WaterAid chatbot connects supporters with communities

Accessed through Facebook, the chatbot allows users to experience the life of Sellu, a farmer and fisherman in Sierra Leone

WaterAid has developed a chatbot to help bring its supporters closer to the people they are helping.

The international development charity worked with developer the Bot Platform to create the tool, which is accessed through Facebook. Users sign in to link up with Sellu, a farmer and fisherman from the remote village of Tombohuaun in Sierra Leone.

Users are introduced to Sellu – as well as members of the wider community – and, once they have subscribed, are taken on a journey to the heart of village life in Tombohuaun, which is the focus community for Untapped, the charity’s winter fundraising appeal.

Through messages, photos and video content, users are introduced to Sellu, who takes users on a guided tour of his home, introduces them to his wife Fatu and daughter Nancy, and even takes them for a trip on his motorcycle, complete with bumpy footage.

Sellu provides updates on the new water and sanitation infrastructures being built to help combat the illnesses suffered by the community because of sewage contaminating local water supplies.

Users are also asked if they would like to donate to WaterAid’s Untapped appeal.

Dan Gray, WaterAid’s digital engagement manager, said the chatbot was a "powerful tool for awareness" that could encourage donations.

"At the moment, the predominant use of chatbots is for service handling, with bots trained to learn answers to basic FAQs, or use machine learning to comb the internet for content," Gray said. "We decided to take a different approach and work within the limitations of the technology to create some good, old-fashioned storytelling, immersing our digital audiences in the life of Sellu.

"The ability to continuously interact with large cohorts of engaged digital users makes the chatbot a powerful tool for awareness, activation and retention all in one, and we hope people will be encouraged to donate to our winter fundraising appeal, Untapped."

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