More than 70 million people across the world have been forced to flee their homes as refugees, according to the latest UN annual Global Trends Report. That’s one in every 108 people.
Organizations on the ground have urgent needs, but no way to effectively communicate with many of those that can help.
Freidus was living in France at the time. She saw smaller aid groups have a difficult time fulfilling needs like volunteering, supplies, transportation, etc.
“There’s a huge amount of inefficiency and duplication of efforts,” says Levinson. She says that over 70 percent of aid during emergencies goes to logistics.
For example, organizations used expensive shipping containers to send clothes and other supplies to Greece. But when they arrived months later, the containers were not really needed. What’s more, the items that were shipped could have been purchased locally.
Levinson and Freidus co-founded real-time platform Needslist to provide non-profits and grassroots organizations a place to voice their needs directly to donors and, more importantly, for donors to select items, pay for them, and send them directly to their final destination.
While they do still work with refugees, Needslist has shifted its focus a little closer to home after several organizations in the U.S. started reaching out for help following major hurricanes and wildfires.
The Durham startup’s main focus is now small and mid-sized non-profits in the U.S.
“There’s so much waste and inefficiency at the local level when you’re talking about disaster relief. We wanted donors and businesses to help meet those needs more efficiently and directly,” says Levinson.
For example, non-profits often receive a surplus of certain items, or items that can’t be used.
“I’ve heard horror stories of organizations in Puerto Rico receiving boxes of nail cuticle cream. After the tsunami, one organization received a shipment of Viagra,” she says.
Needslist’s platform works similarly to a wedding registry. Organizations add their needs through a text or on the web application. They’re uploaded to a searchable database for donors and businesses to search through.
The corporate model they’ve implemented encourages enterprises to help fill those real-time needs.
“When Hurricane Florence hit, the regional offices of WeWork reached out wanting to know how they could best effectively help at a local level,” says Levinson.
A company can share their customized page with its employees to reach a certain goal of donation. Their client roster now includes WeWork, TripAdvisor, and Starbucks, among others.
A disaster relief chatbot is the newest addition to the platform that allows workers in the field to text in their needs remotely.
Needslist recently received funding from USAID and Grand Challenges Canada to deploy the service in a conflict-adjacent zone in Uganda this fall.
The startup generates revenue through a small transaction fee, as well as a subscription fee for member companies with individual pages. They plan to add a premium version soon with more reporting features available for non-profits.
The team closed a $1 million seed round earlier this month which included new investors Amplio Ventures, Marigold Capital, Omidyar Network, Next Wave Impact, Silicon Valley Social Ventures, and the Kuo Sharper Fund.
Some of the funding is earmarked for sales and marketing, but the team is most excited about the addition of predictive capabilities to the platform.
“The next version of our platform will incorporate artificial intelligence and machine learning to create predictive modeling of needs before disaster strikes,” says Levinson. “We can prepare businesses and organizations in a certain area with a large elderly population, for example, to start stocking on adult diapers.”