India's Largest Election Inspires Entrepreneurs To Make Change.

This post is written by Rachel Eilbott, Organizer for Startup Weekend Delhi Governance which took place Friday – Sunday, April 11th-13th. 

Today marks the third stage of voting for India’s 16th Lok Sabha elections – a national race held in nine stages across the country.


Over the next five weeks, voters from New Delhi and 91 other constituencies are coming out to make their voices heard.

This race is huge for India in a number of ways: literally (this is the largest democratic election in the history of the world, with over 814 million eligible voters) and for a number of firsts as well. The incumbent party in power for the past 10 years, Congress, is, according to opinion polls, facing serious opposition by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, featured below).

Startup weekend, UP Global

And both of these two main parties are challenged by the newcomer Aam Aadmi Party (AAP, featured below), whose anti-corruption platform was a shocking success in Delhi’s December elections.

Startup Weekend, UP Global

This race has involved more spending and greater use of technology than ever seen before, voters now have a “None of the above” option on ballots, and transgender voters have for the first time been recognized with a third option when denoting gender.

Big things are happening (click image to enlarge). 

startup weekend, UP Global

On the day of the election, the city is buzzing with political discussion. Some are excited, some are nervous, some are indifferent – “I’m voting, but there’s really no point,” someone says, “it’s already over.”

Today, tomorrow, next week – you will cast your vote, and in a little more than a month’s time we’ll have results. Some of you will be relieved, or maybe excited – others disappointed, upset. Stop and think for a moment, however: what do you want to see change from these elections? What is your hope for the present and future of the country? And, most importantly, what will YOU do to work towards a better India? Your vote counts and by all means don’t waste it, but also don’t let the end of elections also mean the end of the conversation, enthusiasm, action.

No matter what the results of this election are, you still work towards the India that you want to see. Maybe your candidate wins; help them work better. Maybe your candidate doesn’t; go out and fight for what you believe. What do you want to change?

Feel that elections aren’t transparent enough, or that candidates may be hiding important information? Professors from Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ahmedabad did, and so created the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) in 1999 to monitor elections. Because of their work, candidates are now required to disclose criminal, financial, and educational records when running for office, information they compile and make available to the public. ADR has worked with National Election Watch to run Election Watches on the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha elections as well as nearly every state election since coming into operation – helping promote more honest elections and candidates.

Feel like pulling your hair out after a frustrating day at the passport office?  Kuang Chen was inspired during his PhD research on low-resource organizations to create Captricity, a service that can capture information from any document type, including handwritten forms, and transform it into workable data. For frequently under-staffed, overworked bureaucracies, the time- and money-saving potential of such a service is enormous.

Feel that MLAs are out of fresh ideas or wish that your great ideas could be heard? Rwitwika Bhattacharya envisioned a way to address both points. She launched the Swaniti Initiative in 2009 to link some of the best young minds in the country with elected officials to work together to solve problems and improve society. Now Swaniti Fellows work with MPs, MLAs, and Cabinet Members across the country to create, implement, and scale programs to create sustainable social change in their constituencies.

Feel that there isn’t enough money on the table for some of the most important government initiatives? The founders of Citizinvestor saw the opportunity to leverage the power of crowdfunding to serve the public good. Through the US-based platform, local governments or their partners can request funds for projects, allowing citizens to directly take charge of the programs that matter most to them.

Feel that proposed government policies are confusing? The founders of Outline are developing a platform to simulate what effect government policies will have on local economies, allowing citizens to understand how proposed decisions may affect their lives, such as being able to see by how much their taxes may increase.  By helping citizens to understand policy, Outline will lead to increased communication between decision-makers and their constituents.

All of these initiatives started as an idea someone had – a grievance or gap a person identified and then found an innovative way to address. What gaps do you see with governance systems? How can you solve them?

Come to Startup Weekend Delhi Governance this Friday through Sunday, April 11th-13th, to work on an idea or develop a new one. Held at the Adianta School for Leadership and Innovation in Chattarpur Enclave, Delhi, you will have the course of the weekend to pitch ideas, form teams, gain access to skilled mentors, develop your idea into a workable model, and pitch your project to a panel of judges. What will you create?