The ThinkChange India staff is committed to providing our readers with interviews with people we believe are at the brink of something special but have for the most part been overlooked by the mainstream media. Readers will be able to see other conversations under our TC-I Changemakers tab.
This week, Vinay sat down (over Skype) with Gulshan Ramesh of Earnkarma.org, which links individuals/organizations that are in need of volunteers or any other kind of non monetary assistance with people who are looking to help them. Here, simplicity appears to be the initiative’s strength, as the site’s straightforward design is symbolic of the organization’s no nonsense attitude.
Vinay Ganti: Thank you for taking time to speak with us today? What exactly does Earnkarma.org hope to accomplish?
Gulshan Ramesh: The mission of Earnkarma is to be a website for volunteers, non-profits and so forth to post their requests for assistance so that those individuals that wish to help can do so. This way individuals that are passionate about a particular cause can locate an individual/organization hopefully near them to provide assistance.
The one major requirement is that none of the posts may involve requests for monetary help. We want to be a conduit for volunteering only. We will monitor every post to make sure this is the case. We do not want to become affiliated with charitable causes as then people may start becoming concerned with where exactly their money is going or how it is being used.
VG: Which areas of India can use Earnkarma?
GR: Actually we initially intended to have it provide volunteer opportunities throughout the world, but for now we are working on building out the United States and India. It is difficult to get the database for other countries. Within India, it is currently available in every state and every major city.
This website is intended for both organizations and individuals. You do not have to be some non-profit or NGO to benefit from the site. Let’s say that I have the desire to teach English on my weekends to local teenagers. I can post it on Earnkarma to see if anyone else in my area wants to join, and coordinate with them from that post. In this way the site could help create new organizations locally.
VG: What about beyond the cities? Does Earnkarma plan to reach out to villages?
GR: It is our plan to reach the villages. However, it is very difficult to do that. For example even simple tasks like listing all of the villages’ names becomes complicated, as many villages have identical pronunciations and different spellings or vice-versa. Currently, our website supports all the districts and major Indian towns.
The good news is that the website itself does not cost much to maintain and it is easy to expand. The website is very simple and overall it cost us a one-time setup fee of $500-600 and a yearly maintenance fee of $100 to $150.
VG: Finding low cost solutions to problems is always something we love to feature on the site. But to keep on the issue of scaling, what are the plans for the future?
GR: At this current juncture our first priority is to make sure it works. Given that one of the major draws of the site is its ease of use, we do not want to be stuck in a situation where it does not work.
However, looking down the road, I along with Siddarth, Shriram and Ganesh (other founders) have discussed building out a site where we would provide means for individuals to become recipients in educational scholarships.
VG: How do you intend to grow the user base of the website? This seems like a venture that requires widespread adoption to be successful.
GR: Right now we are targeting all the organizations across India who require any kind of help. Let’s say I am contacting 1000 organizations, some of them can come to the site and post. That will increase the number of posts in our website. We want to target organizations first, so that there are posts there already when people visit.
In the first month of our launch, we had volunteers contacting organizations such as Yogakshema in Bangalore and Vasantha Memorial Trust in Coimbatore. Another user has commited to donate 500 pens to a NGO run school in rural Tamil Nadu. These are just a few instances where EarnKarma has been able to make a small difference.
VG: Have you thought of providing the opposite of what you are doing now — I mean allowing individuals post their profiles on what type of volunteering work they wish to do and then organizations can contact them?
GR: This is an interesting idea and not one we have discussed in great detail. However, my concern with the inverted model is that I am unsure if organizations will come to the site with that mindset, but it is definitely something to consider.
VG: Well Gulshan, thank you for talking with our readers today and we wish you and Earnkarma all the best.