Prukalpa Sankar & Varun Banka | 23, 23
Category: Social Enterprise
In 2013, Prukalpa Sankar and Varun Banka were on a smooth path to the Great Indian Dream: Engineering degrees from a foreign college (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore), good jobs (Sankar interned at Goldman Sachs and ExxonMobil, Banka at Barclays Capital and Microsoft). But they decided to come back to India and start SocialCops.
It wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision. The two, who had met on a bus in Singapore and quickly became friends, had already been collaborating on startup ideas in the community and development space while still in college, frequently sacrificing sleep (their regular coursework didn’t leave much time for leisure) to plan and build into the wee hours.
“This excited us more,” Sankar says.
Their projects had already earned them recognition internationally, so, armed with that confidence and a seemingly bottomless well of energy, they moved to Delhi. (Sankar had spent much of her childhood in Hyderabad and Banka was from Ranchi.)
The genesis for SocialCops came from a brainstorming session in Singapore, in September 2012. The time was right, they felt. “There was so much happening in terms of people movements but it was not translating into change or decision making. There was also lot of talk about using Big Data. We wanted to connect the dots and help create that social change,” says Sankar.
SocialCops builds solutions to tackle data gathering and analysis in a number of areas. It connects citizens with governments via mobile phone apps, crowd-sources information and provides feedback on public infrastructure. For non-profits, which tend to have little or no money to devote to information technology, they offer low-cost solutions to conduct surveys via cellphones to help them gather data on topics that usually go untracked. They provide dial-in services as well. A lot of this also has applications beyond development: Data so granular has commercial value for the corporate world.
One of their pilot projects was in Delhi’s municipal ward number 103, where crowd-sourced sanitation scores offered by citizens through their mobile phones were used to rate the level of street cleanliness. Two months of data-gathering helped identify the cleanest streets in the ward, as well as the best municipal street cleaners.