Change 2.0

Four Indian apps that are strong contenders for Facebook's $250,000 social innovation prize

From real-time information about water supply to helping victims of child trafficking, Indian techies are tackling big problems.

The agenda of Mark Zuckerberg’s recent visit to India was made explicit in his speech at the Internet.org summit and the question-and-answer session that followed. The Facebook founder emphasised that there was a divide between internet haves and have-nots, and in an attempt to bridge the gap, he announced a worldwide social innovation contest to fund socially relevant websites, apps and services.

Developers will compete for four $250,000 Innovation Challenge Award prizes and two $25,000 Impact Award prizes.

Though India is often seen as a laggard in technology innovation, some online initiatives already are making an impact on society. Here are four.

1) NextDrop by Anu Sridharan


Taps in poorer localities regularly run dry on busy mornings, a problem that even middle-class people are not immune to. In India, the shortage of water is exacerbated by abysmal delivery systems. NextDrop attempts to solve that. The service, currently operational in Karnataka, asks users to input their name, address and locality into a valve database. Users then receive SMS updates 60 minutes in advance of the water reaching their taps. The app also provides information about delays in water supply, pipeline probles and other updates from community members. Users can look at a city’s overall supply situation and manage their workdays around it. Sridharan, the founder, is considering plans to scale up the service to reach other parts of the country. Read more about the service further here.

2) Helping Faceless by Shashank Singh and Amol Gupta


When people see child beggars in the streets, emaciated and crying, many wonder extend help without inadvertently dooming the kid to a lifetime of dependency. There’s an app to help solve the problem: it’s called Helping Faceless.

It's simple. When they spot child beggars, users click a picture and upload it to the app. Non-governmental organisations working in the child rescue sphere are intimated to help. Download the app here.

3) Meri Awaaz App by Aditya Naik


Developed by 22-year-old Aditya Naik, Meri Awaaz aims to revolutionise expectations of government accountability. The app makes it easy to file civic complaints right from smartphones.

It lets users report local issues around sanitation, transportation, law and order, and so on, just by clicking a picture and submitting the details. This information is then transferred to the relevant department and a dashboard tracks action on the complaint.

It can be downloaded here.

4) RUDI Sandesha Vyavhar by Vodafone Foundation in India and SEWA


One of the persistent problems for Indian farmers is finding the right price for their produce. This app, developed by a joint effort of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, Vodafone Foundation and Self Employed Women's Association, helps women track and report sales as well as produce real time information.

They can use feature phones to order goods, receive funds and manage supplies through the app. In some cases, the app has raised their monthly earnings by over 50%. Learn more about it here.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.