A relatively less-discussed space in India’s vibrant start-up ecosystem is civic tech. Civic tech entrepreneurs partner with governments to improve service delivery. With potential to scale up and impact millions of citizens, civic tech start-ups can enable citizens get better quality services, improve government revenues and enable governments to engage more proactively with citizens. Globally, civic tech has seen vibrant activity: the US alone has seen over 200 startups over the past 10 years. Entrepreneurs are deploying cutting-edge technology to solve problems in water, sanitation and hygiene; urban transport; safety and security; etc.
While still a nascent sector, there are already great examples of civic tech in action in India such as the use of GIS mapping to conduct surveys for property tax collection; blockchain to reform payments mechanisms; cloud-based ERP systems for cities to deliver all their services—tax collection; issuing birth and death certificates, etc. As India’s “Next Half Billion" come online through their cell phones, civic tech can transform citizens’ engagement with government.
What can governments do to ease the path for civic tech entrepreneurs? First, publish open data sets, which will improve data availability for startups to assess demand and supply and spur analytics-based business models. Second, simplify procurement policies to make it easier for startups with little track record to win contracts. Third, be supportive customers, in particular, by ensuring prompt payments.
To help address India’s critical civic challenges, Omidyar Network is launching an accelerator for civic tech entrepreneurs in partnership with Village Capital. A thriving civic tech ecosystem will offer India’s brightest minds an opportunity to build technology-led businesses with a purpose.