Charity can be a bridge between people built with technology and social media, as the founders of a crowdfunding startup have found to their immense satisfaction.
“When you see a project take form, when you see a dream come true, when you see a life been stitched together and if you have helped all this to happen in your own little way – the happiness that you see in the other person’s face is the most fulfilling thing in the world,” says 38-year-old Bollywood actor Kunal Kapoor.
Three years ago, he and Varun Sheth founded Ketto with the idea of creating a platform to bring together people who needed or wanted financial help, and those who could provide it. We want to build a bridge between these people,” Varun says.
The result was that through Ketto, a whole bunch of strangers were able to help another group of people, whether it was to aid rebuilding efforts in Kashmir and Nepal after natural calamities, raise funds for cancer treatment, or fund films. Varun also claims that for the last eight months the website has helped raise Rs 1 crore every month for farmers committing suicide. The firm now gets an average of 14 projects in a day.
In an email interview, which has been edited for language, Kunal said that he feels people are inherently good, and want to help but don’t find the avenues to do it. “I have never had to convince people. Even with my friends and family and my network, each time I have reached out to them, they have turned around and said 'Thanks for doing this, we really wanted to help but did not know how to go about it’,” he said.
Charity = donating old clothes?
Kunal disagrees that the concept of charity for many Indians is still stuck at idea of donating old clothes and being done with it. “Indians indulge in charity but it skips our eyes, because the sector is disorganised.”
He says their attempt is to bring offline projects online, and reach out to a larger audience and do it in a way that is easy, fun and engaging.
“It’s not only to help people who are suffering, but we have had so many projects, where people have stepped up to help people fund their dreams. Whether it’s for their education, for a film project, to support athletes, there are a lot of people out there that are willing to help,” he said, adding that if nothing, people could share requests for funds on their Facebook walls.
One such case was that of a Mumbai man requested for Rs 315 to buy a pizza in October. When his request raised more than the amount he asked for, the man said he would use the excess amount to feed others who could not afford pizzas.
“This Mumbai man's story is the first one in India, but countries like the United States, people's iPhones get crowdfunded. So the question is that why can't we implement the same thing in India," Varun said.
However, Varun adds that the campaign that raised the most money – Rs 90 lakh – was for an old man’s cancer treatment.
“That’s the highest any campaign has raised since we started. This shows that people have the innate ability to understand when and not one is being sincere,” he said.
Kunal and Varun don’t merely act like catalysts. They often witness for themselves how a campaign is executed. “I went to Nepal after the earthquake in August and saw the fabulous work that was being done. A whole village had been re-built with the funds that had been raised. One of the ladies in the village said ‘Please thank everyone that helped us, it has made us believe that there is still a lot of goodness in the world’,” Kunal said.
In October the pair launched a creative vertical, after Kunal was approached with many requests to fund films.
“We were looking for the right time to introduce it. We wanted to build up our brand, also rework the user experience on our website and then bring this in. We realised when we were ready for this sometime around 2014 when Kunal, who acts and produces films, started getting a lot of requests for funding from independent film-makers,” Varun said.
While Varun takes care of sales and tech, Kunal looks after marketing and approaches investors. When the duo started the firm, it was self-funded with just a few lakh rupees. In July 2015, Ketto itself received funding of $700,000 which the firm aims to use for tech development.