Michael Kehoe recognized a gap in the social enterprise space while attending church one Sunday morning.
“I decided to stick around for free donuts and coffee after church […] and I observed an elderly gentleman approach a very haggard stranger and patiently inquire about the stranger’s needs,” said Kehoe. “By memory, he directed him to three different spots. One where he could get a hot shower, another where he could get a warm meal, and a third where he could get pro bono legal assistance for immigration.”
Kehoe said he was blown away how in a manner of minutes, the gentleman was able to transform someone else’s life because he possessed the correct information.
“The more I thought about that story, the more I thought about the possibility of what if it’s not just a select few, but everyone with a smartphone literally had such information at their fingertip?” recalled Kehoe.
Kehoe utilized his non-tech background in civil and environmental engineering to transform that thought into Johego, a nonprofit tech startup that helps social workers, police officers, and other public servants connect people in need with the services they need.
“Often, it’s not that social workers aren’t aware of what resources are available in a community, it’s that because of budget cuts and so forth, there are no resources available within their community,” said Kehoe. “The landscape of social services availability is constantly changing and social service agencies don’t have the resources to keep track of that. […] The goal of the software is to make it extremely easy and efficient to find either resources for yourself or for people that you’re serving”
Around the Hannibal, Miss. region where Johego is focused, it’s not uncommon for clients to travel upwards of two hours to find the services they need. Those services include overnight shelters, medical assistance, mental health treatment, job training and more.
“The three main ways social workers, police officers, etc. connect people [with needed] services are word-of-mouth recommendations which are anecdotal and can be siloed, paper directories which are out-of-date the moment they’re printed, and then hours and hours of googling which is inefficient and unstructured,” said Kehoe. “All of that leads to inefficient, and in some cases ineffective, care.”
Johego works by compiling services from a variety of sources like state and federal government databases that publish information online.
“We combine all those databases into a super-set and we augment that, fill in gaps or address discrepancies through crowdsourcing,” said Kehoe. “We’ve also integrated lists from our users that they themselves have created.”
Kehoe said the accuracy of the information provided by Johego is a top priority. When compiling information from a variety of sources, discrepancies are inevitable. Users are encouraged to flag information that they find to be potentially incorrect.
“We’ve resolved each of those within 14 hours on average,” said Kehoe. “Contrast that with a lot of online directories, and a lot of those are only updated once a year. We’re trying to do something that is dramatically more real-time.”
Johego currently serves 6 counties in Northeast Missouri, centered around Hannibal. Kehoe said they’re working with a group to expand to an additional 10 and a contract under review that could allow them to expand to an additional 16.
“If we get all of those, we will basically be in a diagonal band from Northeast Missouri to Southwest Missouri through Jefferson City, Columbia, all the way down through Springfield,” said Kehoe. “The goal in the next several months is to expand to those areas and then in the months that follow, the rest of Missouri, starting to go into Illinois and some adjacent states.”
Kehoe said that there are some challenges to being a nonprofit tech startup.
“We’re a nonprofit tech startup so that kind of makes us of both worlds but also of neither,” said Kehoe. “A lot of the nonprofit people we work with assume that we’re for-profit or they don’t understand why a technology company is nonprofit. Similarly, a lot of the tech people I’ve spoken to and a lot of the channels that already exist are limited exclusively to for-profit enterprises.”
But regardless of the challenges, Kehoe is is confident that Johego will not only thrive, but also improve communities.
“I genuinely believe that by being a mission-oriented 501c3 that nonetheless has earned revenue-generating activities baked into its business model will allow us to be financially sustainable in a socially responsible way,” said Kehoe. “Communities like Hannibal are often one of the last places to receive or get access to an innovative technology. […] We’ve gotten so much support from the social workers and medical professionals. They’ve been our best advocates so far.”
Christine McGuigan is the Managing Editor of Silicon Prairie News.