Elections happen, promises are made, some party wins while the other loses. Sadly, promises are forgotten and the state of the nation does not improve. Once elected, party representatives are hardly appraised. But, this is soon going to change. Citizens can provide feedback on their elected representatives through iForIndia.org, a socio-political venture founded by Ankur Garg and Tarun Jain.
iForIndia.org is an Indian citizen driven web based platform where you can express your views on your elected representatives (MLA and CM) by rating them on various issues such as law and order, basic infrastructure, electricity, sanitation, developmental investment, corruption, etc. The platform also helps generating a report card for the elected representative’s performance based on people’s ratings.
I landed on the platform via a Facebook ad which asked me to find out how the current Maharashtra Chief Minister’s work report card looked. The socio-political venture was born while Ankur was working at Microsoft Corporation (India). The urge to do something for the most pressing issues in the country motivated him quit his 7 year long association with Microsoft in September 2012 to work full time on ‘iForIndia.org’. He has found great support from his Co-Founder, Tarun Jain, who was working in the US before he moved to India.
Their efforts motivated me to spend some time on the platform and also get in touch with the creators. Over an email conversation, Ankur shared the details of iForIndia.org, how it started, who all are supporting it, social media and its role play and how serious are politicians about such initiatives, etc.
Edited excerpts are listed below:
Prasant Naidu: How did the journey with iForIndia.org start and who all have supported you in this great initiative?
Ankur Garg: Initial work started in September 2012 itself when I quit my job at Microsoft Gurgaon and started talking to a larger group about the need and feasibility of such a platform. Discussions with varied group of individuals were very encouraging and motivating for my co-Founder Tarun Jain to quit his job in the US and move back to India in January 2013 to work on this full time.
iForIndia is a collaborative effort that has been made possible by the support and guidance of many individuals. We are particularly thankful to the following who helped us in their own personal capacities: Balu Nayar, (Entrepreneur), Bhupendra Chaubey , (National Affairs Editor, CNN-IBN), Dr. SY Quraishi, (Ex-Chief Election Commissioner, India), Gul Panag, (Actress), Raj Halve, (Operating Partner – Samara Capital), Ravi Venkatesan, (Ex- Chairman, Microsoft India), Shankkar Aiyar, (Journalist-Analyst, Author), Shivnath Thukral, (Former Journalist, at present works with Essar).
PN: How does the platform work and how are you involving the citizens in this initiative?
AG: The website is easy to use with a user-friendly interface and provides citizens a confidential way to rate services using a password protected account. Users rate the services and issues most important to them, and based on these ratings, report cards are generated for the user’s MLA and CM (with plans underway to generate similar report cards for MPs and the PM).
A strong focus on security includes a mobile number authentication and fraud check algorithms to ensure the identity of individuals rating their elected officials cannot be compromised and that the system remains defensible against fake users and multiple account holders. Security is of supreme importance to us because we want the platform to be as trustworthy as the elections process in the country.
PN: How are you integrating social media with the initiative?
AG: Social Media is an important tool these days which is largely unbiased and lets everyone participate and voice their opinion. While we want to leverage social media effectively, that’s not the only medium we are restricting ourselves to.
Facebook is an amazing medium to reach audience based on the cities or states that they belong to, so we are running a lot of state specific campaigns on Facebook to generate awareness about iForIndia.org and also encourage people to rate their constituencies and states.
PN: How has the response been so far and how are you taking the initiative to the non-Internet savvy population?
AG: Response has been amazing and very very encouraging so far. Some numbers that I would like to share are:
1. Close to 1.5 Lac unique visitors on the website till date.
2. Approx 2/3rd of the assembly constituencies are now represented on the site (~2800 out of ~4200).
3. All 28 states and 2 UT Report Cards now available on the website.
4. More than 200 volunteers have signed up to help us make this successful with on-ground and online activities.
For reaching out to the non-Internet savvy population we are talking to a few media houses (Print and TV) to help us take this information to a large number of citizens. Also, other options like rating on IVR, SMS, etc. are in pipeline.
PN: Any threats from political parties as yet. Do you think politicians are bothered about such initiatives since we still have a very small internet population?
AG: No threats so far. In fact, we had a very senior cabinet minister who approached one of the journalist congratulating us for this effort and emphasizing the need of such a platform to help them understand the grass root realities a lot better.
I think initially politicians might not be bothered much but eventually they will have to for two reasons:
1. Internet penetration is increasing in India at an amazing rate. Our year-on-year increase is 31% and already touching 73.9 Million people. We are world’s third largest Internet population. (Source: ComScore – India Digital Future in Focus 2013 Report) There is no sensible politician who would like to ignore such a massive audience.
2. We are very focused and dedicated to not let this remain just an online initiative but leverage various other mediums to take it to a larger population. Mediums like mobile phones, TV, Print etc. Our philosophy here is that while there should be a significant number of people who are ‘engaged and participating’, we need a larger number of people who are ‘informed’ about these report cards and understand the quality of governance they get through their MLA and CM.
Wishing that IForIndia.org drives the required change in the system rather than turn into another online campaign, I hope that you have given your marks to the politician who is answerable to your queries. The time is now.