Now that so many of you have started asking us this question, we figured it was time to share an answer more broadly + publicly.
Why were the two of us crazy enough to let pass a lot of other opportunities, make a ton of personal sacrifices, and sign up for a few years of ridiculous amounts of risk, struggle, and convincing non-believers that self-managing communities are possible?
Because Citizengage is a culmination of what we believe should exist in the world, what we believe is possible for communities, and who we believe deserves to have meaningful technology.
At a more personal level, it is the result of my life’s desire and commitment to make citizenship mean something real, no matter who our parents are or whether we know how to read or what one’s mother tongue is. You can understand more deeply what I mean by watching this video of how the startup I used to work with created a platform for me to connect with this inner ambition.
There are at least three “timing” reasons that also led to the birth of Citizengage:
1) The need for mobile tools for the majority of mobile phone users: on a daily basis, we used to interact with citizens with whom we tried to speak to over SMS. We expected that in response to sending them pertinent information, they would let us know when this information was wrong. In reality, less than 45% of mobile phone users in India have ever sent an SMS. Every day, we would meet housewives, utility field workers, shopkeepers, retired-but-interested-in-community issues uncles and aunties, and many more people that wanted to talk to us but for whom we didn’t have a viable method. Couched in Mark Zuckerburg’s ambitions for internet.org, you will find a desire to plug-in the next 4 billion people who have access to a mobile phone but don’t use data or the internet on it. The next big challenge is to find enough incentives to bring this people meaningful value through mobile phones. In Citizengage, we see enormous potential to do just that.
2) Swachh Bharat and The Ugly Indian have mobilized over 1,300,000 citizens to take charge of waste in their cities: yet those same citizens lack the ability to devise new systems for managing basic services in the communities where they live and work. We are deeply inspired by the women, men, youth, and children who take to the streets and clean up without any expectation of recognition or remuneration. They self-organize, show up, clean up, and leave. We began wondering about the disconnect these people might feel cleaning up a “blackspot” but having no method of preventing it from arising in the first place. That’s what we wanted to create: system and tools for communities to take charge of the entire waste eco-system that blossoms around them, as soon as they are ready for change. We’ll work with you, customize for you, and help you plug in every person who touches your waste and attempt to transform it into value. All you have to do is choose to change.
3) A community that took charge and demanded a better system: approached us and asked whether we could help them make their systems less manual and more scalable. This was the result of Devishree Murthy’s tireless work at Shriram Spandana, a community of over 500 apartments in Bangalore. Devishree and her team were able to convince the community to eventually invest in on-site composting facilities and got Unilever to sponsor the color coded bins for each apartment, block, and common areas. If one such community could demonstrate what is possible if we all have a bit of imagination and commitment to make a change, imagine what our cities could look like populated by many such communities.
As a result, Citizengage focuses on building tools and systems that allow communities to self-manage their civic issues. We’re starting with waste in Bangalore but hope to expand to multiple cities and other services shortly.
If you’d like to become a champion community, join or partner with us, just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’d love to hear from you!