Startups rally to help Chennai

Picture by Evelyn Ratnakumar. Graphics by Gokul K

Even as we publish this, Chennai continues to reel under the worst crisis in living memory, with no relief from the rains in sight – the Met department has predicted another four very wet days. Over 200 people have lost their lives. And joining the government authorities, citizens groups and others in providing assistance is a bunch of startups who are trying to help in their own way.

Delhi-based data startup Socialcops is working with NGO Bhumi with relief operations by providing better data, technology and efficiency in identifying the worst hit areas. Co-founder Prukalpa Sankar said: “We are deploying our data platform for volunteers to go map out where the worst damage is, what type of damage, and what needs to be done to rectify it. This data will be displayed on a live map of Chennai – showcasing issues, damage and volunteers of Bhumi who can intervene.”

“Logistics is the biggest problem in such situations, so startups can be useful in putting their expertise in technology to use,” says Chandan Sharma who works with Goonj, which was part of relief efforts in Uttarakhand and Nepal. “Logistics companies can provide transportation, and pharmacy companies can provide medicines quickly. Depending on the sector they work with, they can support us with data collection too,” he said. Goonj is now campaigning in every city in which they have an office to enroll more volunteers through their database and other NGO partners.

Logistics for a cause…

After making headlines by deploying boats to help the public, taxi aggregator service Ola is now providing ‘safety zones’ to provide assistance and refuge. Equipped with relief supplies and first aid, this service is provided in Satyanarayana Bhavan in Waltax Road, and Usharani marriage hall in Ambattur. Ola competitor, Uber, has announced free rides in the city.

Restaurant discovery service Zomato came up with an offer to match every purchase with a meal for flood victims in Chennai. “Till 5.00 pm today, people had bought over 20,000 meals, so with Zomato's contribution we are at over 40,000 meals. We are hoping to get to 100,000 meals,” a spokesperson said. Zomato is also working with NGOs who are active on the ground in Chennai to deliver the food. Their logistics partners (Chennai Volunteers, Robinhood Army and Delhivery) are collecting the meals from relay points set up for the purpose to distribute to those affected by the flooding.

…and for connectivity

Online shopping platform Paytm offered to recharge any mobile number in Chennai with Rs. 30 worth of talk-time, free of cost. Shankar Nath, senior vice president at Paytm, said: “With that amount, they can make 2-3 calls to let their near and dear ones know they are safe. Also, we needed to provide an amount that all operators accept as a valid denomination.” He added that Paytm was not worried about the misuse of this offer. BSNL too has stepped up to help customers by not charging customers for calls for an entire week, while Airtel is providing 'talk time' credit of up to Rs. 30 and free mobile data of 50MB with two days’ validity.

Healthcare a high priority

While Practo listed verified doctors and hospitals that people can call up, startups in the home services sector are doing their bit to prevent a possible outbreak of diseases in such situations. Online service provider UrbanClap is providing pest control services at various locations to prevent an increase in the spread of diseases like dengue, malaria and chikungunya. Co-founder Abhiraj Bahl said: “As an organisation that’s committed to serving the city of Chennai, we thought we should do our bit by tying up with our partners to offer free pest control services in areas worst affected by the flooding.”

Home services provider Housejoy is offering electrical check-ups, plumbing services, refrigerator and washing machine check-ups, etc. for free through 30 volunteer workmen in the worst affected areas of Madipakkam, Velachery, Pallikaranai, Medavakkam, Adyar, Kotturpuram and Valasaravakkam.

Safety first

Cloud-based software startup Freshdesk ensured that their employees were safe by checking on every single one of them via their own internal software. “We provide breakfast, lunch and dinner for all our employees. We kept that going too so that those who live close by can take shelter at the office. The rest were asked to stay safe at home,” a spokesperson said.

Besides their employees volunteering to help those in need in their localities by collecting food, clothing and medicines, Freshdesk also circulated the addresses of employees (with access to a dry house, power and food) who can take in fellow colleagues.

YourStory take

Some people may call these efforts marketing gimmicks, but when people have to be rescued from their homes, where they feel the safest, such initiatives and the fact that they were done in a timely manner must be acknowledged and appreciated.