Hablando con Julis (HCJ) is a digital solution for people with communication difficulties. Recognized by the MIT Technology Review as one of the Social Innovations of the Year in 2015, at the time of submission, this development had already reached more than 5,000 users in Latin America. Julis is a 24-year-old young woman who was born with a speaking disability; her family led the initial development of this technology to help her communicate. The HCJ solution helps users communicate, improve their pronunciation, and learn to read and write in short periods of time. HCJ targets users with speech difficulties, Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy as well as adults with loss of speech due to illness, and illiterate populations. The project is led by a female social entrepreneur, Daniela Monteros.
With the support of the scale-up grant, the project sought to work on two fronts: (a). Software improvements that would allow for greater reach and improved user experience; and (b) revamp its business model and engage new institutional clients — as opposed to only individual users– that could enable this social enterprise to achieve greater scale.
In terms of software improvements, HCJ created an English database with 13,000 words to make their solution available to anglophone audiences; the Spanish database was expanded from 32,000 words to 65,000. By default, the software can now be utilized in both languages. The graphic interface was improved to facilitate the use and learning experience of users. The revamped version allows users to send built-up phrases to contacts using Whatsapp, Facebook and other social media, facilitating their ability to communicate with others. HCJ also developed Android, Windows and IOs versions of the software so that it can be used and accessed from different devices. Additionally, HCJ integrated its pedagogical model into the software; all words were classified into 6 levels based on their degree of complexity and incorporated a diagnostic tool for users to determine their level and track their progress.
With regards to the new business model and engagement of new clients, the project has given some crucial initial steps. With the support of Ashoka — the organization hired by FRIDA for mentoring activities– HCJ was paired with consultants from Accenture Colombia with whom a revamped business model was designed by which HCJ set up a license system for individual and institutional users and streamlined capacity building activities that are offered along with the software. In the words of project Leader, Ms. Montero, the business model overhaul allowed HCJ to go from a stand-alone software to a comprehensive services package for individual and institutions that acquire licenses. The business model has been validated with a 3 clients. Since then, HCJ has been selected to participate in Accelerate 2030, a UN and Impact Hub-supported initiative to accelerate social enterprises from developing countries. In addition to Accelerate 2030, Ms. Montero was selected as winner of the [email protected] Global, awarded by the Duke of York.
A second mentoring exercise took place towards the end of the project aimed at defining marketing strategies for the launch of HCJ’s updated software. In addition to Ashoka’s support, FRIDA and LACNIC offered networking support for HCJ, facilitating meetings with Samsung Argentina, the Argentine Ministry of Modernization and academic experts from FLACSO’s Program for Education and New Technologies (PENT).