Anti-fragile systems and their role in fighting a global pandemic
Covid19 is a behemoth. It’s a strange word to use for a microscopic virus that we can’t even see. But in terms of the havoc it has wreaked on the world, Covid19 is a giant, monstrous being.
So, when one thinks of ways in which it can be tackled, hyperlocal, community led initiatives don’t immediately spring to mind. But over the last six months, we’ve found that it’s this hyper-local approach, underpinned by local data, local solutions and local campaigns that has proved effective in convening relief efforts and supporting citizens and government agencies in the Covid19 context.
When the first lockdown was announced and Reap Benefit went into work from home mode, CTO Gautam Prakash called CEO Kuldeep Dantewadia with an idea.
“Gautam was insistent we find a way to be a part of relief efforts in the weeks and months to come.” Kuldeep recalls “I tried to tell him that this was a health crisis, and that it wasn’t our core area of work. However he rightly convinced me that what would be the need of the hour was hyper-local knowledge and data.”
This belief was confirmed by conversations with government officials, who shared that the knowledge of where to send manpower, support and relief was crucial as the pandemic spread.
Covid19 put citizens who wanted to contribute to relief efforts in a unique situation — the lockdown meant that they couldn’t go out. What was needed was a tech solution that would allow citizens to be a part of relief efforts without stepping out of their home.
Reap Benefit’s Neighbourhood Dashboard had already been piloted in 2018 by two Solve Ninjas Shriya and Pranav to help citizens identify sellers of eco friendly Ganeshas and to find water bodies where they could safely immerse their clay idols.
Reap Benefit’s tech team saw how the dashboard could pivot to not only share critical information with communities but also allow them to map information that would be of use to others.
And so, in in under 48 hours, the neighbourhood dashboard pivoted to become a city-wide Covid19 Dashboard.
In its first avatar, the dashboard enabled citizens to map communities, neighbourhoods and local stores that were or were not practicing social distancing.
‘The idea behind this was to help local Government bodies know where their attention was needed to enforce better social distancing practices.’ shares Kuldeep.
Soon additional features were added: citizens could find nearby testing centres, first responders or even take a quick online Covid 19 evaluation.
“Citizens can play a powerful role in such efforts as they are best placed to share what is happening in their neighbourhoods.” says Gautam.
As a next step, the dashboard enabled Bengalureans to map areas where there were vulnerable families in need of rations and medical support. Reap Benefit team members and over 100 volunteers verified these coordinates and matched with non-profits doing crucial on-ground relief work, helping them them make last mile deliveres of supplies.
‘Technology has already been used to decentralise knowledge,’ says Kuldeep ‘but when it’s used to decentralise capacity and authority, it can play a huge role in building trust with citizenry.’
Over 130013 data points have been mapped on the Covid19 dashboard, allowing us to help 11,62,262 people through citizens, civil society and partners like Whitefield Rising, With Bengaluru, Dream a Dream and Teach for India.
Local initiatives that act on local information are far more effective than blanket solutions that don’t take into consideration the circumstances of ground realities.
Reap Benefit Solve Ninjas are trained in learning how to public problem solve using DISS: Discover -Investigate-Solve-Share and it is during the investigation phase that ground realities and needs surface.
Solve Ninjas put the 21st century skills they’d learned from mentors and then put them to use in the real world where they were needed the most. In running local campaigns that would benefit local communities.
From making and distributing masks in their communities and educating neighbours about the importance of social distancing to requesting fellow residents to continue paying their house help their salaries even during the lockdown, our Solve Ninjas knew that each small action they performed impacted someone’s life. Some Solve Ninjas personally delivered rations to families in need and followed up with those who required legal assistance. Others involved their organisations in donation drives that provided families with the essentials they needed to keep going.
Organisations like Outlawed, Project Sitara and She As a Virago founded by Youth Board Members innovatively fundraised money. Recently, Project Rutu distributed sanitary pads to one of the cities most important essential workers, our pourakarmikas.
Knowing just how important collaboration is in these times, 30 Solve Ninjas worked with Indus Action volunteers to help over 500 stranded migrant families reach their hometown in Chattisgarh via Shramik Trains by calling them and sharing the details of train departure times and stations and then following up to ensure they reached home. Some Solve Ninjas worked diligently in their communities, putting up posters on sanitation, taking over waste segregation for elderly neighbours and even fighting fake news forwards on WhatsApp!
The idea of locally led, decentralised efforts to fight Covid19 and support citizens has caught on.
The Government of Karnataka’s plan for Booth Level Committees to fight Covid19 at the ward level is one such instance. And Solve Ninjas are supporting the initiative in a number of ways. As part of the Call Your Corporator campaign they called 198 ward corporators in the city to enquire whether they would be holding their weekly ward committee meeting or not. These are not one off exercises, but will be repeated, strengthening the civic muscle of young people every time they participate and holding local agencies accountable.
Our very first Civic Tool Kit, is an amalgamation of our learnings from the Call Your Corporaor campaign and will be piloted in Nelamangala soon through the Yuva Shakti network.
Solve Ninjas assisted the government in Booth Level Mapping and though it wasn’t adopted by the government, it was an invaluable learning experience for these young people.
We deployed our Solve Ninja Whatsapp Chat Bot to help citizens find their closest fever clinics, and found that the majority of users were senior citizens who found the WhatsApp interface easy and intuitive to use.
In the months to come Solve Ninjas will work with the BBMP in wards like Bommanahalli to train revenue officers, support quarantine watch of citizens and more.
What we’ve learned so far
Young people have the energy and the idealism to come forward and help the nation in difficult times. As digital natives, tools with a digital backbone can do wonders as far as outreach is concerned. Activating our young people to become active public problem solvers — something that can start off by having them do as little as make 2–3 phone calls a day and gather information — will go a long way in decentralising capacity, making systems anti-fragile, and helping communities create a front-line of responders comprising of their own.