How Billionlives is using technology to help government funds reach India’s grassroots

24th Nov 2017
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Billionlives, a fund management platform, builds need-based applications for digitising the transfer and management of funds from provider to seeker.

India today faces unique developmental challenges at every step. Although there is a plethora of government schemes being rolled out every year, there are many constraints that still persist. There is a dual challenge of sticking to the objective of the scheme and delivering the results within the predefined time and monetary framework.

While a lot of government funds are channelled into the social sector, especially since the CSR law has been passed and the quantum of funds generated have significantly increased, a comprehensive system to ensure the smooth flow of funds is still missing.

Delays and leakages are rampant, slackening the growth process. Undoubtedly, proper management of funds is a major bottleneck in performance and yielding effective results.

Driven by the desire to provide an innovative solution to plug these holes, three tech enthusiasts — John Santhosh, Aruna Sampige, and Sanjay Varma — laid the foundation of Billionlives, a fund management platform, in 2015.

According to Billionlives, the lack of transparency and little to no control over the disbursement of funds from donor to recipient are the primary reasons behind  delays and leakages. Identifying the needy and availing funds outside the traditional banking sector are other factors critical to the growth process. Billionlives thus aims to address these challenges by using innovative, technology-driven solutions.

John asserts,

“We at Billionlives are working towards providing a platform that would digitise the system and thereby facilitate transfer of funds from provider to seeker in an effective and transparent way.”

How it all began

Having grown up in a small village in Karnataka, Aruna is passionate about building tech solutions for farmer engagement, creating alternative employment options, and skill development for the upliftment of rural life. Enriched by the experiences of working with large companies like CSC, IBM, and PeopleSoft in Australia, Aruna returned to India with a drive to start a socially relevant company.

While heading Oracle Financial Services Software (OFSS) South Africa for over nine years before returning to India in 2008, John got many opportunities to travel the length and breadth of the country to understand the banking needs of the people. This journey exposed him to the hard realities of life and gave him a good understanding of how some small amount of money at the right time can change lives.

Born in one of Kerala’s royal families, Sanjay returned to Kochi after spending 15 years with global bank Credit Suisse in Japan and Singapore only to start up a social venture of his own. On his return, he joined hands with college buddy John 20 years after graduation.

Despite diverse professional experiences, a common sense of purpose and the determination to develop technology that can touch and positively change billions of lives united the three.

“We had all worked in the tech industry and wanted to leverage our skills to develop a solution that would make a difference in people’s lives,” says John.

Impacting a billion lives — from South Africa to India

Winners of the CeBiT India Startup Challenge 2014, Billionlives started as a platform for managing education finance. Aruna highlights, “The majority of students don’t have access or aren’t aware of education funding arrangements in developing countries and this realisation inspired us to create EduSupport.”

The first version of this offering was launched as EduConnect, in partnership with EduLoan Pvt. Ltd. in South Africa. EduConnect helped create application forms for students to apply for schemes and assisted in multilevel review of application forms, admission confirmation from education institutions, and conditional disbursement of funds to the institution's bank account.

“Aruna realised quickly that there are a lot more areas we can expand in to reach out to more people. With our experience from South Africa and our research work on social fund management needs in India, we developed ‘FundRight’, a product to cater to fund management needs under different social verticals, catering to the larger segment of the population,” explains John.

However, in India, the turning point was when the Maharashtra Village Social Transformation Foundation (MVTF), supported by the Maharashtra government, used FundRight. The foundation has set up a fund, which has equal contributions from CSR and the state government, to transform villages in Maharashtra, and the technology built by Billionlives effectively manages the projects identified.

Talking about how the foundation used FundRight, Aruna explains, “We provided them with an application that was used to identify the various developmental projects in villages and ensure payment was made to service providers of these projects from the fund in stages as and when project deliverables were accepted by officials with full transparency and accountability.”

Making a difference

Another milestone came when Maneka Gandhi launched the technology platform provided by Billionlives to computerise the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMV) scheme in record time. This gave a boost to Billionlives’ objective.

Under PMMV, a cash incentive of Rs 5,000 is to be provided directly in the accounts of pregnant women and lactating mothers for the first living child of the family. Billionlives designed a web-based application system that would help capture details of the applicant, validate conditions, initiate workflow, and trigger payment through the Public Fund Management System of the Government of India to ensure beneficiaries get the money in their bank accounts faster.

This is one of the largest Direct Benefit Transfer Schemes in India after the Direct Benefit transfer of Liquefied Petroleum Gas. The application designed by Billionlives is to be accessed at various levels. The hard copies of the forms are collected by the aanganwadi workers, who then bring them to the block level where data-entry operators update the information on the web-based application, which is thereafter accessed by different stakeholders. Integrated technology thus provides an enabling framework to widen the scope of information accessed by the different stakeholders, reduce idle funds , lower corruption, and improve the ease of doing business with and within the levels of the government.
"We work on the most modern technology stack and always look for ways to bring leading technology advancements in Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence to our product offering," says Sanjay.

By providing an innovative technology solution, FundRight has now entered NASSCOM’s list of ‘Most Innovative Top 50 Emerging Software Product companies for 2017’.

Billionlives understands that challenges in successful implementation of schemes and projects could be minimised or eliminated if the right technology is used at the right time. A lot more progressive initiatives can be facilitated if funds are channelised for entrepreneurship development, agriculture, disaster management, education, and healthcare using an efficient and transparent platform that brings fund providers and seekers on one platform. Digitisation could further plug leakages, ensure time-bound management of various developmental projects, and deliver effective results, thereby heralding the way to a better and more developed India.

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