Building a Better Relationship Between Citizens and Governments

Why We Invested: Colab

Right now you don’t have to look very hard to find evidence of the tense, often broken, relationship between between citizens and their governments around the world.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Brazil. In just the past couple of years the country has faced the impeachment of a President, numerous major corruption scandals, and most recently the news that investigations are being opened into the conduct of more than 100 high-ranking political officials.

Each of these incidents has deepened the distrust of government and those that hold privileged positions of power in Brazil. At the same time this is reinforcing the belief that those in power operate to a different set of rules that are focused on self-interest rather than public good.

This breakdown is affecting the whole of society. However in many cases those most directly affected are also those most in need of the basic government services.

At Omidyar Network we believe that everyone should be afforded opportunities to improve their lives and by extension to create positive impacts for their families, communities, and society. When governments fail to listen to and provide the services citizens need, opportunities are removed. If we are to restore the relationship between citizens and governments many things need to change. Not the least is the ability of citizens to have their voices heard and their needs met by government, and in turn for governments to be more efficient and effective in their responses.

Against this backdrop, we are proud to announce our investment in Colab — a Brazilian civic technology startup which provides a social network for engagement between citizens and local governments.

Colab provides citizens an opportunity to report local issues and suggest urban improvements, such as potholes, illegal car parking, public lighting, broken sidewalks, among others. It also allows citizens to proactively participate in the decisions that will impact their future and the futures of those around them.

For local governments, Colab offers a workflow management and engagement tool, as well as a data analytics system to manage and respond to citizens’ requests and to better evaluate their own performance.

Colab has already reached over 130 municipalities in Brazil, including Santos, Campinas, Niteroi, and Teresina. Across the country, they have over 150,000 members. So far the platform has enabled citizens from across these municipalities to submit more than 85,000 reports, with local governments responding to over 75% of those.

For instance, in Niteroi a citizen reported an issue with the drainage in the streets. Government resolved the issue and informed the citizen through the Colab platform. In a similar case in Pelotas, a citizen reported an issue with a pothole which government didn’t address correctly. Using the Colab platform the citizen engaged with government again to ensure to appropriate resolution of the issue. Similar cases in which government has successfully addressed the issues reported by citizens can be found in municipalities from Teresina to Recife.

Colab has been so successful at creating a vital bridge between citizens and local governments that it is now being used for a wide-range of purposes, from conducting participatory budgeting consultations to managing the outbreak of Zika.

The $1.25 million raised in this Series A round, which also included the participation of the Media Development Investment Fund, will allow Colab to grow the team that supports local governments and to better serve a rapidly growing number of users.

Ultimately, while the problems at the root of the mistrust between citizens and governments are age-old, the civic technology solutions we are deploying to address them are more important, innovative, and impactful than ever before.

We are delighted to support Colab in realizing a vision in which governments are worthy of their citizens’ trust, and in which governments and citizens work effectively together towards building better communities.