Megan Cromp is determined to use her app, Key Conservation, to revolutionise the way people support conservation organisations.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) recently made international headlines by announcing that one million species are at risk of extinction.
While conservationists are working against the clock to find some solutions to tackle this biodiversity crisis, it has become apparent that thinking outside the box might be required to address the issue.
Megan Cromp was working in the Caribbean on a sea turtle project when she received a call informing her that a sea turtle was being washed out and needed to be relocated urgently.
When she got into her car, ready to drive to the beach, she realised that the vehicle was out of gas and that the organisation she was working for unfortunately didn’t have any money left to refill the tank. She ended up having to use her own savings to pay for the gas.
That was a breakthrough moment for Megan who realised that those types of issues were commonly experienced by many conservation organisations across the globe.
The solution she started developing in her head was a mobile app, now known as Key Conservation, that would “help conservationists gain support and funding in real time but would also be a way for supporters of conservation organisations to be able to give more than just funds”.
Megan talks to INKLINE about the challenges of developing Key Conservation and her hopes for the future.
I: What is the concept behind Key Conservation?
M: Key Conservation is a mobile app to help conservationists gain support and funding in real time but it’s also a way for supporters of conservation organisations to be able to give more than just funds. The app has a scrolling feed similar to Instagram or Facebook that updates in real time and shows issues that are occurring around the world with conservation organisations.
We’re trying to fill the gap for funding and support that aren’t planned. For example, your vehicle gets stuck in the mud and you need more people to get it moving or 50 pangolins have been confiscated at the airport and they need funds to help pay for food and medicine. You can’t plan for these things!
There are three ways for supporters to help the organisations: by giving their professional skills, by giving funds and by helping in-person. One thing that people kept saying was: ‘I would love to be able to give my professional skills cause I’m highly skilled in a certain domain and I’d love to actually give back in a way that’s meaningful to me’.
The skill impact side of the app means that organisations can tap into people who have certain skills. They save lots of money by tapping into those skills but also it creates a more intimate connection with people who want to do more.
Instead of giving $25 a month and wondering what’s going on, they want to be able to say: ‘I helped with this specific outreach campaign’ or ‘I help this conservation organisation build a better website’ so they can actually let the world know they exist. I always say no matter what you do for a living you can use if for conservation!
You will fail and that is good, it means that you are trying and going for it.
For fundings, we are looking at individualised option so instead of those bigger amounts we want to say: ‘This medicine is to help pangolins and this is how much it costs, can you help us put money towards this?’ So you actually see the thing you are putting that money towards instead of it being a vague request. We’re trying to have transparency in conservation so that people can feel like they are a part of it.
Lastly, helping in-person is a really cool feature where you look at the app and it puts you on the map where you can see the conservation organisations around you, what they’re up to, and if they need any help. You can see if there are any local events going on and if there are groups supporting them so you can get involved to help these organisations.
You can also get push notifications about real-time critical needs!
I: You didn’t have any experience in app design, how challenging was it for you to start from scratch?
M: I started researching about how to design an app and started taking online courses in my spare time. I downloaded all the sketches and the different tools and platforms that I needed to start doing that and I started playing around with it. I then downloaded probably about 50 apps to try to test the features and see which ones I liked.
I call Key my Frankenstein app because I took all the features I liked and then put them in the app. It took me a couple of years to really figure out the flow and what was needed for the different features. I really like design so it was really exciting for me to tap into that creative side but not knowing anything about building an app was daunting at first!
It’s kind of a way to put regular people in the frontline of conservation along with these conservationists!
Once I started chipping away at it I realised that it’s not that hard. The flow was the most difficult part because every button that you put in the app has to go somewhere so I had to design each of those artboards to make sense. I did a lot of drawings on paper and then I would digitise it and I’d design it with different branding colours and different buttons. Once that was done I put all the sketches into a software where you’re then able to connect all the buttons and to see on your phone how it’d actually work.
I: How did you come up with the name Key Conservation for the app?
M: We had a whole list of names but nothing felt right and then it just made sense! You’re the key to making a difference, each individual is the key. I wanted something that was one word, something simple that we could shorten.
Our tagline is empowering hope and we really want people to feel like they are the ones that can actually make a difference and we can empower the hope that they have inside of them so then being the key to making a difference!
I: Could you tell me a bit more about the different organisations that accepted to be part of the pilot project?
M: Our Pilot Projects are an inspiring group of organisations. They are all quite different from one another, in the sense of the species they work with and the areas they work in, but they have many things in common as well.
They are passionately optimistic about the change they know we can make in conservation, they are embracing new technology and they are striving to find new ways to connect the world to the important work they are doing. They are all facing tough battles every day to save the species and ecosystems they work with but they never give up.
They are the ones I turn to for inspiration to keep pushing forward when we have obstacles building Key. We are lucky to have them onboard as willing participants and their insights will help us create the best version of the Key Conservation platform.
If I am ever having a hard day trying to get Key up and going I look to them to keep me pressing forward.
I: Any exciting news in the pipeline for Key at this stage?
M: Yes! Ever since we started working on Key Conservation we have had many people who work in academia, within field stations and more ask if they would be able to utilise the Key Conservation app.
Our tagline is empowering hope and we really want people to feel like they are the ones that can actually make a difference!
Since the app was originally built for just conservation organisations and global supporters we had to go back to the drawing board. This is just a side project for now as we focus on the core functionality of the app but we have been working on what this design might look like and how we could better help support the conservation community as a whole.
I: Lastly, if you could give a piece of advice to young people who want to launch their own startup in the tech sector what would it be?
M: Be a sponge, find a mentor and never stop learning. But most importantly remember that no one starts out as an expert. You will fail and that is good, it means that you are trying and going for it. Yes, be mindful of the risks but don’t wait until everything is perfect. Perfection is the killer of ideas and passion, if you wait until something is perfect you’ll never be ready.
Know your strengths and know when to delegate. You can spend all of your time trying to learn a skill that you hate or you can bring someone onto the team who’s passionate about it. It’s not to say that you can’t grow and learn but it’s ok to say this isn’t my strength and to focus on the skills you do have that make you an invaluable asset to your organisation.
Julia Migné is a multimedia journalist and wildlife photographer specialising in environmental issues and odd hobbies. She has written for Africa Geographic and BBC Wildlife among others. An endless traveller, she swears that she would visit one country for each letter of the alphabet.