Abhishek Singh, the CEO of MyGov, speaks to NewsX’s Managing Editor on how the organisation and the app have brought tech start-ups together to innovate and collaborate.
Q. Many of you will already be aware of MyGov, its one of the portals put together by the government of India a few years ago that actually invites participation from all of you.Thanks for sparing some time, can you help us understand the successes of MyGov?
A. MyGov as you rightly said is a citizen engagement platform that was launched by our honourable PM in July of 2014. In the last 6 years, what MyGov has done is that it had played the role of enabling participating governance by connecting the citizens with the government. What it does is – it enables two way communication between the government and citizens. On one hand, it involves the citizens to contribute to policy making, to give their suggestions, to give their inputs with regard to what the government is doing in various sectors of the government and then MyGov takes those suggestions and shares it with the concerned department for due consideration and implementation. The concerned departments take these inputs into their policy formulation strategy. Secondly MyGov disseminates the information about the schemes and policies of the government to the citizens in a language which is easily comprehensible. We do it through our various channels – we do it through our portal MyGov.in, MyGov app, various social media platforms whether it is Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter.
We use all channels of social media where citizens are there today. We communicate Governments messages with interesting infographics and images so that people are able to understand it better. MyGov is like a bridge between the government and the citizens.
Q. I am showing the page live as we speak there is a Aarogya Setu app, Mann Ki Baat coming up on the 26th, it says you have 10,00,000 registered members, 7.12lakh submissions, 43lakh comments, votes on polls that had taken place, you guys are organising a webinar on the development of video conferencing solution. If I take that as an example a platform like this getting stakeholders together in a webinar to actually find an indigenous video conferencing solution. How would this work?
A. The video conferencing solution that we have launched as an innovation challenge is a unique concept. Due to COVID-19, when various departments of the government started working from home, one of the challenges was as to how to conduct remote meetings. The platforms that were available which were very commonly used across industries, the private sector and the government, there were certain issues raised when it came to privacy and security. It was felt that why can’t we as India – the IT solution provider to the world build up a solution of its own which can be hosted in our servers and to make sure that government takes services from the solution provided. We have launched a solution challenge towards this objective. Within just 5 days of launching the challenge we got almost more than 125 entries coming in. I am sure we will be able to incubate one of the tech startups from India for developing a solution which will not only provide service to the Government of India but will go on to provide services to other enterprises from around the world with the potential of being a unicorn.
Q. This concept of not waiting, but also soliciting an idea. We are not waiting for a tender to come out, or some complicated procedure. This is actually share your ideas through a web portal. If you have a good idea share it with us, good innovation, good solutions come to us and we will assist you.
A. We are doing this with a partnership with MeitY Startup Hub, whose job is to incubate startups. The way this works is we take all the entries till the 30th of this month, out of which 10 best will be shortlisted for development of a prototype and those 10 shortlisted in the first round will be given financial support of 5 lakh rupees each to develop the prototype. Out of the prototypes developed on a smaller scale, 3 best solutions will be chosen for building a full fledged solution with a grant support of Rupees 20 lakhs each for the development of their solution. Once they develop the final solution the best one will get a government contract for deploying the solution for use by the government of India for the next 4 years and they will receive a sum of 1 Cr rupees.
Q. One challenge is without getting people to actually know this exists and to join in and come up with ideas. Now we face the same challenges as well in broadcast people have been showcased on our shows and through that we have seen phenomenal response from within the government. One of the boys from IIT Delhi had come up with a machine using UV rays to sanitise gloves and surgical masks, he just informed us that after our telecast last weeks he’s got the ICMR clearance to make the product. How do we encourage more people and communicate this concept better?
A. As you rightly said the real advantage for such an innovation challenge system will be if we can expand the outreach and ensure more people from across the country can participate in such innovation forums and contribute to nation building. What we have done so far is that we have 10 million active users on MyGov, we also have a huge following on the social media platforms plus we communicate through all other channels whether it’s emails or newsletters. The idea is to expand the message to each and every phone user in our country. Especially to carry out campaigns for COVID19, we are also leveraging podcasts that we share with community radio operators, so that the message or the podcast that we are posting on the MyGov platform is shared with them, the community radio operators also translate the message into regional languages to take it to people not having a smartphone or access to a device to see the content that is available on the portal.
Q. The other challenge is the internal challenge, feedback and suggestions coming in. You have been almost 5 and a half years into this, how successful have you been in overcoming the internal challenge to new ways of doing things.
A. Whenever we have reached out to any department for a campaign we have got very good support and feedback from the concerned departments. For example- we set up ideas and suggestions box for the Union budget with help of the finance ministry. Within the period of 2 to 3 weeks we got almost more than 20,000 suggestions for the budget. Later on the Union Finance Minister wrote a thank you letter to all those who contributed suggestions. Similarly in partnership with Tourism Department we are organising and running campaigns like ‘Dekho Mera Desh’ and ‘Ek Bharat shreshtha Bharat’ campaign. We get a lot of support from the concerned departments and positive feedback and suggestions. With the HRD ministry, we did ‘Pariksha pe Charcha’ where the PM addressed the students on how to manage stress. For, the monthly programme of ‘Mann Ki Baat’ we collect inputs from people through our ideas box which will be there till the 23rd as the broadcast is on the 26th. There are a lot of people who connect with us through our IVRS lines where people can call and record their suggestions, so the channels of communication with the government have been opened like it was never before. Today people can call and record what they want to say, they do not need to type it and enter it on a website. We have provided toll free numbers to communicate with the people. It has opened an outlet and I am sure with the support of the media and such programmes the message has been conveyed far and wide.
Q. Is this a format which we can then replicate for a teleconferencing and for many other solutions?
A. This is a different form of procurement which the government will be doing and depending on the success, this can be replicated for a variety of products. If you look at popular video streaming services like YouTube, you find that the most popular channels on it are T Series, Sony and Zee. The entire content provided is being given by top content producers from the Indian entertainment industry. If there can be an Indian streaming service run by a startup or Indian IT major there is no reason it can’t be as successful as Google and YouTube.
Q. Technologically this should not be very difficult, I am sure we are going to crack it very easily. Its about branding and popularisation, So getting it on the uptake of Team India and really looking at it as our own. How do we get into that mindset?
A. That would require effort and giving some time for the solution to be built and scaled up. When the best Indian minds are building solutions for the whole world, there is no reason why we can’t build it for ourselves and ensure that they are sustained. This experiment we are doing with video conference solution is just a beginning and depending on its success, we will further see what kind of modifications might be needed to fine tune such a model. We can think of creating an ecosystem to promote Indian software products. That is where the next wave of IT Indian companies will come from.
If you are an entrepreneur out there, and if you have a solution and you haven’t already jumped in you should, because as soon as you are the winner or one of the top three you will get a lot of publicity you would get. The publicity will help the brand to take off publicly. Using that technological solutions and the amount of reach it will get throughout the country. If you have not got in here is your chance. 25 people have already jumped in, lets make a success out of this model. Everything that we have been asking the government to do is being exemplified in this model. Lets all jump in.
Q. For the efforts you are making, and it’s such a relief to see this website and go through it. I an promising you anybody who goes through this website will not see this as a government website. The way its been put together and the idea that are being put into place through this. What do you need sir in actually pushing this? How can we help, how can the people watching help?
A. MyGov has been doing this for a long time, we would request you to share the kind of things the government does, with more people. Sometimes the perception people may have of the government might not always be true. This is not the only such initiative the government has done. You should also look into the kind of projects that the government has brought into action over the last few years. Whether it’s the UID project, the UPI – these kind of identity and payment solutions built by the Government of India does not exist anywhere else in the world. The Digital locker, is a safe repository for academic records and all kinds of records. There will also be a time where one can store electronic health records in the Digilocker securely with a consent framework built in there. And then we will have a situation, wherein a doctor from Gangaram Hospital will be able to access the medical records with the consent of the patient even if it’s from Apollo or any other hospital. We have all seen the potential of the Aarogya Setu app, we have already had more than 70 million downloads which created a record across the world. We broke the record of Pokemon go also which was a gaming app. With the support of media, resident societies, community, NGOs the government can achieve a lot. We should have trust in what the Govt is doing and with the support of our technological partners there is nothing we cannot do.
Q. In doing this for over more than 6 years, what have the lessons that you have picked up and the problems you have come across and solving them. How has the journey been?
A. Over the period of time this portal has evolved and there have been a lot of people involved, and with efforts of my team members – it has become what it is today. The latest content we are seeing on COVID19, it is all being done by a team of young executives who are working remotely from home. Some are in Faridabad, some in Palwal, some in Greater Noida. They all collaborate together without having any access to resources which they would generally get in Govt offices. Mantra for doing what has been done and for the future is Innovation and Collaboration. A constant endeavour to innovate and to work in a collaborative mode. We take all feedback and suggestions positively and try to see where we can use what to improve our work because eventually the content on the portal is for the citizens. If the citizens don’t approve it, the portal will not work and when we do that we look into customising the content for various sections of people and various age groups. You will find the audience on Instagram and audience for Facebook and Twitter are completely different. When we launched COVID19 campaigns on TikTok, we realised that the audience is totally different here. We have to customise our messaging for each platform and that is where we experiment and learn. Endeavour from my team has always been to improve constantly.
Q. Once you are through with the process, we would like to amplify the process as much as we can. The three winners you select or the top 10 you select let’s put together a telecast. Give them a chance to tell their story and their models, how you guys interacted with them and the solution they came up with. It will help advertise the platform once it goes from stage 1 to 2
A. Of course we could do that , it will be a big boost for them as well because the idea here is not only to get a solution for the Government but to incubate startups so that they can create businesses that can contribute to creating enterprises, which can offer services not only to businesses in India but across the world.
Open offer sir, whatever we can do to help. We can profile as many people as we can, we will reach out to you regularly. Good things that we are doing, let’s all do it together. Wishing you all the very best to you and your team sir.