Did you vote in the last elections? This is the least we can do as a responsible citizen of a democratic nation. Yet, more than half of us will go blank when asked about the name of our constituency let alone the name of respective MLA or MP. What happens to all the political movements we start and support actively on facebook and twitter, and the strong remarks/comments we make to validate our hypothesis? Why don’t we have many startups in political space? Entrepreneurs have intruded pretty much everywhere but politics still proves to be a hard nut to crack.
I was looking for answers to the above questions when I met Ankur Garg, founder of iForIndia, a web-based citizen engagement platform where you can express your views on your elected representatives (MLA and CM) by rating the services by the government in your constituency, which will eventually help in building real-time report cards on the performance of our MPs, MLAs, CMs and PM. Emphasizing on the purpose of setting up the organization, Ankur mentioned, “A politician plays a pivotal role in the development of a region/constituency but unfortunately we don’t have many benchmarks/parameters to evaluate his performance during his tenure as MP/MLA. For someone responsible for controlling the budget of that scale, it’s very important to keep an eye over and above our once-in-a-five-year duty of voting. Being from scorecards and dashboards background, I wanted to put technology and internet into use to create awareness and add value to the existing system as well. ”
An engineer by degree, Ankur was heading ‘Customer Partner Experience’ at Microsoft India with a good 7 years spent with the corporate giant before taking a plunge into his entrepreneurial dreams. He was well supported by the co-founder Tarun who’s himself a veteran in data analytics and research. It took Ankur and Tarun some time and running around to understand that they cannot expect much support from corporates and media because of their alleged proximity with politicians and associated favors. Nevertheless, on 12th August 2013, iForIndia was officially launched after the hard work of a year, and just so the credibility and structure of data is not questioned at any point, the venture is entirely bootstrapped.
To authenticate the identity on iForIndia platform one needs to register using his/her phone number. Though this measure has been taken to avoid the fake profile logins from facebook, but one can’t deny similar activities taking place using multiple SIM cards. Once registered, the user can then rate his/her constituency (area) in terms of parameters like law and order, basic infrastructure, electricity, sanitation, developmental investment and corruption. The flexibility of changing your ratings based on the progress in developmental activities is given to the user. With over 12,000 registered users on site already, the current model is evolving to introduce deeper engagements. Ankur proudly shared that iForIndia has already rolled out report cards for all 30 states with a healthy distribution of respondents across states. Beyond this, more than 2/3rd )~2785 out of ~4200) of the assembly constituencies are being already represented on the portal.
Being a not-for-profit entity, revenue was never a concern for iForIndia. They are primarily targeting long-term media partnerships by offering their valuable data and analysis. Also, may be in future, they’ll be looking for impact investments similar to what PRS, ADR and IndiaSpend have received recently. “But it’s not merely funding which inhibits entrepreneurs from venturing into the political arena. The challenges here are much different and hits you hard on your ideology, morality and conscience. Even if you’re crazy enough to go ahead, seldom you’ll find people to support you in your endeavor” said Ankur.
Major challenges faced in the initial phase of iForIndia are similar to those faced by any other startup in the public policy space. Sharing the same with us, Ankur took us through the challenges of his entrepreneurial journey at iForIndia:
a) Support and help from your near and dear ones doesn’t take long to disappear. Politics and your venturing into this sensitive field can be blamed for this.
b) iForIndia is more about the evaluation of MPs/MLAs or their work in respective constituencies. This rating process stretches across the 5 year duration in between the elections. This eventually affects your decision to vote as it brings more clarity and makes you more aware. Unfortunately, from idea standpoint, people try to constrain it to election and voting only and tend to exclude the accountability factor.
c) Credibility of the internet audience is always a question as the percentage of these people actually going to vote is uncertain. iForIndia believes that if these people consume resources and pay taxes, they should voice their opinion as well. Only after realizing the importance of their role in democracy, they’ll vote.
d) iForIndia is serving two main purposes:
- Participation and engagement of people to generate statistically relevant data.
- Creating awareness by providing information to a much larger audience.
Ankur would love to see iForIndia playing an active role in the coming assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Mizoram and Rajasthan. On a longer run, the portal will have all the MPs listed with an option to see the information in regional languages as well. Ankur shared his vision of organising more of on-ground activities like conclaves inviting politicians and citizens at one place. To those who are still held back by something and unable to startup, the following message from Ankur should help to get some clarity:
“I was in a company which is no less than a dream for many. Regarding my decision to startup, my family was not confident and my friends said that it’s not a safe option. Though it created doubts in my mind, I still went ahead and took the plunge. In India, we’re at the crux which is either a tipping point or close to it. We cannot be a part of this if we’re not completely into this. We should move beyond cribbing because our actions will define the change which might not happen sooner if we don’t act.”