graduated growth period
Founded in 2012 by
David Wilkie & Samnang Chhun
Somleng is an Open Source Cloud Communications Platform (CPaaS) that enables communication to people and communities without the need for Internet access. Thanks to UNICEF’s CryptoFund, we used the previous crypto funding to scale up the technology for greater impact and reach.
In flood-prone Cambodia, Somleng is powering the National Early Warning System. Government officials can alert vulnerable communities of impending flooding by recording a voice message and triggering automated alerts. Beneficiaries can pick up their phone and listen to the message, receiving life-saving information for their families and communities.
On the other side of the world, in Guatemala, Somleng is powering a mHealth project for UNICEF in cooperation with the Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance (MSPAS), with the objective of improving the nutritional conditions of children, adolescents, and pregnant and lactating women. Voice messages are recorded and sent in the local languages of the communities, thanks to the alliance and collaboration with the Academy of Mayan Languages of Guatemala (ALMG), and are directed to caregivers (mothers, fathers) of children, as well as pregnant and lactating women and primary health care workers. The messages include information in the areas of health, hygiene, sanitation, maternal nutrition, breastfeeding, complementary feeding and parenting guidelines for pregnancy and for the babies’ first year of life.
Somleng solves the problem of reaching beneficiaries in hard to reach areas. Often these people are the most vulnerable in our community and are often subject to the impact of climate change and natural disasters as well as having limited access to information.
The additional Bridge Funding from the UNICEF Venture Fund will be used to improve the platform by adding SMS capability and simplifying the onboarding process for organizations and individuals who need cloud communications capabilities. Pilots in Central America and Africa are underway, providing valuable data in order to improve the platform.
Using Frontier Technology
Current solutions for cloud communications are dominated by big tech and enterprises that tend to target North American and European markets. Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and SMS are either unavailable or prices are prohibitively expensive in the majority of countries where the technology is needed. For example, prices start from $0.65 per minute to terminate calls in Zambia via Twilio (one of the largest big tech CPaaS providers). In comparison, Somleng partnered with a local telecommunications provider in Zambia and can offer the same service at only $0.05 per minute (1300% cheaper).
In addition to being more cost-effective, Somleng aims to help reduce the growing inequality gap by empowering local telecommunications providers to offer their own cloud communications services, which not only reduces the overall cost of the solution but also keeps profits local rather than contributing to the profits of big-tech enterprises. This in turn generates additional sources of revenue for local companies, which creates jobs and improves livelihoods.
Since the CPaaS space is dominated by big tech and enterprise solutions, there’s a gap in the market for open-source alternatives. Somleng is one of the only open source solutions in this sector, which makes it popular with the growing community of people and organizations who want to move away from centralized to decentralized, run-it-yourself alternatives. Open source also provides an element of trust since users can feel more confident that they have access to the source code to make changes or run it themselves whenever they need.
Somleng is developed and maintained by a small and cross-cultural team of engineers. Currently, the main team is based in Cambodia and we mostly work remotely due to COVID-19. Our team currently consists of myself (CEO and Co-Founder) and Samnang Chhun (CTO and Co-Founder) with a couple of part-time engineers coming on board soon. Being small allows us to move fast, stay agile, and be sustainable.
Receiving this investment in cryptocurrency instead of fiat provides some advantages as well as some challenges. It’s faster and cheaper to transact in crypto because it’s easier to receive and use the investment, especially for cross border transactions. It also provides a level of transparency so it’s easier to track how the funds are being distributed and used. On the other hand, the current instability of cryptocurrency prices such as Ethereum makes it difficult to use as a store of value, since the value of the investment may change over time.
Looking forward over the course of the investment period, our primary goal is to scale out the solution to more markets to achieve greater impact, especially in Africa, Asia and Latin America. As part of this journey, we’ll be working closely with our mentors and UNICEF HQ as well as UNICEF country offices to achieve this goal.
“Thank you to the UNICEF Venture Fund! The bridge funding will allow us to do what we do best - develop and improve Somleng in order to deliver more impact to more children in more countries and regions throughout the world. We’re excited to be on this journey together!”