Mobilearn – the digital platform supporting migrant integration

Mobilearn is a mobile-based service that provides newly arrived immigrants with important information in an easy and accessible way. As part of the Social Innovation Community project, Sophie Reynolds interviewed Ernest Radal, founder of Mobilearn to speak about the platform’s biggest successes and to learn about the value of working with government to achieve greater impact.

SR: Mobilearn has had considerable success in Sweden, partnering with approximately half of all Sweden's municipalities, regions and county governments, and the Swedish Migration and Labour Office. How did you first work to create these partnerships, and what have been the keys insights you would share with other social innovators looking to work with government partners in this way?

ER: "Well, first and foremost we realised early on that we needed to partner with the municipalities and county governments for maximal impact. Often when you meet social entrepreneurs or social innovators they don't recognise that to scale in the social impact sector, long and sustainable partnerships with public sector can be crucial. Also during our early development we created an advisory board, consisting of representatives of, among others, two of Sweden's largest municipalities. That way they gave us input on the product, as potential future clients.

Secondly, we decided to start offering our service to the market as soon as we had a ‘minimum viable product’, meaning we released version one, and then continued to develop and expand the service as we went along. For economical sustainability this means everything to an early stage startup just about to launch. The experience in developing Mobilearn has really taught me the value of not waiting too long. Work to put what you’ve got out there faster.

As far as first contact is concerned there is no magic formula, we did what any other sales organisation would do - cold calls, and setting up meetings.

Some key insights from this experience would be:

  • Involve your partners at an early stage, make them key stakeholders in your development
  • Create a roadmap, share it with your partners, and then show them how you’re making progress towards achieving those key milestones. This will signal you are a partner that keeps your promises and delivers, which will help you in the future.
  • Consider engaging with stake-holders in a bottom-up way - not only top-down. You need to involve people on the ground. We didn’t just meet with senior ministers, city mayors and heads of units. We also met social workers and interpreters. Understanding their needs was crucial to gaining the buy-in of management of these frontline services.
  • Have a sustainable business model - your partners need to understand that you're not suddenly going to disappear. Insufficient economical sustainability is often the main obstacle for public sector to collaborate with / buy from you as an innovator.
  • Offer support - your local government or municipality has probably never done anything like this before. Make sure they feel safe and understand you’re going to “hold their hand” throughout the process.
  • Articulate what the results of working with you will be - then make sure you can demonstrate the success metrics you initially decided upon
  • Find a way of measuring your social impact - and then convert it to economic impact
  • Last and certainly not least – social innovators and entrepreneurs can be afraid to sell to government. The commissioners and public officials you’re working with are human, and will respond to a well-communicated, well-developed product or service that can support what they do – regardless of whether they’re positioned in government or not

A client tries the Mobilearn platform.

Europe is facing unprecedented challenges with migration. In what ways has Mobilearn been able to support public agencies to better deal with newly arrived migrants, and what have been the biggest impacts to date?

Europe is facing perhaps its biggest challenge ever - the great wave of immigration that we have seen in recent years. Immigration isn’t just going to stop, and we, therefore, need to create new, smart, digital tools that empower people and allows for faster, more efficient integration.

We need to reduce the human handling of administrators, offer asylum-seekers early and meaningful access to employment from the very first day, and ensure that unnecessary waiting time is converted into time to better equip new arrivals with the kind of support they need to adjust to the society they're entering into.

This is all done in Mobilearn, by providing community and civic information in different languages, offering an immediate access to the labour market, mapping competency and experiences faster, providing the tools for language learning, and providing housing options.

Mobilearn sets out to create a “one-stop-shop” platform for immigrants. By distributing Mobilearn, the public agencies have noticed that immigrants they encounter have become more independent, language learning has gone faster, questions and answers to civic information is found more independently by the immigrant him or herself. They've gotten to grips with their new home faster. By adding some of their personal details to the Mobilearn, they've also been able to create CVs/resumes and apply for jobs immediately from day one.  The platform is certified by The Swedish Data Protection Authority – which ensures that we meet data privacy standards in accordance with EU laws. Immigrants, the end-users, are in complete control and have to approve any requests to access their data. 

In addition to aiding faster integration the public agencies have found themselves saving time that is easily converted to real economical savings. Since being set up, Mobilearn partnerships have made key services available to tens of thousands of immigrants, with a potential saving of €421 per end user a year, on average for our clients.

Two users of the Mobilearn platform at Kinda Municipality, Sweden. 

Recently, Stockholm University did an independent research study in order to evaluate Mobilearn’s impact. Can you tell us about your own journey working to measure Mobilearn’s impact, and how you worked to develop and access the skills and tools (both within your organisation and beyond) needed to do this?

The Gordian knot of all social innovation is how to measure the actual impact. Now, all social innovators and entrepreneurs have different stakeholders, whether they know it or not, and all these stakeholders have different needs and expectations. As a social entrepreneur you need to identify all stakeholders and then determine “what’s in it for them”. For the social worker, maybe it's about the immigrant’s ability to integrate, for the mayor of the local municipality maybe it’s about how much taxpayers’ money he or she is saving.

There is no magical formula to creating models for measurement of social impact or social-economical return of investment. You have to invent it yourself in your sector and make sure it’s statistically viable, and can be made standard across all your activities.

The University of Stockholm decided to evaluate and measure the impact of immigrants’ access to open data and what effect it had on the municipalities and the society as a whole. For the purpose of their research study they chose the Mobilearn application, and measured a municipality that had distributed Mobilearn to immigrants, comparing it to a municipality that had not.

The University of Stockholm concluded that every municipality had an average of 13 different stakeholders. These included, for example, pre-schools, police and healthcare providers. They then monitored these different stakeholders and after a year got an exact number on the actual time saved, and then finally depending on salaries and external cost etc., also on cost savings in total per end user of the platform.

We captured end users’ feedback through SMS surveys, and measured the actual usage of the Mobilearn service, looking at statistics and analysing the end users’ data. But we also needed to convert the social impact into social-economical (or ‘hard’) impact.

We managed to do this by creating the “Mobilearn model” – a 24 month activity plan based on our clients’ different KPIs (key performance indicators). The client commits to following this plan, by distributing, working with and including Mobilearn in their plan – in order to reach agreed upon goals during the two years, or else, we can’t guarantee success. On top of that, we then add the economical savings as calculated by the Stockholm University, thus creating a total potential saving, actual savings or loss of money/investment.

As a direct result of this we also had to create two different roles within the company: a customer care role and an education officer. The local municipality, governments (etc.) get certified and educated by our education officer and then our customer care support ensures that the clients feel safe, secure and has access to statistics, plans and numbers throughout their entire plan.

Has working closely with public sector agencies impacted your own work, and has it benefitted your venture in any way?

All new experiences make you develop and become better, stronger and wiser. We have had a unique opportunity to work with public sector agencies and during the years we’ve had to adopt and improve in order to create a common path forward together with governments. We have become more patient, learned to adjust to structures in a more open way and also learned a lot about how public procurement works.

It has also changed our organisation positively in that sense that it’s demanded us to focus on improving our structure, our long-term thinking and the way we deliver client support within the company – all of which have strengthened our offer and deepened our impact. 

Ernest Radal is a juror of the 2016 European Social Innovation Competition. The 2016 competition focuses on social innovation for refugees and migrants.

Image top right: Kiran Raja Bahadur SRK via Compfight cc 

Other images courtesy of Ernest Radal, Mobilearn


Sophie Reynolds

Sophie Reynolds

Sophie Reynolds

Former Senior Researcher - Public and Social Innovation

Sophie was a Senior Researcher in Nesta’s Policy and Research unit. She is now Director of Sophie Reynolds Research & Consultancy.

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