For many of us, social responsibility stretches as far as donating blood at an event organised on a massive scale. The follow-up to the story is grey as neither the donor nor organisers know how it is being used and by whom. “While packets of blood are made available during a mass drive such as at a blood donation camp, when there is a genuine emergency, patients and their relatives struggle to find a voluntary donor. They end up running from pillar to post or relying on middlemen to procure the desired blood group. This and many other questions motivated us to set up Friends2support,” says SK Shareef, one of the founders of Asia’s largest online database of voluntary blood donors (www.friends2support.org).
Running on the motto ‘no business of blood’, the website was envisioned by five childhood friends from Narasaraopet in Guntur. The inception of Friends2support in 2003-04 came about when the team —
SK Shareef, E Naveen, S Koteswararao, K Phani and M Murali Krishna — caught up with each other after completing their graduation.
“Ideating in 2004 on what services we could render which will not be localised to a specific region or city, Shareef came up with the idea of voluntary blood donation and we caught on,” says K Phani who works as a project leader in a software company.
The initiative is now six years old but the enthusiasm of Phani and Shareef to go the extra mile is infectious. “When we set up the website on November 14, 2005, we had the names of 100 volunteers on the site and our target was to reach 25,000. Now that we are nearing the 1 lakh mark, we want to expand it to 1 crore volunteers as
India requires four crore units of blood every day and this can make a significant contribution,” says Shareef. Close to 50 new volunteers sign up every day on the website.
What keeps the team motivated is the feedback they receive from those who have benefitted from the services offered by friends2support.org. The website allows users to post their requirement of blood and to contact the listed volunteers directly without any intervention from the team. “Initially we submitted a profile of the website to various hospitals. Now the hospitals recommend our website especially to patients who come to the city from other states. We have heard from patients who came here from Jharkhand and UP for surgery and were helped by volunteers listed with us. It is the biggest gift which motivates us,” says Shareef.
This is not all as the initiative has been a title-holder in the Limca Book of Records since 2010 for being the largest online blood donor database. The team was honoured with the UN World Summit Youth Award for the best technological concept in 2009 and was shortlisted for NASSCOM’s innovation awards.
“Presently we are in the third phase of the website development and plan to launch a mobile app and mobile based website for smartphone users on our seventh anniversary this year,” says Shareef, who spends close to five hours updating the website daily.
Their tech background helps as Phani, Naveen and Koteswararao are all BE graduates from SSN Engineering College in Ongole while Murali graduated from National Institute of Technology, Calicut. Shareef is a graduate from SKRBR Degree College in Narasaraopet.
The team stringently vets the volunteer list and are particular about how the blood is utilised. “We encourage donors to meet the patient and check with
the hospital before donating blood. It helps in eliminating middlemen. We hide the names of those who have donated blood recently till they are eligible for their next donation after a 90-day window,” says Phani”
The group is planning to expand their volunteer base in Northern and North-Eastern states where fewer people know of the initiative. “The practice of middlemen charging money for blood units and poor people donating blood to make a quick buck still exists. There is also a religious prejudice among people we often encounter regarding the religion of the donor they want to select. These practices have to be overcome gradually through a societal change,” sign off the duo.