More than ever before, we face a longstanding narrative of dichotomy, political apathy and disengagement from democratic life. Poor governance, lack of transparency and trust has become blase hallmarks of Independent India, wherein the notion of inherent goodness is ‘almost’ missing.
Any ordinary Indian can testify that s/he is commonly struck by an all pervasive skepticism with regard to the possibilities of achieving something collectively, a basic suspicion of other, or by and large suspicion – towards authority (and its intentions), and an apprehension of deceptive and circuitous dealings by others.
Among consumers, professionals and businesses it is no different. Struggling to qualify, “Can I believe this?” is something we all ask, time and again. While we find an absence of abiding trust among individuals, there is a tenacious grip of concern to whether the other person will fulfill his part of the commitment or not. For instance, many of us have found ourselves in situations where we don’t (completely) trust the doctor we have consulted or the builder with who we have invested our life savings with.
When it comes to finding trusted information, it is equally challenging. Either we find limited, or no information, or in some cases excessive information to base our decisions upon. Often, the only information available is either paid or sponsored, and therefore — biased information that cannot be trusted.
Innovation is the most powerful force for change in the world — and technology, internet and low cost mobile connectivity are its most ardent manifestations today. Whether it is the internet based railway reservation system that has reduced petty corruption in train bookings or internet enabled tax return filings that eliminate human touch points, the application of technology has improved transparency and made things much better. Similarly, low cost mobile technology interface has connected and enabled a large number of Indians to do things that were unimaginable a few decades ago.
Another fairly recent innovation, the “Social Media” has also seen an explosion of interest that is facilitating the interconnection and interaction of millions of people around the globe. Indians are already using it extensively to connect with friends, family, professionals and followers, to share views, stories, opinions, pictures or to play games etc. Politicians are now using it for their election campaigns and – businesses, to market and connect with their present and potential customers. Social Media has also been a change agent in many Government, political and businesses dealings. However, what can be most illustriously noted about social media is that it demands to showcase our real identity, which in turn helps bring about accountability.
Consider this: India’s population is rather young, 50 percent Indians being below the age of 30. This internet enabled, web savvy generation is considerably literate and well-connected. Smartphones, SMS or text messaging are their instruments to information, thanks to more than 900 million mobile phone connections and 130 million broadband connections India has today.
Through social media, our citizens have a choice to act as an individual or collective force that demands accountability from Government and Businesses. To illustrate this, a few decades ago when someone went to a Government Office for a license the only thing they had was ‘money’ in their pockets. Now imagine the India of tomorrow; imagine an educated 25 year old in front of a Government official. This youngster has an INR 3000 ($50) smartphone with video recorder, an INR 100 ($2) per month 3G connection with live access to You Tube and Social Media. The game is bound to change!
On the business front, in the past, a service provider may have easily gotten away without delivering to customer commitments and continued to do the same thing over and over in the same city. In the locally, socially connected India of tomorrow, that would be impossible to do. The collective power of customers through social technology will drive visibility for good providers and accountability for the bad ones.
Social Media and technology, when applied to solving real world problems of India has the potential to positively transform our society. Be it building trust within our local communities, bringing neighbors together in the event of emergencies or alerting city officials in the event of a disaster or terror attacks, social media will markedly change the way we conduct our lives.
It is time that entrepreneurs, businesses and investors evaluate how social technology can be utilized to solve some of our real world problems while creating financial value. Currently, we focus too much on profit, stock price and valuation and not enough on long term value creation for the country. That needs to change. Perceptibly some of these social technology initiatives may not generate profits as fast as some other traditional businesses, but many will, once the scale gets built. We will need to be patient and nurture these businesses differently than any other typical business that exists in India today. Trust building in society is just too important of a need to be ignored. Others include building transparency, reducing corruption, creating employment and making our cities safer. The Government also should look at supporting these social technology business models by participating as a facilitator or end user. This can be done by partnering with them to solve a specific problem, for instance, real time detailed Emergency Reporting from citizens or communities to city authorities for Police, Fire and Medical cases. Such a partnership will require strong commitment from the Government to act but it can be life saving for the affected citizen and will lead to increased citizen trust in their city authorities. If we as an ecosystem come together and commit to build and execute such initiatives in the private sector, not only will they bring the much required social change, but will also become financially sustainable.
Social Change is something that is always easy to talk about and hard to bring in, more so when we talk about building trust in a society. However, we also have never had such powerful technology tools available in our history as a nation. It is the application of this technology combined with values and entrepreneurial willingness that can transform our nation and make it a society to be proud of.