Empowering Non-profit Organizations (NPOs) and Micro-enterprises with ECHO (formerly known as DWMA- Distributed Work Management Application )

Corpcom Services Sdn Bhd

[ 28 Votes ]


Organization Type: Civil Society | Category: Internet for Development

Project Summary

ECHO is an internet--mobile collaborative cloud tool on an integrated platform enabling one person to efficiently coordinate unlimited number of people in diverse locations to achieve group level social economic missions such as activity coordination, income-generation and bulk distribution/group production. The use of SMS/MMS as an alternative communication channel for the home-bound urban poor enabling them to earn income through micro-enterprises attached to a self-help e-community (www.ehomemakers.net) without leaving the home while the administrator coordinates them in the office without tedious phone calls or face-to-face visits. This application has enabled the dissemination of information and earning opportunities to an underserved community whose ICT literacy rate is low and the local ICT infrastructure is unable to support direct interaction with more sophisticated devices.

26 NPOs also use ECHO to organise volunteers/affiliates and beneficiaries for purposes such as meetings, voting for council members/activity options, trainings, activity coordination, surveys, announcements and income-generation for members. One staff can organize thousands of volunteers, the volunteer leaders can also organize volunteers in own groupings for multiplier effects.

Simplicity within the context of community empowerment is ECHO’s contribution to non-profit deployment as it is a tool for community organizing, sourcing, distribution and information collating.


eHomemakers (eH) is Malaysia's only community network (over 17,000 e-members) that promotes working from home, teleworking and the running of home-based businesses through the use of technology. We promote self-help, business partnerships and entrepreneurship development for those who want to balance work and home life. The e-community started in 2002 when members where only mothers with young children. It has since expanded to include male homemakers/teleworkers. Now, two-thirds of the e-members are women.
eH launched “Salaam Wanita” (SW) project in June 2002, focusing on eco-baskets production and service provision to empower women for social-economic self-reliance. Members are the urban poor from Klang Valley and Ipoh, including single mothers, homemakers, disabled women, patients with chronic illnesses, and primary care takers of dependents or those with chronic illnesses. All are low-income and unemployed. Most of them are 100% homebound because of their physical disabilities and personal responsibilities although they have acquired skills such as eco-basket weaving and customer service. Their inability to find work is due to many factors, including the lack of employable skills (i.e. computer skills) and unfamiliarity with the job-seeking process. Others have been unable to secure employment because of discrimination against illnesses such as HIV/AIDS and Lupus.

Although SW members have acquired skills to initiate home-based earning activities, they do not have an appropriate communication tool with the outside world. This communication tool is an enabler of the home-earning scheme due to their homebound problem. In addition, those entrepreneurs seeking to sell products (like baskets) are unable to sell due to the significant costs associated with their immobility (higher transportation costs to obtain information on orders, deliveries and to personally get involved in marketing). Nor do they possess the funds and capacity to market their products at a scale large enough that would allow them to compete in the market.
Between 2002-03, eH studied the SW members’ ICT behaviours and found that they faced problems using IT tools such as computers. Despite training, it is impractical for SW members to acquire computers which are too expensive to maintain, and internet access is unavailable in their areas. They need to use mobile gadgets that can be donated to them and can be maintained at a low cost. DWMA was developed to address this need.

All the 300 SW members then received donated used hand-phone from the middle class e-members at www.ehomemakers.net. They were taught how to use the hand-phone and reply according to standard codes to enable summary reports on DWMA. When an order is received (eg. 20 eco-friendly baskets), an eH coordinator will send an email through DWMA which will then convert it into a SMS to be sent to the SW members (which are listed under different categories.) Then, SW members who are able to fulfil the order fully or partially within deadline will then reply via SMS (eg. Amy makes 4 baskets).
In the backend system, a coordinator can easily manage the communication with several hundred women in one shot as the women are identified with ID numbers. One coordinator can determine if, for example, an order is fulfilled by looking at the excel-like spread sheet at the backend and deal with the buyers within minutes. The cost-saving for this allows eH to pay Fair Wages and react to internet marketing requests faster.
The women used to be non-hand-phone users and had no idea what ICT can do for them. They viewed hand-phones as possessions for the men, or for the salaried people and those who are more educated than them. Using hand-phones for DWMA broke their resistance and ignorance about how technology can empower them.
The women were referred to eH by NGOs as they did not have income-generation activities for such women. As news of eH’s ability to transform the women reached the NGOs, more women were referred to eH. eH does not have any core funding, relying on a social business model and volunteers to sustain itself. The SW project can only take in 300 women at various stages at the same time. When women attain self-reliance and no longer need eH’s help, then they are let go from the SW project and new women are taken into the project to replace the vacant slots.
eH can’t afford to help more women unless there are more fundings or eH takes on empowering role to help the NGOs so that they start helping their own women in income-generation activities. eH has been presenting the concept of ‘helping women help themselves’ to the NPO sector since 2006 to conferences, forums, NPO meetings and media (http://www.ehomemakers.net/en/aboutus.php - In the Limelight)


This project nominated to the ISIF Asia award because…

Helping Women Help Themselves - Best practice case study for UNDP Part 1 of 2 :
Weavers of Hope Malaysia :
3-min thriller for documentary, Portraits of Perseverance : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyyoo_ZHQVk&feature=BFa&list=UU6MY0_KRpR6iUF7E2PCTxrg
Ecobasket documentary : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HbYZg2sFbUM&feature=BFa&list=ULpApzYvJ0soc
Salaam Wanita, empowering women in Malaysia: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ticwTsx9JlU&feature=related



A) Disadvantaged women/low-income households
1. To address the digital divide problem of urban poor homebound women in different locations where there is a lack of any form of assistance due to their invisibility, and where there is none/unreliable IT penetration with a specially tailored simplified work system. Only simple mobile low-maintenance cost gadgets can help them when such usage is combined with a pro-poor, gender sensitive management system.
2. To forge disadvantaged women’s long-term economic self-reliance goal and promote multiplier effects with the more successful women managing own income-generation groups by using mobile communication.

1. To increase NPOs’ productivity while saving time and administrative/staff costs, and reducing carbon footprint in various innovative ways for non-profit purposes.
2. To enable NPOs to embark on social enterprise like activities so that they gain earned income, thus reducing the reliance on charity cash income especially when public donation is low during economic hard times.
3. To enable NPOs to help their own disadvantaged case loads with income-generation activities instead of sending them to eHomemakers, thus promoting multiplier effects through the NPO network with eHomemakers as the lead NPO and the model for earned income activities.
4. To enable all NPO users to source raw materials, goods/services in bulk as a group to reduce their fundraising needs, and also help their members to reduce costs in the face of rising cost of living.
5. To transform the NPOs into more self-reliant organizations so that they can fulfil their social missions better.

Technical details and contribution to innovation

A mobile phone with SMS capability (Optional: MMS capability)
- Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL)
- Internet access
- Cellular communication Short Message Service (SMS), running on Malaysian Telecommunication Infrastructure and can be customized to run on other countries’ telecommunication structures

- Fedora Core Linux Operating System
- Apache web server
- Server is attached to a GSM modem for cell phone communication

written in PHP

NPO can check the system to find out:
a) Who has replied
b) How many has replied
c) A summary of how many can fufill the request and print the name lists for all reverts in ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘false’, ‘remarks’.
d) The remarks provided by the recipients who reply to the request
e) Who are the first X number of replies before the Y deadline

The application can also do:
a) Categorise the recipients by location, department or any custom
b) Auto detection of spelling mistake

Application supports three languages – English, Bahasa Melayu, Chinese.


ECHO empowers women in the “Salaam Wanita (SW)’ project to network and gain communication ability besides micro-entrepreneurial skills so that they become self-reliant economically and are able to help others in the same situation through participation in a cyber community platform. SW project team also markets their products and services as part of an end-to-end solution for poverty alleviation, this is especially so for the ecobasket project (http://www.justmarketing.info/) besdies soft skill and hard skill training of women.
For example: ( Training of single moms (http://www.ehomemakers.net/en/article.php?id=1251) and disabled women (http://www.ehomemakers.net/en/article.php?id=2207). Funds and household necessities for those critically ill are also raised through ECHO’s network of Angels :(see link: http://www.ehomemakers.net/en/article.php?id=1073)
For more than 2 years, eHomemakers has been convincing NPOs to use ICT to save costs and be more efficient, so there have been many educational discussions with NPOs’ committee members, and trainings conducted for them to use ECHO to save up to 99% of staff time and operational expenses.


A) For eH team and NPO administrators who are ECHO administrators
The teams manage through passwords and simple emailing ( system converts email into SMS and reverts into reports), they do not need to learn complicated information system to coordinate the women. Though ECHO, they now realize that they can save up to nine-tenths of the admin and coordinating costs and improve the organizational efficiency in many ways. As of May 1, 2011, eH has secured a CSR package from telecommunication provider, DIGI, for NPOs till April 2013. This is a win-win-win partnership for all parties. The monthly SMS are allocated to participating NPOs to achieve multiplier effect in their social missions.
B) For disadvantaged women
Mobile phone has become a necessity to them now. Telecommunication companies have expanded their services to almost everywhere including rural areas. ECHO is now used by NPOs in poverty alleviation projects where by members of the supply chain, ie, the individual poor persons/villages/poor households, are in diverse locations, especially in areas where there is no landlines or internet. Mobile phone is the cheapest communication tool for the target groups.
The unique feature of this system is the use of an integrated platform with email and worksheets (for administrator), SMS/MMS (for target groups who are financially struggling and rely on donations to live) as an alternative communication channel. eH is able to reach urban poor users and NPO caseloads who had no digital access previously. ECHO administrators are able to use email and the integrated platform to receive/send orders, attendance reverts via email or SMS answers (‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘false’ without leaving the office to meet their members or engaging them in long phone calls or receiving reverts through expensive and time consuming postal mails. The women can receive/send answers to administrators’ messages without them leaving the house, so that they can stay at home to fulfil product/service requirement until physical delivery is needed. They can also manage household, children and sick dependants at the same time. In short, work-life balance is no longer a trendy middle class lifestyle objective but a way to live with dignity.

Publications and dissemination efforts

a)www.ehomemakers.net :
1. Media Kit: http://www.ehomemakers.net/en/article.php?id=2097
2. In the Limelight: http://www.ehomemakers.net/en/aboutus.php News about us, http://www.ehomemakers.net/en/article.php?id=1387
3. Monthly e-news to 17,000 over in e-community and affiliates: http://www.ehomemakers.net/en/category.php?id=49, http://www.ehomemakers.net/en/category.php?id=59

b) Various conferences/forums locally and internationally to the network of Pan Asia Network (sponsored by IDRC, GKP, ADPIP, other UN agencies).

c) Research papers/presentations : http://www.ehomemakers.net/en/article.php?id=1499
d) Marketing website on ecobaskets – How DWMA ( now ECHO) was used to organize low-income women who worked at home: http://www.justmarketing.info/index.asp?p=/static/communication.html
e) You-tube video channels: http://www.youtube.com/user/EhomeMalaysia
f) Blogs: www.ehomemakers.blogspot.com
g) Multimedia project on four strong women: portraitsofperseverance.blogspot.com.
This is the 3-min video of eHomemakers' first documentary – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyyoo_ZHQVk . Confirmed being aired by CTV Canada in the fall of 2012.

Awards and distinctions

2002 Pan Asia Networking Small Grant 2004 Pan Asia R/D Small Grant Award 2005 Runner-up of the Gender/ICT Award by APC and GKP (http://www.genderawards.net/) 2007 Case study for good practices in local poverty reduction by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) 2008 Winner of the MSC Malaysia - Ericsson CR Innovation Awards (Professional Category) 2009: MIRC Social Enterprise Award



YouTube movie about the project


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References and recommended reading about the project


Project Representative

Chong Sheau Ching

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