VOTO Mobile

VOTO Mobile: More Voices, Better Choices

GhanaKumasi, Ghana
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
Project Stage:
$250,000 - $500,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

VOTO removes barriers to insightful communication and feedback loops between the world's poorest people and the organizations who serve them. We specialize in mobile engagement, specifically voice-based, providing equal access and instantly reaching across distance, language, and literacy barriers.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if every citizen could have a say in the projects and policies that affect their lives?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Traditional ways of engaging the world’s poorest people are expensive, inefficient, and leave the most marginalized people out of the conversation. Distance, infrastructure, and language/literacy create barriers to insightful communication; the result is many unheard voices and a lack of reach and feedback for programs. Eg: many boreholes are not functional because those who use them, often illiterate women, are unable to reach their local gvmts.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Through our first-hand experiences with the limitations to citizen engagement, and observing the rapid growth in mobile penetration, we developed a mobile information sharing and feedback platform. After results from initial SMS surveys yielded low-response rates and a bias towards male and urban respondents, we focused our platform on voice engagement. Voice has the benefits of cutting across language and literacy abilities, as well as providing richer engagement and trust building opportunities. VOTO is a designed-in-Africa platform that enables organizations to easily launch real-time feedback, health education, behaviour change and policy design low-cost programs across sectors, achieving 10X better engagement than SMS methods.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Last month, we worked with the World Bank to help turn out the vote in a provincial participatory budget process in Brazil. We sent non-partisan emails, SMS and voice messages to over 100,000 (50% women) registered voters. The results are powerful. With the government, we were able to establish a similar-sized control group and we are now able to prove that our intervention increased voter turn-out by more than 30%, with voice messages to women being the most effective (academic publication pending). We’ve used the results from this experiment to convince 4 district governments in Northern Ghana to set-up 300-people strong panels (>70% women) to prioritize and rate government infrastructure projects (bore holes, clinics, etc.)

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

In 24 months since our launch, our product has been used by 300 organizations to reach over 300,000 people across 22 countries. Our partners include The World Bank, UNICEF, the UNDP, Camfed, McKinsey&Co, Stanford University, Innovations for Poverty Action, FarmRadio, Facebook/ and VOTO is becoming the standard mobile for development platform across sectors. Projects include journalists running national public interest surveys, rural clinics distributing maternal health education, policy makers studying vaccine supply chains, economic development organizations reaching out to farmers, urban planners monitoring water distribution access, and academics researching the effect of public health interventions. We have helped the Gates Foundation redesign fridges along African vaccine cold-chains, and the Government of Ghana get feedback on the price of electrical power.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

Partners we’ve shared results with have been inspired and keen to get started. As such, our growth strategy is: 1- Continue to implement academically rigorous projects in a number of sectors to demonstrate the power of voice. 2- Develop an open-source library of best practices involving voice-based engagement: “VOTO University”. This is a young science and we want everyone to share their know-how with the world. 3- Refine the self-service platform and aggregate our demand for airtime such that we can continue to lower the cost and further democratize this powerful tool.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

VOTO is currently cash flow positive. Our business model is software-as-a-service where our customers pay by subscription and pay-per-use. We also manage one-off projects, such as public interest surveys and emergency response hotlines. As we look to scale globally, we will continue to partner with foundations, NGOs and social enterprises, as well as further develop our self-service capabilities.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

There are 3 substitutes to our solution. 1- Traditional approaches: media (radio, TV) or in-person extension, are respectively difficult to target/monitor and expensive. 2- SMS communication typically has low engagement, and a strong male/urban bias. This is because they require literacy, a pre-existing trust relationship, and is prone to spamming. 3- Smartphone applications require the respondent to have a smartphone (still a minority in most of Africa and South Asia) and to install an app. Voice is by far the cheapest, easiest to target and most inclusive of all strategies.

Founding Story

The founders of VOTO spent many years working with government agencies in West Africa to help them better understand the needs of their beneficiaries, and the impact of their programs. To do this, we organized complex in-person surveys involving motorbikes and clipboards. By their nature, they were infrequent, and their results were often obsolete within 48hrs. The explosion of mobile in most parts of Africa presents a disruptive opportunity. We first set-up an SMS survey platform, but got a very low participation (2.8%) and a strong male and urban bias. This didn’t solve our problem. When we moved to voice however, we got a >30% (>10x!) participation rate, with near even female/male and rural/urban participation. We had our solution!


VOTO's greatest strength is our rockstar studded and super dedicated team of world-class engineers, designers and client managers. VOTO has offices in Kumasi (Ghana), San Francisco and Toronto. Our team of 18 is is 40% female, ~50% techies, 60% Ghanaian and cuts across 4 nationalities. The Senior Management Team (3 people) consists of 3 engineers, 2 MBAs, 1 PhD, a professional banku eating champion, and a Ghana ultimate Frisbee legend.
About You
VOTO Mobile
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Project
Organization Name

VOTO Mobile

How long has your organization been operating?

Organization Country

, AS, Kumasi

Country where this project is creating social impact
Funding: How is your project financial supported?

Foundations, NGOs, Businesses, Regional government, National government, Customers.

Awards: What awards or honors has the project received?

Africa Content Award - m-Government and Participation Finalist
Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneurs Award Finalist
Meffys - Social Responsibility & Development Finalist

Where have you learnt about the competition?

Ashoka Communications

Tell us about your partnerships:

We have over 300 partners that have used our service in 22 countries to reach more than 300,000 people. Some of these partners include: the World Bank, UNICEF, the UNDP, McKinsey&Co, the Gates Foundation, the Center for Global Development, FarmRadio International, the Government of Ghana, Innovations for Poverty Action, Stanford University,, Facebook/, and many many more.

Challenges: What challenges might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

Reaching some of the world's poorest people on their phone is not easy. To achieve record engagement rates, we typically: 1) call the respondents, since incoming calls are free, 2) ask the respondents if they would rather be called in the morning, afternoon or evening, 3) provide a small lottery-based reward for completing the program, 4) use our retry pattern feature which calls a respondent until they pick-up to account for bad telco network quality, dead batteries, or simply calling at the wrong time, and 5) the use of our mid-survey pick-up feature that calls is dropped mid-survey.