often hinges on students finding a career path that they're interested in. Antarang Foundation works with young adults to help them be passionately, positively and productively engaged in careers of their choice.

Through their career and self-awareness curriculum, students from grades 9-12 receive assistance in selecting courses that align with their desired professional path. The program guarantees that students will always have access to up-to-date career information.

And all this is done through a WhatsApp chatbot.

A WhatsApp chatbot is a piece of automated software that interacts with users on WhatsApp using artificial intelligence or pre-programmed rules.

Before the chatbot, Antarang would conduct their awareness workshops during school hours. A facilitator would speak to a big class and then provide one-on-one counseling afterward. However, this approach brought them challenges. Swati Mohan, Director, Programs at Antarang, shares,

“A big challenge for us has been that once they (students) move out of the school ecosystem, it gets much harder to stay connected with them and track that. We didn’t have exact information on what career path they chose. We could only note the aspirations for a limited number of students.”

Covid was another big motivator to explore the chatbot.

“(During Covid) We tried IVR, WhatsApp through groups etc… since school groups were already on WhatsApp. During the covid year, we had been thinking about scale for the program we’ve been running for 6-7 years. We wanted to bring in automation within our programs to reach a larger scale.”

A screenshot from the first interaction with Antarang's chatbot, CareerAware

Antarang’s chatbot helps reach students in 2 ways:

  • it reaches students that can’t attend their in person program,

  • It reaches students after they finish schooling, interacting with them whenever needed

WhatsApp is also an easy platform for students to access. As Swati highlights, “We decided to adopt WhatsApp as a medium because we didn’t want students to download another app on their phone.”

So far, Antarang has reached over 12000 students through their chatbot.

Teaching students how to use the chatbot was an initially uphill task for the team. However, the chatbot’s implementation yielded many benefits.

Priyanka Sanghai, Director, Program and Product Development, Antarang explained,

"We learnt that the engagement on the bot was greater than the online classes. Even the students who weren’t available during classes participated by submitting forms and quizzed on WhatsApp."

For Antarang, using a WhatsApp bot was not an easy process. It was challenging, with experimentation and mistakes along the way. What aided them on this path was the assistance of another organization, Glific.

Glific is a two-way communication platform built on WhatsApp that aims to close the gap between NGOs and their beneficiaries. They enable organizations to create WhatsApp chatbots to interact with their beneficiaries and deliver their programs. So far, Glific has worked with 97 NGOs, helping them reach 8,00,000 people through their chatbots.

Glific works with organizations engaged in diverse sectors, from agriculture, health and livelihood, to even education and civic participation.

The different categories that Antarang allows users to choose from

In building their own chatbots, Glific aids organizations in personalizing content for different types of users, tracking how users are engaging with the chatbot, automating responses for chatbots, and even experimenting with AI!

In team Antarang’s words,

“In the beginning (of setting up the chatbot) it was mostly trial and error. None of us had the specific skill set to build a bot. We didn’t fret about the details at the time. We wanted to get the basics right. We had Glific documents to get started and continue learning about using the chatbot.”

However, even with organizations like Glific leveraging WhatsApp for good, challenges still remain. A big challenge is that a WhatsApp chatbot can only reach somebody that has a device and the internet bandwidth needed to install and use WhatsApp. Those that have neither remain largely out of reach through this method.

Another big challenge is that even if somebody knows how to use WhatsApp, using a chatbot is not common knowledge, and often needs to be taught. Any issues faced in this process will hinder a beneficiary's ability to use the chatbot well.

However, what this should not stop us from doing is making innovative use of technology for a positive impact. In implementing a solution, you always don't need a huge physical crowd. You can connect with people through a communication platform like WhatsApp and gain their support. Who knows - along the way, you might find an even better use for social media!

Written by Vaishnavi Suryawanshi

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