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Thursday, June 4, 2020

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Global community collaboration with local solutions, but how?

Gabriel Varaljay is one of the foundation members of an online social and economic program called ENVIENTA, which has been established for five years. One branch of this was created to bring together the companies, corporations and individuals who provide some service in and around our residential place connecting them to a global database. Or, if anyone needs any professional, service or volunteer help quickly, they can easily find it using the ENVIENTA open-source platform.

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Life always gives us an opportunity that, if we can use it well, it will serve us. I believe that I became a founding member of this magazine for a reason.

Would you please talk about how it started and who created ENVIENTA?

ENVIENTA was founded five years ago in Gran-Canaria. A group of friends had a beer by the pool and realized that most of the trouble came from expensive housing. Of course, this sounds naive, but we felt a possible solution was to transform shipping containers into living spaces.

One of my co-founders, Gábor Kiss, as an architect and designer, envisioned using 3D animation to model this project. Later, however, we realised that the problem to be solved was much more significant.. Later as we joined up with economists, developers and thinkers, it was felt every minute that it tingles in the air and something is happening. We attended conferences, we went to Mexico and built a fantastic network of contacts, from South America to Asia. It has become clear that the solution lies in the so-called cosmo-localization. In short, while knowledge is global, the implementation must be local.

There have been many examples of this before us, most in the field of software development, as most software is uploaded to the cloud during development, and another member of the team on the other side of the world downloads that code and continues to make it perfect.

Based on the above principles, if a developer starts developing a physical product in, say, Hungary, the plans can be continued by anyone in Canada and so on. All this in such a way that the specific product is adapted to the local needs (a house in Africa needs completely different insulation from one in Siberia). Different versions will be ready, and in the end, the plan will be downloadable and even printable locally with a 3D printer. An essential component of this is open source, as plans cannot be hampered by legal constraints. Nonetheless, open-source doesn’t have to be free, as developments from Linux, Google Android, and even Tesla are working on open source.

What does ENVIENTA mean? Is it an acronym?

The name sounds very Spanish, while we are talking about an English acronym: ENVISION & ENCOURAGE TECHNOLOGICAL ALTERNATIVES, which in Hungarian would seem like a vision and encouragement of technological alternatives. It can also be felt from this that we firmly believe that the current situation in which we live, technology can provide a solution.

Gabriel Varaljay, ENVIENTA, global community collaboration - local solutions
Gabriel Varaljay, ENVIENTA, global community collaboration – local solutions

In which language is the open-source as a community collaboration service available?

The open-source – which I consider necessary to highlight as only a part of the wholesale picture – was first developed with a Hungarian interface, but since last weekend’s hackathons came into the picture [hackathon = 2-day nonstop brainstorming, where teams build a minimal software or physical product and this will be presented at the end of the competition] we had to switch to English.

If I know right you took part in a competition, what exactly was it?

Yes, we entered The Global Hack and the Pioneer.app Hackathon online developer competitions. The Global Hack was an Estonian initiative that was backed by the Prime Minister and plenty of celebrities, and big companies too. A total of 44,000 people have been moved to resolve the global crisis. We entered the economic and ecological category. The Pioneer division was smaller, moving 750 people and 140 teams. I haven’t seen so many people on zoom at once. [laughs edit]. Both events were 100% online and one ended with the other starting. As a result, the team slept 3-4 hours a day and took turns holding the front, developing [editing the software], demoing [editing, introducing] that development to the others, and so on.

We learned a lot. For me, the most significant discovery was that the development had to be crammed into it for a short time, all in a continuous marathon-like grinder mode. We had to find an extra developer in addition to our Laszlo Fazekas backend [ed. The backend is the part of the software that is not visible to the user, the database, connections, etc., the operations that run in the background]. Slack [ed. Is now a popular professional chat platform] provided by the hackathon also helped us to find a coder from Pakistan. Mudaser was a great help to us. From then on, however, I switched to development leader mode while pitching [demonstrating] the project to Jozsef Veress in zoom rooms [ed. Video chat service] to the other participants. It’s a real startup experience, and I recommend everyone to participate in events like this.

Family and friends still don’t understand why I am so busy; It’s lockdown, the world has stopped, there’s no work here. I do not agree with this, because the examples above also show that thousands of people are working on improvements to solve the current problems.

How quickly were you able to put the program together and how did the promotion of this local solutions start?

The code itself can be thanked to my friend Laszlo Fazekas, and I am responsible for the frontend [ed. The frontend is the visible part of the website]. I’m still learning it now, so if there are any faults in the machine, it’s thanks to me. [laugh ed.] Mudaser, our friend from Pakistan, created the user profile [ed. that stores the user’s picture, password, data]. Thanks to this is what we find on local.envienta.com.

There’s still a lot to do, but in short, the site is able to, when someone signs up (top right corner), say with their Google account and enter their name and contact information and keywords (e.g. potatoes or lawn mowing). Then those closest to him will come up with what product or service he is offering. The results rank the one closest to us.

I definitely have to point out that as long as you have to enter your exact address in your profile, no one will see it in the search engine, just how far you are from them. The system will later involve basket communities and local communities as well, thus helping collaboration. The coronavirus situation has shown the world how vulnerable globalization has been to us. This is where the role of local solutions, partnerships and short supply chains comes into role. It was like we had predicted the entire thing: we knew years ago, but we had no idea that the whole thing would hit sooner than we thought. Humans, on the other hand, is a creative being and finds solutions. [smiles ed.]

How many are in the founding members and who is responsible for what? Do you only maintain the operation of the online system and promote the opportunity, or do you actively monitor the satisfaction of the services created among the members?

The number of founding ancestral members of ENVIENTA is 5, but we have four organizations: in Spain, there is an association, in England and the United States a company and in Hungary, we work on the registration of the ENVIENTA Association. The world is now getting into telecommuting and digitization, and as we are living around the world, we have been working this way from the beginning. The local search engine still only works at the demo level, of course, you can try it, but first, we need to have localization on our site, as now all keywords are only available in English.

Search engine promotion will be done organically in the beginning. The Hungarian association is the largest and the strongest in the relationship capital. Several basket communities have already signed that they will register immediately if we have fixed the code and the Hungarian interface will be available. The hardest part is always finding a developer, so if anyone would like to help us, feel free to contact us.

What was the original goal and how much has it changed since then?

ENVIENTA’s future goal has not changed, but milestones and priorities have. Instead, the question is which module to develop earlier in a given situation. We have a team of blueprints and printable models of open-source medical devices who will be uploading blueprints [ed. Blueprints] to our platform soon. We are working on the EcoHouse project, which will not be a container house, as we envisioned at the beginning. Still, We will be an IoT [ed. When household appliances communicate with each other] devices and a wallet-saving smart home. A prototype of this will be ready soon.

How open were people to this opportunity, and how many members did you start with, can you remember?

From the beginning, everyone was open about it and looking for opportunities to get involved. As a pioneer, my friend Gabor Kiss goes ahead and contacts all organizations who work on a similar model. We keep saying that there is no competition because if a ship sinks, no one cares who stuffs the holes first. Elon Musk had a quote like this when asked why he made Tesla concepts publicly available.

Of course, some sceptics see the ENVIENTA project as dreamy.  What is happening now with the coronavirus – and I would note here that the economic crisis would have struck without COVID-19 – unfortunately, I have to say, justifies us. Globalization must be replaced by a hybrid model that provides adequate security in the face of such a state as we are now experiencing.

Many people compare the situation to the 2008 crisis, but I do not feel any similarity. What you can learn in 2008 is that the South American economy hasn’t felt anything of it all. Why? Because they have not developed dependence with other global players. I have no problem to import products from China or vegetables and fruits from Spain, but if a situation like this happens, there is no local Plan B to reach out to. That’s why I feel that even if the vaccine is made, the world will work according to a completely different model than before.

What difficulties did you have in building this opportunity you dreamed of? People only use an unknown service in case of emergency; we prefer workers, professionals recommended by someone.

The local search engine is practically like Google, with the exception that if I search for a product, I can find it locally. It’s enough to think you need an electrician. Google will give the hit and a lot of investigation is required afterwards so that it doesn’t come from the other side of the big city. With our search engine, however, it may turn out that there is one in 300 meters away from us who is dealing with this, but even if he is not there is another specialist in 500 meters away and so on.

Logistics will be reduced and the ecological footprint will be smaller, which only a few people think about.

So far, we have sacrificed everything on the altar of cheapness, and we didn’t care that a product came from the other side of the world in a huge cargo ship and was transferred several times to diesel-powered trucks and so on.

Well, the localization of this model goes for it, all in a way that favours local communities. I’m not saying there will be a microchip maker on the street next door that I can buy from, but why not get an electrician or goods, for example, from local resources.

Here, anyone who provides a service, does it for a fee what they list next to the service they provide? Is it possible to leave feedback on the work done and thus it is considered a more reliable, competent professional?

For the time being, the search engine only lists, and each player provides the availability of its website. Whether to indicate a price at this stage depends on them. We will refine this in the future as the code becomes more complicated. The reputation system is one of the fundamental milestones. As we develop multiple modules, an individual’s reputation will be critical, and this metric will appear next to everyone’s name. Be it a developer on the platform, a buyer in the webshop, a project launcher on the community support platform or a seller in the local search engine.

If someone works for a fee, how is the payment made? In today’s world, it is customary to negotiate the price with the professional first and then, by the time they reach, the price will increase by a certain amount.

At the moment, we only provide the search engine, like Google, there are results, but from then on, it’s not up to Google whether the two parties agree or not. If the fee rises and this causes inconvenience to the customer, it will appear below the profile of the given service provider, as the consumer will give feedback, possibly write an opinion.

What percentage of volunteers make up members?

ENVIENTA follows the platform cooperative/collaboration model. The participants, those contributing to the joint activity, will also work together to develop the form and operational mechanisms of joint ownership. According to the “traditional approach”, they all now work as volunteers. One of our everyday tasks is to develop a solution (s), methods and tools for comparing, measuring and recording participants’ contributions.


Congratulations on this commitment over several years that have made this excellent idea and plan a reality. I wish that the main works would be completed as soon as possible and that it would be able to operate live in as many areas and countries as possible.

I hope ENVIENTA will help many of us in the future

In the meantime, it’s a good idea to sign up for a search engine reminder with an email at the bottom of local.envienta.com

Global community collaboration with local solutions, but how?

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