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Photo: Mattias Bardå

Scholarship article

Somewhere to call home

More than four billion individuals in the world lack a precise address, which might not sound like a big problem until you realize what they’re missing out on. An ambitious project that has received an SAS scholarship, has a mission to put these people on the map.

“Turn left for about three kilometers until you see four big trees on your right. Continue past the place where the big dog usually sits, and you’ll reach the house where Angela lives.”

Try giving that “address” to a visitor from another region, a delivery person – or an ambulance driver in an emergency situation.

If, however, “Angela” had a precise address, it could be entered on a digital map service and found in an instant. This is what the Map Project team is working so hard to achieve, with a system that allows anyone to register a precise, complete and easy-to-use address, combining the location’s GPS coordinates, available address data and street view images.

It was while showing a delegation from the Uganda parliament around Sweden in 2008, that the Map Project’s CEO and co-founder Karoline Beronius, realized how important addresses are.

“It opened my eyes to what we have achieved in Sweden and also how difficult it is when it’s not there,” she says. “You cannot register a business or a property without an address, and how do you explain where you are or where you live if you need health services, banking, ecommerce or emergency services if there is no address available?”

She started thinking about the issue more seriously about four years ago, while involved in a startup NGO that was developing smart technology for health service delivery in Uganda. Now, after several years of research and testing, they’re looking for funding to scale the project and make it sustainable. “The SAS Scholarship offers us a chance to go to different countries and open up some completely new avenues, test our application with different types of users and develop partnerships for research and development, implementation and evaluation,” says Beronius.

Achieving a sustainable business meant developing a business model that is based on supplying addresses for free to individuals while selling the service to businesses and organizations, who in turn need accurate addresses to reach individuals with goods and services.

The timing is right too. Until very recently, broadband didn’t exist in East Africa and smartphones were not as common. “Now we are getting to a stage where many users have this kind of device and they are coming down in price. There are also better GPS devices,” says Beronius.

The Map Project is currently trialing a prototype in Rwanda and Uganda. Beronius believes that traveling there has facilitated a great deal in a short timeframe. “We’ve been warmly welcomed, and the locals ensure that you meet the right people before you leave town. If we tried to complete all that in Sweden in a week, it would never be possible,” she says.

“By teaming up with the right people, and with support from the startup ecosystem in Sweden, we’re now ready to take our company to the next level!”

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