Technology is not only about getting an app, airbrushing selfies and posting on social media. Technology can also be a changemaker. Billion Lives, which was among NASSCOM’s 2017 emerging 50 product companies, leverages technology in the area of social upliftment. Billion Lives’ first product was Edusupport. Billion Lives’ FundRight initiative which address the project management needs of social sector, is closely working with The Maharashtra Village Social Transformation Project and Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana.
We talk to John Santhosh, co-founder, Billion Lives, to understand the initiative. Excerpts:
How and when was this idea conceived?
The idea of such a platform was conceived while I was in South Africa. Post-apartheid, the South African Government had launched a host of student upliftment schemes. However, the majority of students didn’t have access or weren’t aware of education funding arrangements and this realisation inspired us to create EduConnect, in partnership with Edu Loan Pvt Ltd in South Africa. This platform helped students avail scholarships / loan scholarship (interest portion of loan given as scholarship) from CSR funds of corporates in South Africa.
When CeBIT — the largest and most internationally representative computer expo — came to India for the first time, Edusupport won the +91 Start Up Award and that gave us the confidence to build a generic product ‘FundRight’ — a platform aiding transparent and effective corporate social responsibility.
How does Billion Lives help and empower the rural population of our country?
Billion Lives’ FundRight enables transparent and effective project planning, management and fund disbursal to the stakeholders which had been a cause of concern in a number of social projects. While a lot of social projects were implemented in the past, an inherent problem faced in most cases was the lack of transparency in the project tracking leading to a haphazard transfer of funds from the provider to the seeker.
FundRight provides an innovative technology solution that brings the fund provider (FP), implementation agencies (NGOs) and project executors all on one platform bringing full transparency around execution aspects of social project and disbursement of funds. This automated resource planning platform is the tech backbone of Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) — the pregnancy aid scheme of Government of India and The Maharashtra Village Social Transformation Project of the State Government.
As a technology platform, what challenges do you face?
India is a large country and social projects are usually delivered in rural India. We had to design our technology to work in offline mode but at the same time bring in controls to ensure financial transactions are carried out with two level authentications in offline as well which later get synced to server once connectivity is established. Language is another aspect to increase user adoption of technology in rural India and we have made our solution work in local languages.
How is Billion Lives helping The Maharashtra Village Social Transformation Project and Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana?
PMMVY is a national maternity benefit programme. The focus is to transform 1,000 villages and provide them with healthcare, quality education, environment conservation, digital connectivity, agricultural growth, water security etc. The objective is to provide partial compensation for the wage loss and improve health-seeking behaviour amongst pregnant women and lactating mothers through cash incentives. Billion Lives has helped manage the enrollment even the most remote locations and disbursed funds close to Rs 900 crores to benefit more than 35 lakh women in less than 8 months of technology going live. This direct benefit transfer programme ensures that the benefit reaches the bank account of the beneficiary in three installments as per scheme guideline.
The Maharashtra Village Social Transformation Project was started with the mission of transforming 1,000 villages, by enhancing development indicators of drinking water access, infant mortality, education index etc, and makes these villages self-sustainable. Billion Lives is facilitating the transformation of these villages by connecting sponsoring corporates, local and state government, various NGOs and vendors.
For both the projects, Billion Lives has been engaged through grants by Centre for Digital Financial Inclusion (CDFI), a not-for-profit organisation aimed at increasing financial literacy in the country, adding no financial burden to the government or the above-mentioned projects. In partnership with CDFI, Billion Lives has launched ‘Sunidhi’ platform that can address the needs of converting any social project to direct benefit transfer mode linking to banks / Public Fund Management System of Government.
What makes you think that technology can be a backbone in each and every social project in India?
The current age of digitalisation has transformed every aspect of our lives, and the social sector is not untouched. In India and across the world, new projects with a strong technological backbone are being implemented by corporations, and NGOs for public welfare, in healthcare, education, financial inclusion, rural development etc. I firmly believe that using the right kind of technologies, all social projects can be made sustainable, transparent, and scalable to reach more beneficiaries across the country.