June 30, 2021
Meet the Catalyst 2021 Semifinalists: mRelief
mRelief Co-Founder Rosie Afriyie grew up in the Bronx, where she saw firsthand the importance of food stamps. Co-Founder Genevieve Nielsen grew up in New Orleans and living through Hurricane Katrina shaped her perspective on the importance of improving social service delivery.
In the Summer of 2014, Afriyie attended a presentation at Chi Hack Night in Chicago, where city officials on the Innovation Delivery Team reported that out of every 10,000 families who apply for rent assistance through social services, only 400-600 of them actually qualified for the benefit. From that presentation, mRelief was born.
Afriyie had the idea to create a pre-screening tool using wireless technology that reduced families’ time in the social services office by 75%. Through an easy-to-use platform on web, text messaging, and voice, mRelief texts 10 simple questions to families, allowing them to find out if they qualify to enroll in food stamps in less than 3 minutes.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, mRelief’s focus shifted to a specific and crucial part of social services: SNAP food benefits. SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, provides around 40 million people with access to nutritious food each year. During the pandemic, that number increased dramatically—some states started receiving between 100% and 400% more SNAP applications than usual.
“We were watching the need for food balloon,” said Afriyie. “We knew it was time to utilize wireless to help those in need.”
Thus began mRelief, an easy-to-use platform available on the web and via text and voice messaging, enabling Americans to sign up for SNAP. The founders are utilizing the power of wireless to enable seniors, college students, low-income workers, and families with children to navigate the complicated enrollment process and claim the benefits they need.
mRelief is using text messaging to bridge the equity gap, reaching families where they are and connecting them to SNAP benefits through their mobile phone. They also created Johnnie, a Customer Relationship Management technology, designed specifically to enable caseworkers to connect to their SNAP clients remotely instead of in-person. Johnnie, named after visionary activist Johnnie Tillmon, helps caseworkers reach out to and view their clients’ progress through the benefits application process. It also help track outreach metrics, like the number of calls made and the number of people enrolled.
Not only is mRelief reaching more people through wireless technology: their program is working. This year, the company hit a huge growth milestone—they connected more than 1 million households to food benefits, and are ready to lead the SNAP community as it enters a new stage of growth over the next several years.
“We plan to prioritize coalition building as part of a large ecosystem across SNAP,” said Afriyie. “Because mRelief’s platform was created to meet Americans where they are through wireless technology, we are able to meet business goals through our data-driven approach.”
mRelief plans to expand their growth over the coming years, and has already secured funding to scale their services in up to 14 states. They are focused on strengthening their work in those states, and scaling their tools to provide comprehensive SNAP outreach technology to everyone who needs it. The Foundation is thrilled to have mRelief as a semifinalist, and can’t wait to see where their work takes them next.
A grants program for social entrepreneurs accelerating wireless innovation for health and well-being.