Making a social 'Impact'

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By Papri Das

The recent advent of crowdfunding platforms has opened myriads of opportunities for startups, entrepreneurs and artists who couldn?t make the most of themselves due to lack of funding. The other major use for crowdfunding has been in social causes, but apart from a few success stories, these get less visibility or response from crowdfunders. And that?s exactly the kind of situation that Impact Guru wants to change.

Incubated at the Venture Initiation Program by Harvard Innovation Lab and PACT incubator Singapore, Impact Guru is a crowdfunding platform that takes on social issues. Their goal is to empower individuals as well as companies to give to non-profits and social causes. In a chat with Exec Life Impact Guru co-founder Khushboo Jain speaks about the challenges that the company faces in making social causes a part of our lifestyle.

What do you aim to achieve with Impact Guru?

We want to make giving a habit, by making it a simple and easy process. Currently, it is misnomer that giving is only for the rich and elite, we want to change that notion. At the heart of Impact Guru lies the passion to create something new that will touch the lives of many and the fulfilment that comes from giving back and making a difference. All you need to do is login, create a campaign for a cause you are passionate about and ask for donations by inviting family and friends on social media. The whole concept revolves around leveraging your family and friends and their networks to donate.

How was Impact Guru conceived?

The idea to get into crowdfunding was conceived while Piyush (founder) was still at Harvard, and worked on a research paper on innovative ways to finance entrepreneurial and social ventures. Piyush, who was an investment banker at J.P. Morgan and a consultant at the Boston Consulting Group, was very intrigued by the different crowdfunding models and realised that the Indian market could benefit tremendously from crowdfunding, which lead him to start Impact Guru in his home country India.

Tell us how Impact Guru connects technology with social issues and helps non profit organisations?

The NGO?s typically pay anything between 25-30 per cent as fundraising cost and we help bring that down and make the process more engaging, affordable and less time consuming.The innovation behind Impact Guru is its micro-donation support aspect that utilises the power of social media and incentivises people to share different causes and campaigns on Impact Guru.

If a fundraising campaign on Impact Guru raises a certain amount of money and gets a certain amount of social media shares, Impact Guru will be making a micro donation to the charity by virtue of SMILE Pricing (Social Media Impact Linked Engagement Pricing).In other words, each Facebook share can now be worth up to Rs 1,000 (~US$15) in donations to a nonprofit.

A campaign creator does not have to raise Rs 10 or Rs 20 lakh, but just start with Rs 20,000. Imagine if 100 people do so, not only will the nonprofit raise money but also gain so many supporters in return. Also the whole process is fun and engaging, almost game like.

How challenging is it to help nonprofits as well as maintain a profitable business model?

We are in the business of doing good. But for sustainability reasons we charge our nonprofits a very small amount (less than 10 per cent of the total amount raised relative to the usual 25-30 per cent), which can then be used to get the best people on board, use technology to cut down costs. We do not need to be dependent on donations from people or grants from organisations for the same reason. We have three stakeholders - Individuals, Corporations and Nonprofits. We connect verified and vetted nonprofits to individuals who want to give back and corporates who need genuine NGO?s for CSR purposes.

While the idea of a crowd funded platform that works for social issues sounds enlightening, how much of it is practically possible at the ground level?

The format is tried and tested in the west but one needs to be very innovative and adaptive to the Indian landscape to make it work here. That is exactly what we are trying to do at Impact Guru. We have a lot going on, starting out, we are spending a lot of time approaching both individuals and nonprofits and telling them about the power of crowdfunding and its interlinkages with social media. We also plan to delve deeper into the opportunity of creating a synergy between educational sector and crowdfunding.

How has the feedback been since the company?s inception? Are there any success stories? If yes, please share.

Even before we were officially launched, we have been part of the UBM conference and NGOs have shown a lot of interest in us. We have been incubated at Harvard and now at PACT, Singapore. We already have some exciting ongoing campaigns on the platform that are beginning to attract a lot of attention.

How will Impact Guru make optimum use of the road to PM?s Digital India?

I am glad you asked. With the Prime Minister pushing for digital drive, India is getting ready for an internet boom. According to Morgan Stanley, internet usage is set to double by 2020. The Indian market was valued at only $11 billion in 2013, could rise to $137 billion by 2020. This is a huge opportunity as Indians spend a lot of time on their phones. Smartphone users spend on average 169 minutes per day on their device and can be categorised into six personas. All these factors will only act as catalysts in forming a holistic ecosystem of start-ups that are sustainable.

I guess we have entered the market at the right time. I believe with the e-commerce boom and digital expansion happening simultaneously India is now ready for change. People in India are already waking up to the concept of crowdfunding and that when coupled with digital India drive and smart phone boom surely make the future look promising.

Looking ahead, what is the future that you envision for a crowd funding platform like this?

Booming startup ecosystem, a very social media savvy young population and the digital drive in India are all positive signs for the sector. The market is evolving and people will take on crowdfunding as it is such a easy way to raise money for your favourite social cause.

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