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Jun 8, 2020

In the developed world, the promise of social media (including Facebook) to create positive change has fallen well short of the mark. Mass social media is becoming increasingly manipulative and toxic. 

In the developing world, mass social media's negative effects are even more dangerous, as manipulation and misinformation can quickly lead to real-world violence. 

Meena Palaniappan, CEO and Founder of Atma Connect wants to change this. Atma Connect's goal is to connect over a billion people around the world living in vulnerable communities in order for them to take collective action, advocate with governments and lead the way to the future we need.

In this episode of the Cohere Podcast, Meena and I discuss the circumstances that led her to found Atma Connect, the positive impact her products like AtmaGo are making, and her vision for social networks like AtmaGo to help create more equitable and resilient communities, both online and in the real world. 

Meena on Her Journey to Founding Atma Connect

"I became an environmental engineer because I really wanted to develop scalable solutions to the challenges that we're facing globally. In doing this work there, it became clear that we, as a global community, need to focus more attention on building power in vulnerable communities to lead the way.

One thing that just became apparent in my work, domestically and around the world was the fact that people who consume the least and have the least to do with environmental problems were the ones that were facing the biggest challenges, suffering the most, and had the least resources to overcome these challenges."

Meena on Social Networks for Community Resilience 
"It became apparent to me in working internationally on water and sanitation that the same communities that didn't have water and sanitation increasingly had mobile phones.

This started me on a journey of asking how could we use this ubiquitous technology to make visible the invisible and put people on the map in unignorable ways to get their needs addressed. Virtual communities are incredible because they give people a way to more rapidly spread solutions to aggregate and amplify their voices to take collective action and to advocate with governments.

I think that that's really fundamentally what the goal is, is to create these connections and build this power online that leads to real improvements in people's lives and where they live."

Meena on the Impact of AtmaGo
"People are sharing a lot of information about COVID, government resources, government restrictions, they're offering help and they're asking for help. People come to AtmaGo daily to find jobs, to build up entrepreneurship, to have community discussions about local needs, or to report problems to the government.

Because of that, it becomes all the more powerful in disaster. So in a disaster, people are receiving early warnings on AtmaGo that are leading them to take early action. An independent evaluation found that people receiving early warnings on AtmaGo move valuables, they evacuated, they warn their neighbors. Quantified at a scale of a million users this is $106 million in avoided economic losses and over 6,000 years of healthy life saved and they're using it in the entire cycle of building resilience."

Get involved:
Atma Connect is always looking for volunteers and advisors to work on product design and management challenges, as well as network business models.

Atma Connect is an international non-profit. You can make a donation to support there work here

Resources & Links Mentioned in the Episode:
Atma Connect's website
Atma Connect on Facebook
Atma Connect on Twitter