The recent World Telecommunication and Information Society Day 2016 (WTISD 2016) celebrations in Geneva followed the theme of ICT entrepreneurship for social impact. It featured a keynote presentation from Mr Raphael Silva, co-founder of Project Ludwig, an application which brings music to the hearing impaired through the use of vibrations and colour. This technology shows how ICTs can be used to provide an opportunity for everyone to enjoy music.
The Emerge Partnership team at ITU had a chance to catch-up with Raphael to better understand the unique perspective of social entrepreneurs employing life-changing technologies to achieve social impact, and how he sees the Project Ludwig moving forward.
ITU: What inspired you and the co-founders to work on an application for the hearing impaired?
Raphael: It all started at a random coffee break, where some friends and I had the idea. At first it was all about the challenge itself, but sometime later, we met a deaf guy in a family of musicians. At that point, we realized that it wasn’t about the challenge anymore, it was about changing an individual’s world, changing the way a family interacts, their way of communicating and caring for one another.
ITU: What is the biggest challenge that Project Ludwig has ever faced? Is it on the technology or business side?
Raphael: At first it was on the technology side. When we got the technology worked out, we started to think about the business model, and realized we were in a little bit of trouble. As a techie, sometimes you don’t think about the business fundamentals, but at the same time it’s essential. You have to learn a lot to get the business going, and it’s not an easy task.
ITU: What kind of support interventions would you like to see from public and private sector stakeholders? What do you need, what’s holding you up? E.g. funding, bureaucratic red tape, policy and regulation etc.
Raphael: It’s a big challenge to manage a social business. We need all the support we can get to make Ludwig go further so it can reach as many people as possible, all over the world. We need investment to keep the project going, and evolving. More partnerships with institutions working with deaf people are also fundamental to help us improve Ludwig. I am a member of the Red Bull Amaphiko network, which gives Ludwig great visibility and support to attend key international events like WTISD, Pioneers Festival in Vienna, and Sonar in Barcelona. They also help connect us to the right people and networks, so programmes like that are extremely valuable in helping us achieve our goals.
ITU: How do you reconcile the need for a strong business model to attract investors, with the objective to provide a social impact? Is it difficult to balance these two priorities? What has the feedback been from investors – do they see a business case?
Raphael: For all of the good news stories you hear, there are very few investors interested in social businesses which are more focused on social impact than profit. As with any other business, we need investment. The feedback regarding our intentions is positive, but we see that our business model is more about creating a social impact than about being fully profitable. We believe strongly that this impact is important, and we look forward to aligning our business model so that prospective funders see the implications of reaching thousands of people, enriching lives and transforming society.