The app hopes to bring elected representatives and citizens together to boost local governance.
At a glance
Founder: Nikhil Bapna
Year it was founded: 2017
Sector: Democracy tech
Based out of: NCR
Disinformation and distortions on social media can affect elections worldwide. A recent report from Freedom on the Net found that online manipulation and disinformation tactics played an important role in elections in 18 countries, including the US, hindering citizens’ ability to choose their leaders based on factual news and authentic debates.
“Do you know who the Member of Parliament in your area is? This is a big problem because most people in India don't know this,” Nikhil Bapna tells me over a phone call.
He recently launched Gadfly, a democracy-tech app, to bring citizens closer to elected representatives to boost local governance. “Our goal is to make participation in democracy cool and easy, and to get more people informed and involved, he says.
Nikhil had studied and worked in the US for many years before returning to India. He has been in India for about a decade now and works in the strategy and marketing department of a tech company.
He has been tracking the political climate in India and the US for some time now. Over the last few years, he saw the increased impact of technology and social media in politics. He explains, “I could never have thought that social media could be a driver for politics, in the way that it has turned out.”
He realised that there is a big disconnect between citizens and elected representatives. Citizens are not able to convey their concerns to the elected representatives easily and elected representatives are sometimes unaware of the problems affecting people in their constituency. The disconnect was stark.
So, Nikhil launched Gadfly to provide people a platform to connect with relevant government officials and make communication convenient. He elaborates:
“The chance of the app being used as a tool to send spam is almost negligible because it is taking advantage of all the spam filters set up by social media giants like Twitter and Facebook.”
Developed by an NCR-based team - Wabi Tech, the app is free and available on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store in India and the US. It is currently available in two languages, English and Hindi. Talking about the different features available to Indian and US users, Nikhil noted,
“We try to maintain the same feature set. But there are differences based on the process over there. They focus on a different set of mediums media to communicate. Their process for citizen's to reach out is more institutionalised that than ours.”
YourStory was able to try out the app for different geographies and found that the basic premise and most of the features at this stage are similar.
Nikhil noted that for India, contact information for all Members of Parliament is generally publicly available. Most State Legislators in India are also listed while Delhi and Mumbai have Municipal data available. Gadfly aggregates all this information and presents it on the app. Nikhil noted that the database is being constantly updated.
The app is clearly targeted towards an important demographic – college students. Nikhil explained that the college demographic has fresh ideas for various situations and is passionate about making improvements in their locality and country.
Talking about their current traction, Nikhil noted that they have reached about 4000 downloads in the last few months. In terms of on ground impact, Nikhil noted,
“Yes there have been many cases of people connecting with their elected representatives. I know of stories from Bengaluru where both the MP and MLA got back to a person in Koramangala via email to get some areas cleaned.”
Nikhil also cited an example from South Delhi where Municipal Corporation of Delhi counsellors of Kasturba Nagar and Andrews Ganj had responded to SMS and phone calls.
He added, “Personally I have reached out to many MPs and MLAs via the Facebook messenger integration in Gadfly. All have read my messages and many have replied. Many candidates contesting in the Tripura election are in touch with us.”
With the help of a user’s current location via the mobile phone (Android and iOS), Gadfly displays all the elected representatives of that particular locality. Also, all contact information of the elected representatives is made available to the user with focus on social media interaction. A user can find out who the local MP or MLA for their area is and send an email or SMS to the representative in seconds.
Citing a report by The Economic Intelligence Unit, Nikhil noted that India had been rated as a flawed democracy with a rank of 42 out of 165. The highest ranked countries received top marks for political culture and participation. In countries where political systems are mature - the concept of citizens reaching out to elected representatives is a standard practice. He adds:
“To be able to share ideas, suggestions and give feedback on potential new laws is a very important aspect of a mature democratic system.”
With Gadfly, Nikhil aims to make citizen-to-government interaction easy. In an age where technology is used to solve every problem, he believes that hearing from citizens about their concerns and ideas gives the elected representatives clear direction on the thoughts and mood of the people.
Nikhil noted that elected representatives have been positive about initiatives like Gadfly and are leveraging technology to interact with people.
On the global front, Change.org is one of the most well-known platforms that lets people create campaigns, mobilise supporters and connnect and work with decision makers to drive solutions.
A recent report by Techcrunch noted that some of their favorite existing democracy tech solutions include grassroots activism text message management tool Hustle, voter registration site Vote.org and encrypted chat app Signal. It further noted that while tech can’t solve everything, and having too many options can dilute support but these have shown promise for instigating facilitating civic engagement.
Closer home in India, there is Rabbler, a mobile polling app to discuss social issues and raise awareness. The Government of India, too, has been active with digital initiatives under the MyGovIndia banner with apps like MyGov Move and Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan apps. The Prime Minister of India also has an app named Narendra Modi, which lets users receive news and updates and also interact with the PM to share ideas and Suggestions
Gadfly comprises a nine-member team and is currently bootstrapped. The company, however, is seeing investor interest given its current progress and their plans for the future.
With state elections coming up soon, Gadfly hopes to see more traction. Detailed information on political candidates standing for elections in different constituencies will help voters make informed decisions. Being a free app, Gadfly is currently not generating any revenue directly, and the founder’s focus is on long-term plans. Nikhil added,
The project has a long and detailed technology roadmap which will help in streamlining the democratic process and making it more efficient. We plan on having a hundred thousand user base by the end of this year.
Another plan is to leverage Blockchain technology to make communication between local residents and elected representatives more transparent. Apart from India and the US, Gadfly aims to roll out its product globally, starting with Australia and Canada.