Many a time, government scheme benefits do not reach the intended beneficiaries simply because they don’t know about them. This is what prompted development professional Aniket Doegar, now 29, to set up a tech-enabled social enterprise, Haqdarshak, in 2016 to try and bridge this information gap.

The simple solution: Haqdarshak is a mobile and web technology platform that works on the delivery of scheme benefits to citizens. The app can work even without internet connectivity, offers multiple language options, and gauges a candidate’s eligibility for a particular scheme by asking 15-20 questions. The enterprise also delivers paid services through a network of specially trained sales representatives on the ground, Haqdarshaks, who help out with applications and form submissions. They charge a fee of Rs40-250, 25% of which goes to the company.

Defining a wicked problem: The issue of social injustice, fuelled by lack of information.

“In 2013, while working in Delhi slums, I saw rickshaw drivers paying thousands of rupees for a form which costs Rs10 in government offices, just because they didn’t know," says Doegar. Many citizens at the bottom of the social pyramid, he explains, end up paying touts and agents, while many more don’t know about the schemes they can apply for.

Supporting pillars: Doegar raised the initial money for the platform from friends and family, and then began receiving support from partners like Tata Trusts, and non-profits such as Pradhan and Save the Children.

Haqdarshak has won several grants and awards, including one for “ICT-led Social Innovation by Youth Innovators" at the Nasscom Social Innovation Forum 2016. It also raised about Rs1.25 crore in angel funding, from investors such as WonderChef managing director Ravi Saxena and former Infosys executive Sandeep Raju, in 2017.

Past life: Doegar, who graduated from the Sri Ram College of Commerce in Delhi, started off as a Teach for India fellow, teaching class II students in Pune’s municipal schools in 2010. He has worked in rural Maharashtra with the Gyan Prakash Foundation, and with INDUS Action, a non-profit that works on policy implementation, as operational lead for their programme in Delhi slums. He spent two years at each organization.

Cracking the code: After quitting his job in 2014, Doegar spent a year developing solutions to bridge the information gap. In 2015, he was joined by P.R. Ganapathy, then chief operating officer of social enterprise incubator Villgro, who helped raise capital. The two focused on integrating their research with technology, which, Doegar says, was critical to ensure impact and enable scale.

“We realized that schemes are for the bottom 25% of the population, and to reach them we just can’t put an app on Google Play Store. So we need to have an assisted model, where an entrepreneur can be trained, who would then use the app to help citizens," explains Doegar.

Haqdarshak, which is at present working with the Rajasthan government, is experimenting with speech-to-text models to make the application more accessible. “Most of our users being semi-literate and semi-urban, we are trying to build a tool for them," Doegar says.

Where they are and where they want to be: The social firm, he says, has been able to use its resources to ensure that both the research and technology verticals are in-house. “Our aim is to reach millions, and to be able to do that we had to built it like a public scalable platform and back it with a research engine," he adds.

Reality check: According to Doegar, one of the main challenges for organizations working in the social-tech space is finding talent. In addition, sustaining large capital remains a big impediment. “In India’s impact space, unlike health, education and livelihood, which are clearly defined and have a lot of interest from impact investors, civic tech is not well defined, and there are not enough investors to back it," he says.

He feels, however, that corporate social responsibility mandates are triggering interest in the space.

Exit plan: The important thing is to fail, learn quickly, and then move ahead, believes Doegar. “The thing that really drives me is an urge to bring overall inclusion of all citizens. If this doesn’t work out in the future, I will try something else in the same sector," he says.

Third eye: Tarun Pasricha, dean (undergraduate courses) at the SP Jain School of Global Management, Mumbai, and founder of two start-ups, says Haqdarshak’s idea has great potential but believes the fees should be affordable since the beneficiaries will frequently come from the bottom of the income and social pyramids. “Also, the Haqdarshaks should see through the engagement till the last mile and ensure delivery of the benefits of the scheme to the intended recipients," he adds.

Social Impact Warriors is a series that traces the path of award-winning social start-ups set up in the last couple of years and their founders.

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