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Why We Invested: Digital Society Challenge

1st October 2020
Why We Invested: Digital Society Challenge
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Arvind Mehra, a resident of Noida, received a call asking him to update his mobile wallet KYC. The caller sent him a Google Playstore link for an app. Thinking that it was an official call, Arvind downloaded the app. The caller then asked Arvind to add Rs. 10 to his wallet. After the call was done, Arvind realized that Rs. 1,42,492 had been transferred out of his account. His son reached out to the police but did not receive much help.

Arvind is not alone, nor is his story unique. Bidisha (name changed) decided against recommending menstrual health apps to her friends when she came to know that the app she had been using was sharing data with a social media company. Many Indians on gay dating apps have faced either impersonation or frauds, increasing an existing feeling of shame and alienation from society. A man with mental disorders was beaten up by a mob in Bulandshahr on rumours of child-lifting.

Such incidents of privacy violation, frauds, cybercrimes, and misinformation affect an individual’s trust in online websites and apps, possibly reducing their participation in the digital society. Over the past few decades, digitization has helped governments and businesses reach previously under-served populations cheaper, faster and better. For India to maintain this growth trajectory, we need to ensure that Indians feel safe online. That is why we are launching the Digital Society Challenge.

We envision a world where every Indian is able to leverage the power of the internet to improve her life and that of her community. We call this Good Tech and believe it has two components. Firstly, we support innovations that help create a meaningful life for every Indian, and by that, we mean create access to aspirational services, opportunities for productivity and employment. We refer to this as ‘Tech For Good’. Secondly, and while doing so, we believe that an individual should have control over her data and digital journey. This, we believe, will happen when she is more aware of digital risks, has tools that keep her safe, when businesses and governments become responsible stewards of our data, and when she can get recourse for any harms she faces online. We term this as ‘Responsible Tech’.

The Digital Society Challenge is intended for innovators who enable one or more of these safeguards. We are looking for the likely and unlikely entrepreneurs among us, united by the mission help individuals cope better with online risks.

What type of innovations will we consider?

We will fund tech and non-tech innovations that directly impact individuals, especially the “Next Half Billion”, i.e. the 500M low- and lower-middle-income Indians coming online between 2017 and 2022. The ideas could be either direct-to-individual, such as an app or training program, or support organisations that directly work with individuals, such as an open-source privacy platform for field organisations.

The innovation can be from any sector as long as it addresses one or more online risks such as privacy, cybersecurity, misinformation, or digital exclusion of vulnerable groups (e.g. elderly, disabled). The innovation can be at any stage of innovation, such as a concept, a minimum-viable product, a locally-implemented solution or a scaled-up innovation.

While we actively fund research and surveys, we will not do so under this call for proposals.

Who can apply?

We are running three distinct tracks as part of this program. Start-ups can apply for equity investments, wherein we will make an equity investment in the company. Non-profits can apply for grants to undertake projects or strengthen their organisations. Organisations that habitually provide services to clients can apply for service agreements to execute their ideas.

Selection Criteria

We are looking for three things-

  • Reach – the solution should reach and empower many Indians, especially in the NHB
  • Depth of Impact – the solution should have a deep impact on the lives it touches
  • Innovation – the solution should have either tech or non-tech novelty that disrupts current systems

Application Timelines

The call for proposals will end on 23rd October 2020. Applicants are advised to apply early since we will shortlist proposals on a rolling basis.

For more details and to apply, go to www.digitalsociety-india.com. If you have any questions, write to us at [email protected]

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The real-life stories in this blog post have been sourced from 101Reporters.com, from pieces authored for Omidyar Network India by Ribhu Singh, Anwiti Singh and Prajwal Hegde.
Photo credit: DNA India