Insights

Empowering charity with tech: Big Issue North and Apadmi create the Street News app

Big Issue North has supported people with no other means of earning an income for almost 30 years. This is done by producing a magazine, sold on the streets by vendors. However, to keep up with an ever-changing society, Big Issue North knew that an additional product was necessary to sit alongside the traditional print magazine. This is when they reached out to Apadmi to create a digital solution that could change the game for street papers across the world. 

Charities and support organisations that rely on printed material, such as newspapers and magazines, have taken a triple hit in recent years. 

First, they felt the impact of the downturn of printed media. 

Then, they felt the transition to cashless. 

 

As if this wasn’t enough, March 2020 brought further challenges for Big Issue North with Covid-19, and it was no longer safe for vendors to sell magazines on the streets. Although the entire charity sector was affected, with some organisations reporting losses of a third of their profits overnight due to Covid-19 closures of their shops, it’s safe to say that initiatives such as Big Issue North definitely saw a negative impact on their work.

Giving goes digital

“We always wanted to find a way to produce a digital product that can expand our audience and where readership doesn’t take revenue away from our on-street sales. The app we came up with focuses on digital revenue, but equally, tells the stories of lesser-heard voices in our society and raises awareness about global issues that we haven’t had the capacity to talk about previously.”

George Wright, Head of Comms and Fundraising at Big Issue North says the impact of the app will stretch beyond geographical borders and highlight important causes all around the world, something that has been difficult to do in the past for all street publications, due to an understandable desire to remain locally-focused, and limited space on paper copies – all of which has been counteracted with this digital solution.

A change of pace

Covid-19 didn’t change any of the plans for Big Issue North, it just accelerated them. In 2020, the organisation connected with Apadmi, and after a competitive pitch, they selected us to build their vision for the Street News app. The app will become an extra revenue stream for the organisation, used to provide greater support for vendors of Big Issue North.

As the worlds of tech and charity work meet, both parties had a learning curve. George explains that the ways of working were the biggest adaption for Big Issue North, but also where they had some of the most unexpected rewards.

“We work in a less structured way, compared to how a tech company would work. Even though adopting agile principles was quite new to us, it really helped! Apadmi clearly operates on an extremely lean agile methodology and this kept us on track. It hasn’t just helped us build an amazing product on time, but it has also helped us assess our own ways of working and implement a more agile approach to our own teams.”

The Apadmi team also had to dig deep to make sure every detail was perfect and suitable for the target audience.

“​From conception to delivery, Street News taught me even more about brand creation, creating a desirable user experience and made me think very carefully about terminology, accessibility, readability and component adaptability.” Says Kiran Seahra, Digital Designer at Apadmi.

Measures of success

The initial launch of the app will see the MVP of the project brought to life and covering news stories from across the world. It will have a membership option and a feature where people can tip the articles they really enjoy. Although the aim of the app is to become an extra stream of revenue, success will also be measured in the awareness it creates amongst readers.

“The other thing that will make us believe the app is a success is down to the stories that we tell on it, and how many people listen. If we keep amplifying the voices of marginalised people and the users keep reading – that’s a win in my book,” says George.

Part of Apadmi’s involvement in Street News has also been making sure the App is visible to new users and ranks on top for the most crucial search terms, and this was achieved by our Managed Services team:

“One of the challenges we faced when preparing for the launch of Street News was with the app’s name which includes two generic, competitive search terms. To ensure that our app ranked top for its most crucial brand term and would therefore be visible to new users, we had to ensure that we heavily optimised for this search term. Street News was a brilliant project to be involved in as George and the team had a very clear idea of what they wanted but were equally happy to go with our recommendations, which is always the dream combination. I can’t wait to see Street News go from strength to strength!” Says Emma Allison, Head of Product Marketing.

Tech for Good is growing

Across the world, we’re seeing tech trying to solve the challenges charities are facing. With companies building both hardware and software payment systems for cashless donations or dealing with the problem of visibility by making causes easier to find and simplifying donations, they also have the ability to unlock something cash donations could never: Access to reliable, hardcore data.

A large part of Tech for Good is about empowering charities to harness their data on things such as subscriptions, engagement, donations and utilising the power of collective movement. These companies know the possibilities that could be unlocked, the money that could be saved on campaigning or locating your target audience. And their investors know it too. It’s estimated that Tech for Good companies raised a whopping £1.09bn in VC funding in the UK alone in 2019.

One door closes, another opens

In terms of adopting digital solutions, it’s not easy for the charity sector as cash flow (literally!) and more pressing humanitarian issues often require immediate and urgent attention.

For George, he can understand why a digital innovation journey can seem daunting to charities but has some advice for anyone in the sector that’s considering this:

“One thing we did correctly on this project was to articulate our mission, so in every step of the journey, you can return back to your goal and focus on achieving that. I think charities face the temptation to deal with short-term issues because they have constant pressures around income or people that are desperately in need of help. When doing something really big, like producing a new digital product, you need to have your end goal and vision in mind, every step of the way.”

And does he feel like he has achieved this with the help of Apadmi?

“I think we’ve got a product that we can really be proud of. Apadmi has struck a really good balance between being responsive to what we need, and keeping us on track.”

Tech: challenge or solution?

Society is rapidly changing, which is spearheaded and accelerated by technology. As a sector, charity has mostly experienced the ripples of innovation in a negative way but does paper-less and cash-less mean we have to give less? Or could technology, rather ironically, hold the key to fixing some of the very issues the charity sector is facing in the wake of digital transformation?

Our CEO, Garry Partington explains his view on this:

“Charity as a sector has encountered some huge challenges over the past couple of years due to Covid and has also been impacted by the transition to a cashless society. At Apadmi, we believe many of these challenges can be solved by technology. When Big Issue North approached us for help, we wanted to create a platform that didn’t just enable digital revenue, but also enabled the charity to really amplify the voices of the people they help. The platform we’ve built allows users to connect with the values and mission of the charity, creating a recurring stream of donations, fundraising and general awareness about how to support the charity and the people who use it.”

No matter the challenges you are facing, Apadmi aims to become a trusted technical partner in your innovation journey. To see how we can help you, get in touch with us today.

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