During his first job as a Senior Analyst at an integrated mobile marketing company, Abhishek Saini wanted to use his free time by volunteering with non-profits. With this search came a realization that like him many interested professionals couldn’t volunteer because searching for an NGO that could leverage their skillsets effectively was cumbersome. On the other hand, NGOs were finding it difficult to connect with volunteers.
It was to bridge this gap that Abhishek teamed up with Shreya Bhatia to co-found Those In Need in March 2017. Based on the requirements of NGOs and volunteers, New Delhi-based Those in Need acts as a matchmaking platform and leverages Artificial Intelligence to do the job.
Abhishek says, “We provide a common platform to NGOs, civil societies, volunteers, educational institutions and corporates to establish a network to maximise the impact of their social outreach efforts.”
The two co-founders hold degrees in economics and were active in the development sector in separate capacities.
From an idea to impact
Tracing the journey of how the two-co-founders built Those In Need from scratch, Shreya says “When we started off, there were organisations that were solving the challenge that we aimed to, but in a traditional way. But we were keen on leveraging the promise of tech to solve the match-making challenge between NGOs and volunteers, more efficiently, effectively and at scale,” Albeit, there was a tiny hitch, as the two co-founders didn’t have any tech background. “So Abhishek learnt about WordPress by scouring a lot of online videos and we launched our first WordPress website. Meanwhile, I was hard at work with onboarding new NGOs and volunteers.”
Today, Abhishek leads the media, communications, growth and expansion of the organisation across India, while Shreya plays a key role in channelising and mapping the right skills for hiring, while also overseeing community outreach strategy, brand building and social media strategising. The two have helped the organisation become a strong network of 160+ NGOs and societies, and 6,000+ individuals.
But in this journey, the young entrepreneurs also faced challenges that are atypical with startup journeys – from initially being told off that their idea had no merit, to finding it challenging to explain the potential of their idea to their family and friends, to not finding funding. “Our deep belief in the idea helped us sail past the naysayers and all the negativity. When it came to actually funding our dream, we pooled our savings from our Provident Fund.”
How Those In Need works
Sharing how the match-making works, Abhishek explains, “The platform allows NGOs to create events for their ongoing projects. Volunteers can choose the NGO they wish to support and participate in their events. Once volunteers participate in an event, they receive TINstones, which helps establish their credibility. In addition, Those In Need also has a unique social reward point system which not only incentivises volunteers for social work, but also helps brands to connect with their target audience through promoting volunteer work. Shreya says, “Our team also designs and executes innovative social online and offline campaign to engage volunteers, which more often than not get media attention because of the innovativeness. For instance, the Dance For Kindness, an international flash mob event, we organised last year saw participation from more than 500 people in New Delhi in support of Organ Donation.”
Those In Need’s internal ‘IMPACT’ management tool helps NGOs track the impact of their campaign and simplify their monitoring and evaluation process.
At the moment, all these services are being offered free of cost to NGOs and volunteers but 2019 will witness Those In Need launching a freemium pricing model for monitoring and evaluation, while also offering an in-built volunteering CRM model to reduce the NGO’s administrative work. Currently, Those In Need generates revenue by designing and executing national and international CSR events for different brands.
“Through partnerships with Life Vest Inside (New York), Bubble Parade (Singapore), Goodwill Tribe (Dubai), and SCRUFF (a dating app for gay men), we have helped to address issues like gender inequality, injustices against the LGBTQ community, youth mental health, and others,” says Shreya.
Having established an operational structure and built a strong foundation for monitising, the team is now working towards growing its footprint to newer cities and expanding its volunteer base. A collaboration pipeline is also being built with cinema halls, restaurants, and online shopping sites to enable redemption of the TINstones rewards points. A mobile app is also in the works to facilitate easier connection and reach with its volunteer base. “In addition, we are also working towards leveraging ML and AI to predict volunteering behavior to help governments and the general public with the data they need, especially during natural calamities and emergencies.”
Recognized by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, the founders say they have been able to leverage the many different benefits under the scheme but being a social enterprise that is in its early stages raising funds continues to be a challenging task.
On being a finalist at the Dell Startup Challenge
Those In Need recently was among the four finalists of the third edition of the Dell Startup Challenge. The Challenge provides early-stage startups with the opportunity to present their business ideas in a supportive yet competitive environment and helps them transform their idea into a fundable one.“Being an early stage social startup which is using technology to create social impact, we applied for the Dell Startup Challenge with a belief that recognition at such a platform will help to validate our efforts. And, today this has come true. We feel proud to be one of the winners out of 545 entries,” says Abhishek. He adds, “In fact, I have been using a Dell Inspiron 3542 laptop, since the time we started Those In Need. And, winning a startup challenge led by Dell makes it a complete circle.”
Abhishek believes that the development sector, which is evolving, is now inclined to adopt a professional and measurable approach to deliver impact.
“Today, you see more talent joining the development sector with a strong desire to create an impact. It’s no longer just a passion project or something they want to do in their free time. It’s an informed career decision for many. At the same time, businesses are also seeing the need to deliver on social issues. All this means that social entrepreneurship is poised to gain ground in the time to come.”