Tired of apathy from the governments across the country, a bunch of youth have decided to take matters into their own hand.
They are working on a new platform Social Cops which will let anyone to report of any issue ranging from garbage dumped on the roadside to a low hanging electric cable in their locality.
The complaints will in turn be passed on to NGOs in the neighbourhood who will help fix the issue by contacting the right government department.
The team behind the venture,a group of Indian students studying in Nanyang university in Singapore, is still trying to raise funds and they are doing so via Indiegogo.com. Prukalpa Sankar, one of the core members of the team says that they’ve all worked extensively with NGOs on solving grass root problems in India.
Here’s our interview with Prukalpa on Social Cops
Who came up with the idea and how? Who are the members of the finding team and how many of you plan to take it up full time for the next year?
We’re a group of Indian students from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. We’ve all worked extensively with NGOs on solving grass root problems in India. Then the India Against Corruption movement was at its peak and we realised that the public wanted to be actively involved in changing policies and creating change. Yet, these movements were not really leading to lasting change — the voice of the nation was not being actively actioned upon. We began to brainstorm about possible ways to bring together citizens, the government and the other bodies that could solve problems in India. We started with small problems – garbage on the roads, potholes, water drainage issues. Our founding moment was when we realised that the municipal corporations in India were becoming increasing tech-savvy and were requesting citizens to be more actively involved in the public administration issues. (e.g. The East Delhi Municipal Corporation requests citizens to upload pictures of garbage/cleanliness issues, issues them a complaint tracking number and addresses them on Facebook itself). It was this moment that helped us put it all together and identify the change process that we were trying to create. We were also the runners up in the Microsoft Imagine Cup Singapore 2012.
A team of five, three of us plan to take up Social Cops full time for the next year while two others from the original team will be working part-time.
How are you taking it up along with your studies?
It is definitely a challenge to manage Social Cops along with university filled with quizzes and exams. Yet, for all of us Social Cops is a dream- and when you dream about something, you truly find a way to make it happen. We already feel like we are working full time to make the initiative come true. We have been receiving a lot of support from people all around the world since we launched our Social Media & crowd funding campaign – and that truly keeps us going. We plan to build the technology platform by December 2012, when we will be going back to India to approach the different stakeholders involved. On parallel, we are working to build relations with civic bodies, NGOs & corporate to ensure that the moment we are back in India Social Cops is off the ground. We are also working to actively recruit a team of active volunteers and campus ambassadors in Delhi & other metros in India.
What was the reaction from NGOs when you approached them with the idea?
So far, we have only been receiving good feedback from whoever has been approached with the idea. Our co-founder, Varun, also founded Sweksha – an online directory of NGOs in India while Prukalpa was a volunteer for the Joy of Giving Week –thus giving us a lot of connections in the NGO sector in India.
What kind of follow-up approach do you expect NGOs to take? How different would that be from people directly contacting the civic bodies?Do you also plan to tie-up with civic bodies who have an active presence on social media? If yes, how? Are you planning to tie- up with corporate who already undertake such work as part of CSR?
The Social Cops Model
Stage 1: Solving Social Problems
Stage 1 involves mainly connecting citizens to the relevant authorities. If someone walks by an uncleared garbage bin, all they need to do is “lodge” a social complaint via Social Cops. The process is incredibly simple and takes under a minute. Once this is done, it is uploaded onto the open common platform and the relevant authorities will be notified immediately. In case of the garbage bin problem, the locality municipal corporation will be notified. Due to the open platform- citizens, media & administrators can view the efficiency of the problem tracking & solving- bring the much needed accountability into the system. The authorities will be automatically reminded of problems that are to be solved on a timely basis, and Social Cops will also publish reports regarding long-lasting problems reviewing action that has been taken. This would allow citizens to use media as a push to create change in the system.
Stage 2: Creating Lasting Change in Communities
Social Cops will have data regarding complaints lodged and the efficiency in complaint redressal by the various authorities. We will be publishing weekly social analytics – which locality had the most number of complaints, which localities’ municipal corporation was the least responsive to complaints and what is the main type of issue that people are lodging complaints about. We believe that having open and transparent information regarding these problems will create the data that can create the push needed to create efficiency in the public administration system.
Yet, maybe a large number of complaints related to cleanliness in a certain area are not because the municipality is not functioning, but because the citizens of that locality litter too much. Or because there aren’t enough garbage bins? This is where the Social Cops platform brings in corporate and relevant NGOs. The corporate sector via their CSR will be able to “Sponsor a Cause” (eg. Cleanliness/ Clean Water etc) or “Adopt an Area.” This will also allow the corporate to effectively market & raise awareness regarding their existing CSR as well as values that they stand for, as every problem uploaded to the platform regarding the particular cause will see a “Sponsored by COMPANY NAME” caption next to it. Social Cops will tie up with relevant NGOs for the cause and locality to execute the steps needed to create change. In this case, maybe the particular locality needs a cleanliness drive & an awareness event to increase public consciousness regarding littering. Social Cops will be taking a % cut from the corporate CSR funds for our own sustenance. We believe that with corporate adopting “causes” and NGOs initiating the movements for change, we will be able to create an eco-system that promotes lasting change.
The money you are raising will be enough to sustain it for a year? But what about long-term sustainability and how will you raise funding a year later?
We believe that the money we are raising will be enough to sustain ourselves for a year. We are incredibly passionate about making Social Cops come true, even if it means living out of a single room and living frugally. We have even been considering taking tuitions & freelancing in case we do not raise the money to sustain it for a year, which sometimes makes us laugh at ourselves – after 4 years on engineering & summer internships that paid us $5000 a month, we are considering working in McD to make our dream come true. We believe that Social Cops model of bringing in the corporate sector & CSR will bring in revenues for our own sustenance. We hope that within a year, Social Cops will start making the revenues that we need to sustain ourselves.
How fast do you think you can expand from Delhi to other cities?
We believe greatly in the scalability of Social Cops due to the nature of technology today. As Social Cops is a purely technological platform- once the backbone is built, expansion from city to city will purely depend on our outreach to the administration. We do not merely want to be a platform for people to report problems and we want to ensure that problems reported via Social Cops are actually solved. Thus, we will be initially launching a small scale beta project in Delhi to ensure that we are able connect effectively with the administration and NGOs in the area. We are already gathering a team of volunteers from different metros – Hyderabad, Mumbai, Bangalore & Chennai apart from Delhi who will be helping us with Marketing & Public Relations to ensure that when we are ready to scale we can do so effectively.
Do you think you’ll be able to raise so much money through crowd funding in India?
We are trying to raise $50,000 from the crowd funding campaign (where a % of the money raised will go to the crowdfunding site- so somewhere around $42000 is what we will get to keep) to keep us alive for at least a year before we start making revenues. When you think about it this equals 50,000 people each contributing $1 each to the cause. That’s equal to someone giving up one cup of coffee for the day. We believe in our idea and we believe in the change we are creating- and we do not think that raising $50000 will be a problem if the message reaches the right people. Yet, we realize that we cannot rely on crowd funding for the success of the idea and will be actively sourcing for grants and investors that we can tap upon.
People will happily hit the like button for a cause, do you believe they would be ready to take hands-on approach to solve problems through such initiatives?
Yes, we do. In the past week, we have received emails from people we do not know saying that they want to be more involved and offering to help with different aspects of Social Cops. We believe in the power of the people of India & we believe that people will step up to create change. Yet, we realize the value of people’s time and the need to incentivize people into action. We believe that the fact the Social Cops has the element of completing the change process – moving from mere reporting of problems to actually “solving” the problem will be a major incentive. Using Social Cops, uploading a problem will take less than a minute- thus making the process simple and efficient. Also, Social Cops will have a viral element to it – allowing people to follow causes, follow localities- they will be given scores for their “activeness” in their communities- allowing them to be their “locality heroes” & “champions” of various causes. We hope that the social element to the platform will create the much needed engagement that can incentivize people to take action.
Do you think that such a movement will wake up the govt bodies and force them into action?
We believe that India has reached a brink where it is about to enter a new phase of its life. Movements such as India against Corruption just go on to prove the restlessness of the average Indian citizen to create lasting change. Social Cops is posed at a wonderful intersection of technology & communication – connecting citizens, administration, NGOs, corporate and media in one common platform. We believe that transparency is crucial for a movement to be successful- and bringing the much needed transparency and accountability into the system will create change. We will not allow “chalta hai” to continue anymore due to the sheer openness of the system.
If you want to join the community, check out their Facebook page, to donate for the project head over to this page.