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Purple Binder

That’s nice

Safety network

With Purple Binder, social workers have one less reason to feel harried.

Maureen Searcy

Computer science grad Declan Frye, AB’10, didn’t want to “get people to buy more shoes or come up with another way to share pictures of cupcakes,” he says. “I don’t have anything against that,” he adds, but he wanted to apply his technical skills to solve a “more serious social problem.”

Frye and fellow computer science major Joseph Flesh, AB’12, built an online service for social workers and health care providers to collect, organize, and disseminate social-program resources. The program—called Purple Binder after the purple three-ring binder crammed full of coffee-stained, outdated papers belonging to a social worker they interviewed—won first prize in the John Edwardson, MBA’72, Social New Venture Challenge, a competition developed by Chicago Booth and the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship.

Purple Binder, which contains information on 4,000 social programs, launched in 2012 as a free site. Its founders envisioned a crowdsourced service, comparing it to a community garden. A temporary team of researchers—the Purple People—populated the system with information on social services across the city, hoping users would contribute thereafter. That didn’t happen, so Purple Binder phased out free memberships. Annual subscriptions range from $899 to $2,999.

Laura Morales, a School of Social Service Administration master’s student and fellow challenge team member, explains how the site helps caseworkers at the antipoverty organization Heartland Alliance: “It cuts down on how much time we have to dedicate to research when our job is to work with the client.” Here’s how Purple Binder has changed the way Heartland Alliance works.

Paper binder v. Purple Binder chart

From outdated binder to updated database. (Illustration by Tom Tian, AB’10)