AWS Public Sector Blog

Creating more customer-centric social service experiences with the power of the cloud


A guest post by Adam Bard, Founder, Streetlives

Streetlives, a nonprofit organization based in New York City, uses technology to host a community-built web app for people who are homeless, communities considered vulnerable, and social service providers in New York City (NYC). The community-built mobile website enables people who are homeless or in poverty to easily find, rate, and recommend social services across New York City.

Nonprofits can use the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Nonprofit Credit Program, which provides applicants globally with AWS Promotional Credit to cover vital IT expenses. Adam Bard, Founder of Streetlives, explains how AWS Promotional Credits helps the organization deliver up-to-date, validated social service information to the communities of New York City. The organization’s long-term goal is to facilitate a paradigm shift in the social service ecosystem.

A bootstrapped nonprofit like ours has to be careful with expenses. When we were looking at technology infrastructure for our organization, we were initially concerned about how we would handle the kind of unpredictable growth that any early-stage organization has to consider, especially the costs that come with serving users at a rapidly growing scale.

The AWS Nonprofit Credit Program helped us get started on AWS and AWS helped us solve our problems and meet our challenges. To save on costs, we designed our back end systems almost exclusively on AWS serverless services. We implemented our API entirely with AWS Lambda functions, using Amazon API Gateway and Amazon Cognito—without a single server instance. Coupled with the credits from the AWS Nonprofit Credit Program, going serverless gave us the confidence that we could scale our product to meet any foreseeable growth while keeping our funds focused where they should be: on our community and users.

Improving social service experiences

We envision a future social service ecosystem driven by customer care and satisfaction. For that to happen, we need to hear feedback directly from those using these social services to understand their experiences.

To preview this data, we worked with social service providers St. John’s Bread & Life and Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen—the two largest emergency meal providers in NYC that together serve 1.25 million meals a year—to run a pilot focused on gathering feedback, in the form of unstructured comments, from the providers’ guests. We were excited to see what guests would talk about when given an anonymous platform to share their thoughts on the services.

Once we gathered the feedback, Streetlives used Amazon Comprehend, a natural language processing service, to run sentiment analysis on all comments. This analysis helped dispel a common apprehension around soliciting customer feedback for social services, as many people are afraid this feedback would be overly critical, vulgar, used primarily to vent frustrations, and only serve to foster antagonism. In reality, however, what Amazon Comprehend showed us was that across our social service provider partners, 85% of comments were “positive” and less than 5% were “negative.”

A significant challenge for us is serving users who have low digital and traditional literacy, and for whom standard text-based interactions are unusable. As a solution, with the use of AWS services like Amazon Lex, Amazon Polly, and Amazon Transcribe, we’ll be enabling these users to interact with our applications through voice instead of text. Instead of having to collect information about a user’s unique needs and complex eligibility parameters through a rigid, structured series of online forms, users will be able to describe their circumstances in their own words, verbally. This would make our platform more inclusive for people with low literacy and also create a more expressive experience for all users.

Continuing to serve with increased demand

As we launch our COVID-19 response platform, and as more individuals are seeking social services, the credits we receive through the AWS Nonprofit Credit Program enable us to use our valuable funds to directly support our co-design partners—the individuals who work or volunteer with Streetlives and members of the community we build with who are or have been homeless. That means our organization can continue our focus on equity, inclusion, and delivery, giving us the best chance to build tools that can help everyone access social services in NYC.

Learn more about the AWS Nonprofit Credit Program.


The content and opinions in this post are those of the third-party author and AWS is not responsible for the content or accuracy of this post.