The University of Chicago

School of Social Service Administration Magazine

Volume 21 | Issue 1 | Winter 2014
Knowledge is Power

To bring clarity to what Chicago-based social services are available, it took a mix of technology and social work know-how to find a winning solution. Purple Binder is a one-stop crowdsourcing website for social workers and health care professionals to find, share and organize all the services they need for clients, including food pantries, substance abuse treatment, and homeless shelters. Last May, the group won the top prize of $35,000 from the Social New Venture Challenge (SNVC), a startup program for social ventures offered by the UChicago Booth School of Business and endowed by John Edwardson, M.B.A. ‘72 (Booth). More than 30 graduate student-led teams had applied.

Purple Binder was founded by computer science graduates Joseph Flesh, A.B. ‘12, and Declan Frye, A.B. ‘10, who asked three students in SSA’s Extended Evening master’s program to join the team that applied to the challenge: Lauren Johnson, Laura Morales and Lauren Webb. “Working with SSA students has given us an incredible perspective about what the front lines of social services look like and what the needs are of those who are on-the-ground helping people,” Flesh says.

As of now, Purple Binder’s database of providers is focused on the Chicago area. Current full-time student Sarah Miles helped manage part-time during the summer of 2013 by reaching out to service providers and coordinating all data collection efforts. The City of Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services, headed by Evelyn Diaz, A.M. '98, hired the group to build a site that automates collecting information about the department’s services. With the SNVC award money, Purple Binder plans to expand to additional cities.

“It was so valuable,” Morales says of the experience, “in addition to everything that we’re learning here at SSA as clinical social workers and social welfare professionals, to have had the experience in working within a business context.” — Julie Jung