Published: 10th September 2018
Dipika Prasad and Varun Pawar's non-profit, Lakeer, partnered with GHMC to improve the quality of life in Hyderabad
They are working on providing insights to city administrators to plan and run the cities, and use the limited resources to the best of their ability
Since 2013, Dipika Prasad and Varun Pawar have known each other through their careers as venture capitalists. Despite being largely successful in their careers, a thought kept gnawing at the both of them. They were determined to create a social impact that was measurable and after a lot of thinking, they understood which area they wanted to work in. "We wanted to build better cities which are more livable and provide people with equal opportunities because it is in the cities that people break free from their social baggage like caste, creed, gender, religion and all the other chains which otherwise hold them back," says Prasad.
They are part of N/Core's tech accelerator funded by Cisco CSR. They gave them their first funding and mentorship and support too
Their common interests brought them together to start Lakeer in January 2018. So, they set out on a journey to not only travel to cities across India, but also to some cities around the world, and along the way, met urban planners, NGOs, government officials, communities — anyone who would help them understand cities better. "The US has great cities too, but there is inequality and homelessness prevalent there as well and we did not want that to be our model. But when I visited Western Europe, I realised that there are two things in particular that make their cities great," explains Prasad, who graduated from Jawaharlal Nehru Technical University in 2009. While cities like Amsterdam have limited resources for their own local context, they use data to decide how to use those resources in the best possible way and second, and perhaps the most important aspect, was that the citizens were engaged with the city in various ways. One of their first supporters was the Friedrich Naumann Foundation which sponsored Prasad to undertake a two-week training on municipal governance in Germany, in July.
Picture perfect: The team of Lakeer with Telangana's cabinet minister KT Rama Rao
In June this year, Lakeer signed a partnership with Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) in the presence of the Minister for Municipal Administration and Urban Development KT Rama Rao. In this regard, Lakeer will map liveability across 150 municipal wards as per 42 parameters and also pilot five model wards in Hyderabad. The liveability map is being built as a GIS-based city intelligence tool called CitySight which will be made available to more than a dozen government agencies involved in planning and running the city of Hyderabad. "These 42 parameters were drawn up after several discussions with Hyderabadi citizens about the challenges they are facing. We also went through The Economist's Global Liveability reports and Government of India's Ease of Living Index," explains Prasad, adding that the parameters include parks and recreation, availability of banking services, economic development and more.
Two mentors who've been instrumental in them getting this far are Sanjay Purohit, the Former Chair of the Board at Infosys Consulting and senior leader at UIDAI, and Murali Basavaraju, who is the Director of Engineering at Cisco
One of the major categories of indicators is disaster resilience in the city. "We are working with the newly-formed disaster resilience wing of GHMC to map flooding zones in Hyderabad and prioritise resources for response. We're also working with them to see if the identified rehab centres for these flood zones are close enough to access, but also out of reach of flood waters. Hyderabad is the first city in India to have a dedicated disaster response force for the city and they can really show the way for other Indian cities. We are happy to do our bit to help them adopt data and GIS analytics in their work," says Prasad, who also spoke at the recent World Economic Forum (WEF) at Davos, Switzerland. The WEF has also invited Prasad to the Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Tianjin, China from September 18 to 20, where the specific focus will be on conversations around adopting new technologies for governance.
For the team: Varun Pawar focuses on fundraising for Lakeer
The Lakeer team is especially focused on improving the quality of life for the urban poor. "The urban poor are most impacted by challenges like access to public transport, health, education and more as they are almost entirely reliant on public services for these. Hyderabad is one of the leading implementers of Government of India's affordable housing scheme, the Rajiv Awas Yojana. There are 112 affordable housing developments coming up with more than 81,000 two-BHK homes. We're working with the GHMC to analyse how the families living in these developments will commute using public transport, which schools their children will study in, where the children can play, where the nearest public health facility is and more. Through this, we are identifying areas of potential improvement where new infrastructure can be created or existing infrastructure can be improved," says Pawar who focuses most of his time on fundraising for Lakeer so that their services can be provided pro-bono to city administrators.
A bunch of people we call our urban champions, which include architects, urban scientists, technology experts, policy experts and others, always help us out when we need it
Dipika Prasad, Co-founder, Lakeer
Prasad goes on to inform us that there are resources like existing records of the government, census, Google Street Maps and the data collected from their own affordable sensors and field visits that they are using. And though she tells us that they are a tech-driven small team, she affirms that their heart is in the right place and they intend to do just what they started out to do — make cities more liveable and equitable for everyone.
For more on them, click on lakeer.org