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Prukalpa Sankar, Co-founder of Social Cops

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Prukalpa is the co-founder of Social Cops, a technology social enterprise that harnesses citizen voice as a powerful resource and builds synergystic, connected communities. She started building communities using technology from the age of 10 when she hardcoded an HTML website for Harry Potter Fans around the world. In her university days, she founded the Singapore Entrepreneurship Challenge which unites over 150+ startups and youth in Singapore every year and led teams of 20+ people in university. A certified workaholic, you’ll probably find her penning down thoughts or reading when she’s not working. She also writes a monthly column at Inc42. She has previously worked in the business divisions of Goldman Sachs and Exxon Mobil. She studied Engineering and Entrepreneurship at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and is currently based out of New Delhi, India.

This week, the Asian Entrepreneur interviews Prukalpa about her entrepreneurial experience working on Social Cops and her thoughts on Asian startups.

What exactly is Social Cops?

Communities are disengaged – citizen voice is not harnessed in any form except media & forums, public agencies have no way of connecting with citizens and there is a lack of a channel to enable data driven decisions. We use web, mobile and voice to crowd source citizen data, engage citizens, and analytics to create connected, synergistic communities.

We empower stakeholders and change makers – be it public agencies, NGOs or just citizen groups to pick up the platform, decide what issue and demographic they want to engage and deploy the platform (depending on whether voice, SMS, Web and Smartphone channels suit them best)

How did you come up with the idea of Social Cops?

Social Cops started when we were in our final year university in Singapore. There were a lot of on-ground protests happening at that time and we saw that the public wanted to be actively involved in the community but their voices were not resulting in any long lasting change. On the other hand, we began to realize the impact of basic issues around us – In India alone 3 people die every hour due to accidents caused by bad roads. Poor waste management leading to diseases, Traffic Congestion leading to accidents, lack of access to public utilities – The basic nature of these problems and the magnitude of their impact frustrated and fascinated us… there needed to be a simpler way to solve these problems.

We took a train journey covering 12 Cities in 15 days. As we travelled through the country, we found one recurring theme. That our neighborhoods were filled with heroes – be it citizens, public agencies or companies who wanted to spearhead change in their communities.

The efforts of our heroes were fragmented, resource intensive and lacked actionable data. It was clear to us that the most sustainable solution would be one that allowed communities to solve their own problems.

Could you walk us through the process of starting up Social Cops?

Social Cops started when we were in our final year university in Singapore. There were a lot of on-ground protests happening at that time and we saw that the public wanted to be actively involved in the community b Social Cops started when we were in our final year university in Singapore. There were a lot of on-ground protests happening at that time and we saw that the public wanted to be actively involved in the community but their voices were not resulting in any long lasting change.

At Social Cops, we believe that with people comes power and with people comes chaos. How do we create community solutions to solve problems? As engineers, we saw ways that we could use the power of crowdsourcing and technology to solve community issues. On September 11th, 2012 we launched a crowd funding campaign on Indiegogo along with a Facebook campaign.

How has it been like managing the business since?

It has been possibly the biggest learning experience ever. Working on a startup is like a roller coaster – one moment you are jumping with happiness, the next moment you are down in the dumps. When you are running a startup – you are constantly learning to do things better, set up things, design things even. And I think that when you start taking it as a learning experience, it becomes enjoyable!

Did you find anything particularly difficult during the startup? How did you overcome it?

We started Social Cops when we were students in University. In order to raise our initial seed capital – we took part in almost all the student business plan competitions in the world. We started winning competitions around the world – winning grants from Microsoft and IBM. We won competitions like the Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition, IBM/IEEE Smart Planet Challenge and Singapore International Foundation Young Social Entrepreneurs.

We’ve even given presentations on Skype to Indian Competitions while in Singapore (and ended up winning about 5000$ via that!). I guess the biggest learning for us has been that if you’re genuinely passionate about what you do, things happen to make your dreams possible. An example of the opportunities life presents you with –as young social entrepreneurs, we were invited to present our solution for cities at the Asia Pacific Cities Summit in Taiwan to 102 Mayors from all over the world, which gave us some great leads for the future.

How was the initial reaction from the consumers? Did they buy into the product/service?

Social Cops has evolved interestingly since its inception. Most ventures in the crowdsourcing space failed due to the fact that there was no capacity in the community to solve issues raised. We spent over 6 months talking to various community stakeholders – citizens, corporates, NGOs and Public Authorities. Over this time we undertook various small-scale pilots – to understand what works and what does not.

We use crowdsourced data to install processes and systems that create systemic change. For example, in disrupting Sanitation- in our pilot with Municipal Ward 103 – Crowdsourced data from citizens is used as a checkpoint to monitor the efficiency of third party service providers for garbage collection. Crowdsourced citizen ratings are also used to identify the cleanest streets and thus identify the best “street cleaners” and award them – leading to higher performance rates! The most heartwarming moment for us was when one of the Street cleaners who was awarded (Mukesh) said to us “Madam, for the past 20 years I have been ashamed to tell my son what I do – and today for the first time my son is proud of me”

Our platform has been used by citizen groups like I Lead Ranchi in Ranchi to crowd source reports regarding broken streetlights. This led to an allocation of over 2.15 crores of resources towards fixing broken streetlights in Ranchi in a 2 month long campaign.

We have launched a campaign called SAFE to crowd source a neighborhood watch who can respond to a distress signal from women to make them feel safer on roads. SAFE is being spearheaded by local citizen groups in their own neighborhoods – most recently enabling a group of tenth graders to use the platform to engage the community around them on women’s safety.

We’re already working with brands such as PVR Nest and Michelin India, citizen groups in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and a variety of non-governmental organizations. Some of our initial templates such as our work with the Municipal Corporation of Delhi are already having us noticed and have city councils in other parts of the world seeking proposals from us to replicate initial templates on the platform.

Do you face a lot of competition in this industry? What is your strategy against your competition?

Many entrepreneurs generally make a mistake of building a solution before actually understanding the problem. We wanted to make sure that we understood the problem.

We have spoken extensively to organisations that have attempted to crowdsource citizen reports but have failed to scale to realise that simple Reporting Tools that crowd source citizen complaints die out at some point.

For example, The Delhi Municipal Corporation Facebook page allowed citizens to upload photos regarding complaints of garbage – and was very popular in the first few months of launch, but this initial user traction died down. Why? Because, on one hand – the councils were being overwhelmed with getting the problems reported fixed while on the other hand, citizens were getting tired of reporting problems.

We work differently – we don’t create noise where it is not needed. We work with stakeholders – public agencies and NGOs to crowdsource citizen voices in fields in which they can be used as a resource to solve real-life problems.

How have you managed to stay relevant in this industry?

We started Social Cops because there was a problem we saw and no one else was solving the problem. I think as long as we keep focused on creating community solutions and enabling communities to solve problems – we will remain relevant!

What are your future plans for Social Cops?

 The Social Cops platform essentially aims to enable change makers – who can easily use the platform, deploy an initiative and use engagement tools to crowdsource, engage and analyze data. A cloud hosted platform, the aim is to Create a platform that enables anyone, at any part of the world to pick their issue and demographic – browse templates that work in other countries and deploy a quick technology solution to crowd source, engage and analyze data.

What do you think about startups in Asia?

I think startups in Asia should focus on solving asian problems – I see a lot of startups trying to clone startups in the Silicon Valley but I’m surprised not as many of them are trying to solve some of the biggest problems

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

Marissa Mayer once said that at every point in your career you should decide to do what you will learn the most from. And something that scares you a little bit. I was graduating from university and had chances at working at some of the most sought after jobs but I felt that nothing would teach me as much as starting up.

In your opinion, what are the keys to entrepreneurial success?

Hustle and Passion – and a little bit of naivete and craziness.

Any parting words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there?

People will tell you it won’t work – people will tell you that you will fail. Just keep doing your shit, and be passionate about it.

 

Connect
Website: www.socialcops.org
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/socialcops

Entrepreneurship

Will Financial Liberalisation Trigger a Crisis in China?

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The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been liberalizing its financial system for nearly 4 decades. While it now has a comprehensive financial system with a large number of financial institutions and large financial assets, its financial policies are still highly repressive. These repressive financial policies are now a major hindrance to the PRC’s economic growth.

The PRC is at the beginning of a new wave of financial liberalization that is necessary for supporting the country’s strong economic growth. The country’s leaders have already unveiled a comprehensive program of financial reform, which includes 11 specific reform measures in three broad areas: creating a level-playing field (such as allowing private banks and developing inclusive finance), freeing the market mechanism (such as reforming interest rate and exchange rate regimes and achieving capital account convertibility), and improving regulation.

But could financial liberalization lead to a major financial crisis in the PRC? What would be the consequences for financial stability as the PRC moves to further liberalize its financial system? If the PRC repeats the painful experiences of Mexico, Indonesia, and Thailand, then it might not be able to achieve its original goal of overcoming the middle-income trap.

International experiences of financial liberalization, especially those of middle-income economies, should offer important lessons for the PRC. In our new research, based on cross-country data analysis, we find that financial liberalization, in general, reduces, not increases, financial instability. This powerful conclusion is valid whether financial instability is measured by crisis occurrence or by fragility indicators, such as impaired loans and net charge-offs. The only exception is that financial liberalization does not appear to significantly lower the probability of systemic banking crises, although it does lower the risk indicators for banks. These results have higher statistical significance and are greater in magnitude for the middle-income group than for the entire sample.

The insignificant impact on banking crises, however, should be interpreted with caution. One of the possible explanations is that under the repressed financial regime, the government supports banks with an implicit or explicit blanket guarantee. This reduces the probability of an explicit banking crisis, although the banking risks may be even greater because of the moral hazard problem. In fact, government protection of banks could also increase the probability of a sovereign debt crisis or even a currency crisis before financial liberalization.

If financial liberalization significantly reduces the likelihood of financial crises, especially in middle-income economies, then why did some middle-income economies experience financial crises following liberalization? We further investigate whether the pace of liberalization, the supervisory structure, and the institutional environment matter for outcomes of financial liberalization.

We obtain three main findings. First, an excessively rapid pace of financial liberalization may increase financial risks. The net impact on financial instability depends on the relative importance of the “liberalization effect” and the “pace effect.” In essence, what the “pace effect” captures could simply be the prerequisite conditions and reform sequencing that are well discussed in the literature. Second, the quality of institutions, such as investor protection and law and order, also matter. International experiences indicate that investor protection can significantly reduce the probability of financial crises. Third, the central bank’s participation in financial regulation is helpful for reducing financial risks during financial liberalization. This is probably because central banks always play central roles in financial liberalization, especially in the liberalization of interest rates, exchange rates, and the capital account. If a central bank is responsible for financial regulation, its liberalization policies might be more cautious and prudent.

Our research findings offer important policy implications for the PRC. (1) Further financial liberalization is necessary not only for sustaining strong economic growth but also for containing or reducing financial risks. (2) Gradual reform may still work better than the “big bang” approach, and sequencing is very important for avoiding the painful financial volatilities that many other middle-income countries have seen. (3) The government should also focus more on improving the quality of other institutions, especially market discipline, to contain financial risks. (4) It is better for the central bank to participate in financial regulation. The new regulatory system should focus exclusively on financial stability and shift from regulating institutions toward regulating functions. It should also become relatively independent to increase accountability.

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About the Author 

This submitted article was written by  and  of Asia Pathways, the blog of The Asian Development Bank Institute was established in 1997 in Tokyo, Japan, to help build capacity, skills, and knowledge related to poverty reduction and other areas that support long-term growth and competitiveness in developing economies in the Asia-Pacific region.

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Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Chrissa McFarlane, Founder and CEO of Patientory

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Chrissa McFarlane is the Founder and CEO of Patientory, a patient-centered enterprise solution on the blockchain to store, secure and access healthcare information in real-time. She is a leader and an entrepreneur with a passion for creating cutting-edge healthcare products that transform the face of healthcare delivery in the United States of America and abroad.

What makes you do what you do?
I am passionate about helping people, especially when it comes to their healthcare. This is my daily motivation for pushing forward in one of the most challenging industries to innovate.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Through my networks and maintaining a strong advisory board, I am able to make an impact.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
I took on the role and decided to start this startup primary to follow my passion and be an inspiration for other women who are seeking to start their own business.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I have multiple mentors. I met them through my networks.

How did you make a match if you did, and how did you end up being mentored by him/her?
Through introductions and after speaking with them I saw a character alignment that prompted me to ask them to by my mentor.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
Through one on one meetings, and team building.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
I consciously support diversity because a diversity of thought breeds success in the workplace. It is important to have different lenses of thought to be represented. Our company is a representation of the people we serve.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
A great leader in healthcare is equipped to serve the people. Unlike many other industries, healthcare is centered around sustaining the health of the human being. You certainly need to encompass a passion for seeing individuals live and lead healthy lifestyles.

Advice for others?
In building emerging technology, education is always key to success.

Our first Inaugural Blockchain Healthcare Summit will take place on May 31st in Atlanta, GA where we will discuss the current state of blockchain projects and opportunities for the future.


If you’d like to get in touch with Chrissa McFarlane, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/chrissamcfarlane/

To learn more about Patientory, please click here.

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