James da Costa gives a TEDxWarwick talk on his startup, Mandala Group. Image: TEDxWarwick

Your old Nokia could improve lives around the world: Mandala Group

So, who knows what this is?” says James da Costa, as he pulls an old Nokia phone out of his back pocket. The TEDxWarwick audience, including myself, chuckles with nostalgia. James’ social enterprise startup, Mandala Group, uses these pieces of technology to change the world.

I was intrigued to find out more about what Mandala did and how he got involved. Thankfully, he very kindly arranged to meet me for coffee and tell me about what his social enterprise did.

The old Nokia is at the very heart of what the social enterprise, Mandala Group, aims to accomplish. James has been working with Mandala as a co-founder since April 2016. The organization uses old mobile phones for the purpose of development in regions that do not have Internet connection.

“The frontend will be a person on an old mobile phone, texting and calling, and the backend will be on the cloud that we’ve set up, with impact apps that send information to those with Nokia phones by call or text,” he explains.

Mandala Group uses old mobile phones for the purpose of development in regions that do not have Internet connection.

Mandala is currently supporting a number of “impact apps”, through its incubator program for startup social enterprises. Some of their success stories include teleStory, an impact app that empowers illiterate parents to read to their children for the first time, and  Magic Bus Ticketing, which is transforming the Kenyan bus system via their ticketing platform. Mandala Group successfully supported Magic Bus to raise $1Million seed capital and win the 2016 Hult Prize.

teleStory in action. Image: Mandala Group

During his TEDxWarwick talk, James explained that it will still take time for people in rural areas to access the Internet and that development should not wait until then. He added that Mandala plans on moving all of their applications online one day.

“There’s scope for our apps offline or online, but offline technology is universal, anyone can receive a text whether or not they’re connected to the internet. It’ll take a few years to get everyone online, there are some really marginalized areas in India and in the world so it’s important that we reach them.”

“Offline technology is universal.”

James, an economics undergraduate finalist, found out about Mandala whilst on an exchange year at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), during which he became involved in social entrepreneurship causes. He found out about Mandala in their early stages and decided to volunteer with them in India and see how teleStory works in action. He devoted more of his time to the startup, which eventually brought him on as a co-founder.

Magic Bus winning the Hult Prize in 2016. Image: Mandala Group

James cites his passion for wanting to improve lives of those in rural areas and his heritage as reasons for which he was drawn to working with Mandala.

His main role at Mandala is as Head of Community, which is both rewarding and challenging. Mandala enables volunteers from around the world to work remotely on their social impact projects and apps. Mandala is aptly named, as it is the Marathi word for “community”, which is the startup’s greatest strength.

‘Mandala’ is the Marathi word for ‘community’

Mandala volunteers are a mix of students and young professionals. They have hubs in Mumbai, Shanghai and Hong Kong for volunteers to meet and work on projects. Volunteers also work on Mandala projects online, and take part in their volunteering programmes in Mumbai and Shanghai in order to work with their social enterprise projects on the ground. Moreover, several Warwick students will be joining Mandala’s summer programme in Shanghai this year.

Mandala volunteers in Mumbai. Image: Mandala Group

“I’m a huge proponent of entrepreneurship at university, it’s a great way to experience new things.”

James will be going full speed ahead with Mandala once his exams finish. He is heading straight to Nairobi to check on the Magic Bus project, which he has personally been involved with. Mandala now has six projects worldwide; two in Kenya, two in India, one in the Philippines and one in China.

“I’m a huge proponent of entrepreneurship at university as it encourages you to balance life at an early age, and it’s a great way to experience new things,” he says animatedly.

To get involved with Mandala Group, click HERE.

View James’ TEDxWarwick talk here:





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