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Indian Startups: ProjectHeena Provides LinkedIn for Volunteers

The new CSR act makes volunteering especially big in India. Now ProjectHeena aims to make it easy for individuals and companies to connect online. We catch up with Founder, Himanshu Chanda to learn more.

“ProjectHeena is an online forum and the best analogy I can think of is it is like LinkedIn for social Karma,” explains Himanshu Chanda over the phone from Mumbai. “It connects individuals and professionals who have skills that they want to contribute back to society.”

“If someone has money they can donate it,” he continues. “If someone has skills they can donate them and if you [say] have a second hand mobile phone, you can give away that too. That is the whole vision behind the platform.”

Chanda has been a volunteer himself and this made him realise just how difficult it can be to find the right opportunities. In fact, at present, the only resource available to both people and organisations is a Google search.  Now ProjectHeena which started in May/June last year, “already [has] a few thousand people registered on the system, 50+ non-profits registered across India and 4,000 hours of volunteering has been done on the platform.”

This could be a big opportunity within India because on 27th February 2014, the Indian government implemented CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) in the new Companies Act 2013. In practice this means companies are mandated to apply a percentage of profit to social good.

“Now I can serve everyone as a premium platform for doing CSR,” explains Chanda. “The reach of the platform is pan-Indian. Technically the platform is global, but the current target is only India because the culture is quite different.”

“You need to understand that ProjectHeena [must] become like a market place which is connecting two parties,” he continues. “For this marketplace to succeed I need to have a continuous inflow of volunteers and also a continuous inflow of non-profits who want to capitalise on those skills. That is a challenge too. In India we are not very good at technology so the company has to have a very good operational arm too. This is what I’m currently working on.”

The company is currently funded out of other commercial IT work, but Chanda is keen to develop the portal in order to make it as easy as possible for people to give feedback. This in turn should improve the usefulness of the site.

“The way I envisage this working is a few years down the line people can come on and search for skills that have been accredited by others. This will impact the search functionality. They can go online search a name and, like LinkedIn, see how much non-profit work someone has done in the last couple of months – or whatever.”

This should make it easy for both parties to find each other. “As a startup we don’t really see the monetary potential but the kind of impact we can make on society is humungous and what drives us,” stresses Chanda. “The way I see this is every day there is something bad happening in your country. There was a big uproar over the New Delhi rape case [and] when such things happen you want to do something to feel you’re contributing back and to feel that you are in charge of the situation. As of now that is not there, if things work out well for ProjectHeena the idea is I want to be that platform.”

“Facebook is for your friends. LinkedIn is for your professionals. ProjectHeena is if I’m looking for someone to do this significant work, who are these heroes? We will always have a Mandela, we will always have a Ghandi, but there are millions behind these people. There are so many people working on the grassroots level and we have no clue about what they do.”

The real problem with volunteering though, is it has to work within the context of what is really happening on the ground. “I recently heard there was a company who donated wheelchairs to people who can’t walk,” explains Chanda. “[However] in reality they figured out there are no good roads outside and the wheelchairs can’t move. So the wheelchairs are now used as normal chairs inside the houses. The problem wasn’t just the lack of wheelchairs [but the whole Indian infrastructure].”

“Before any donation you need to think about the type of donation that is going to give the most,” Chanda concludes. “[I think] CSR will not just impact India, but the entire perception of India in the world.”

 

Kathryn Cave is Editor at IDG Connect

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