Even as India goes digital, it can easily become quite perplexing for most of us if we need to find out which government programs apply to us. The details of most government schemes and their eligibility criteria are often contained in long hard to understand documents. This becomes more difficult for the poor who are often illiterate and have no access to the internet even as they stand to be the ones who are most likely to benefit from different welfare schemes. Haqdarshak wants to change this by leveraging technology to help communities become aware of their rights and entitlements under different welfare programs. In a very short span of time, Haqdarshak has been recognised by various renowned platforms including Sankalp Forum and Harvard SAI. Impactpreneurs had an exclusive talk with Mayank Garg, the co-founder of Haqdarshak about his venture. Edited Excerpt:
- When and how did you sow the seed of your venture?
Government plays a vital role in any country’s social and economic development. In fact, we have a plethora of schemes in India targeted at improving the lives of the people at the Bottom of the Pyramid. But during our field research, we realised that there is a lack of awareness about these schemes among the targeted communities. People are not able to avail benefits intended for them as they are not aware of their rights. On further study, we found out that there is no central database of different government programs and CSR initiatives. Such a database could in theory be searched and queried to drill down relevant programs for different beneficiaries. In practice, we cannot expect the semi-illiterate and illiterate rural population, the segment that stands to benefit most from such programs, to be able to make use of a digital database directly. Hence, we started Haqdarshak. We are out trying to build a centralised structured database of all government programs and a network of village-level facilitators, Haqdarshaks (people who make others aware about their rights), who can help the local community make use of this database to identify relevant programs and apply to them.
- How are you able to reach the rural area with your idea?
We have a mobile application which can be used by anyone to identify the relevant welfare schemes based on their criteria. The app even works offline thus making it robust in areas with poor connectivity. Apart from the app, we also have local representatives called Haqdarshaks in every community who provides door-to-door services for a fee. These representatives use the application to provide information about eligible schemes and help in filling out the necessary documents to apply for them. Maximum percentage of the fee is kept with the Haqdarshaks and a portion of it is passed onto us which helps us in being self-sustainable. Some of our Haqdarshaks are women who are making INR10,000 per month.
- Is there any involvement of government in this business?
The organisation has entered into formal partnerships with Rajasthan and Haryana government There is also considerable support extended by the government at different levels for conducting research on schemes in all states.
- Tell us about the first obstacle you faced and how you overcame that obstacle?
Designing a user-friendly application that allowed people to query the database based on eligibility criteria was one of the key challenges. Apart from this, we had to find a way to reach out to the rural population. The brokers in the cities usually charge extravagant prices to assist with scheme related paperwork. We are able to provide this assistance at a lower price through our network of haqdarshaks. Our haqdarshak is someone from the community (typically a housewife or a youth) who wants to work in their community and earn a livelihood for themselves. We have also partnered with private and government organisations to use their network and train them as Haqdarshaks.
- Any incident related to lack knowledge of right which you want the people to know about or any insight that you want to share while working on this venture?
When we interacted with people, we were shocked to see that people lacked awareness about the schemes like pension, loan and scholarships among others. Often, their source was word of mouth. Apart from the lack of awareness, many didn’t know how to fill forms. In cases where people did know about the relevant programs, they were reluctant to visit government offices and do the necessary paperwork.
- What was the breakthrough or when you felt that your efforts have been paid off?
When we saw the housewives coming out of their home and becoming Haqdarshaks. They have turned out to be confident ladies.
- How many investors have invested in the organisation?
We have raised our first round of equity investment in April 2016 through individual investors interested in this space. Additionally, the organisation has also entered into a partnership with Tata Trust, Save the Children, Haryana District Authorities and in discussions with many other government and private organisations for expanding in new areas.
- How is the work environment?
We have our research teams in 8 states where they help communities screen relevant welfare schemes. We also have put in place a model where a team of haqdarshaks train new haqdarshaks allowing us to expand and serve even more communities.
- What impact has been created so far?
We have a network of 150 Haqdarshaks who have screened about 20,000 people and helped 500 people with the paperwork since our inception.
- What message you want to convey to the society through our platform? How could other people help in your organisation’s mission?
We want people to help each other in creating awareness about their rights and be able to benefit from programs and policies that have been designed for them.
Photo Credits: Mayank Garg, Co-founder of Haqdarshak and the website of Haqdarshak