Thiruvananthapuram: While rains were lashing Kerala in August, submerging many parts of the state in the worst such incident in nearly a century, a largely untapped trait of Keralites was surging above the waters — an outpouring of voluntarism in the digital domain.
That surge of voluntary help from government agencies, tech companies and tech-savvy individuals with an altruistic trait also led to the creation of a robust payments platform for donations.
The Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund (CMDRF) had been around for decades, but when the floods inflicted damages far in excess of what was foreseen, a digital army led by the state government’s own Centre for Development of Imaging Technology (C-DIT) got working on a digital platform that would make it easy for contributions to flow into the CMDRF.
Reminiscing on the war room-like operations of C-DIT at the height of the floods, P.V. Unnikrishnan, honorary consultant of C-DIT and strategy adviser of Kerala Development Innovation Strategic Council told Gulf News, “We got direction from the state finance secretary on August 12 to work on a donations platform, and we had created one by August 14”.
The deluge of contributions was such that the platform crashed on August 18, prompting the digital architecture team to take the offering to a cloud platform, which was up the very next day.
Normally, contributions come to the CMDRF through annual budgetary allocations. Voluntary contribution to the state distress relief fund is new, and it debuted during the Ockhi cyclone earlier in the year, when roughly Rs80 million (Dh4.05 million) was collected.
In stark contrast, the CMDRF has so far received donations to the tune of Rs2 billion through the digital platform for rebuilding the state after the flood.
In the process, voluntarism broke all records, riding on the easy-to-use donations portal linked to the CMDRF. As many as 19 banks and aggregators supported the payments initiative, enabling digital donations from those having netbanking facilities, or held one of 48 different debit or credit cards from around the world.
“As much as 50 per cent of the contributions made digitally were below Rs5,000, and people were contributing even amounts as small as Rs3 and Rs5 using digital wallets”, says Unnikrishnan. However, in a surprise of sorts, many of the major contributors preferred the traditional cheque payment route to make their donations.
Interestingly, the most number of contributions came from Maharashtra, followed by Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Bengal.
The enthusiasm all around was such that those like Citibank, Amazon and the food-delivery brand Swiggy ran campaigns for the charity effort and in what may be a first of its kind, WhatsApp for business was integrated into a state government effort.
A particularly encouraging feature were the efforts of a team of youth from C-DIT, private companies and individual professionals who contributed their might to putting up the payments gateway for donations, with one of them who is fighting leukaemia working through several nights with the rest of his colleagues.