By S. Jerry George
“I guess Facebook has let the cat out of the bag,” says Herbert (Haz) Samuel, explaining why he took the wraps off his new mobile app project Tuesday, even before he’s built anything.
Facebook Tuesday launched their new Timeline feature that allows users in the USA and UK to show their organ donation status, a feature intended to encourage Facebook users to sign up as organ donors.
For the past four months, Samuel, an energy consultant and entrepreneur who lives in St Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean, has been quietly working on Xorgan (pronounced Zor-Gan), a social mobile app meant to increase the rate of blood and organ donation worldwide.
The idea for Xorgan came to him after a few conversations with his brother Malcolm, a former consultant surgeon at the transplant unit at University Hospital in Birmingham, U.K. and now a consultant renal transplant surgeon at the Mount Hope Medical Sciences Complex in Trinidad & Tobago.
“After our first conversation, I wanted to immediately sign up as an organ donor, but I couldn’t, because there’s very limited infrastructure for organ donation in the Caribbean. So he had to send the registration forms from Trinidad for my wife and I to sign up,” Samuel explained.
It was after another conversation last Christmas Day that Samuel did an Internet search for organ donation and discovered that it was a huge, global problem.
The problem essentially is that although people are aware of the need for organ and blood donations which save lives, most people don’t actually take the decision to sign up.
The consequence of this “donation gap” as Samuel puts it, is a daily challenge of life and death for thousands of people every year, all over the world. In the USA alone, almost 7,000 people die each year waiting for an organ transplant.
A day later, while taking a shower “which is where I solve all my problems” Samuel quips, the idea to build Xorgan hit.
“It occurred to me that the problem could be cracked by a behavioral economics approach and that the vehicle for delivering the solution was a social mobile app,” Samuel said.
“Pretty much everybody has a mobile phone and the number of smartphones is increasing daily; there are hundreds of millions of people worldwide using Facebook, Twitter and Google+, so what better medium to use? So, over the next few months I started developing the idea and discussed it with a few friends, and I also pitched it to a few prospective investors to start raising funds.”
Two months ago he reached out to Dave Copps, a Dallas, Texas software entrepreneur who’s building a new breed of search engine. Dave spends some of his limited spare time at his vacation home in Bequia, one of the Grenadine islands and was introduced online by a mutual friend.
“In an amazing coincidence, which gave me goose-bumps when he mentioned it,” Samuel recalls.
It turned out that Copps’ family has their own organ donation story: Craig, Daves’ younger brother was killed in an auto accident in 1987 and the family chose to donate many of his organs.
According to Copps, the letters the family received from the organ recipients each spoke of the life-changing impact the transplant had on their lives.
“Each letter was a real ray of light at a very dark time in their lives,” Copps related.
Samuel immediately asked Copps to help him with the project and they started work on gathering video stories of people whose lives had been touched by the act of organ donation — and Dave’s story was the first one they started recording.
Samuel is no stranger to behavioral economics or, in a strange twist of fate, to run-ups against Facebook’s all-powerful wall.
Two years ago Samuel launched Welectricity, a ground-breaking social media tool that helps households track, compare and reduce their electrical energy consumption. Since then, people from 99 countries worldwide have signed up as users of the behavior-based tool and the service has won three international innovation awards since he came up with the idea in 2009.
Then, lo and behold, Facebook launched its own social media energy comparison app a month ago.
This time, Facebook got there first with their organ donation App. Asked for his thoughts about Facebook’s announcement today, Samuel chuckles and says. “What can I say? It’s a fantastic idea.
“Now on to plan B.”