City-based Alternative News Portal Features Agricultural Innovators
QUEEN’S ROAD: Tired of all the sensationalism in mainstream media, a city-based husband-wife duo started an alternative news platform that focuses on the good in 2008.
Dhimant and Anuradha Parekh, both MBA graduates from Indian School of Business in Hyderabad, started working on The Better India on weekends. Eventually, the couple quit their jobs in real estate and e-commerce respectively to focus on the online portal full-time.
“It is important to highlight the broken to fix them but we wanted to write about things that are already working,” says Dhimant Parekh, Co-Founder, The Better India.
Within four months of setting up the website, they started receiving contributions from across the country. “We were getting emails from people eager to write for us,” recalls Dhimant.
Now, after six years, they have grown into an established network of 400 freelance journalists and publish a minimum of eight stories per week.
The first story that made them realise the power of positive journalism was about a photography club in Pune that was run by visually impaired people. A young blind girl wrote to them saying the story had inspired her to join the club, ultimately giving direction to her life.
“We aim to give a voice to people who have made a difference. We want to showcase potential and inspire change. The impact our stories create motivate us to share more such stories and amplify the change,” says Dhimant.
Content is also generated through partnerships. The Better India has tied up with Teach for India, enabling people to blog about their experience of teaching the underprivileged. “We have also partnered with South Asian Women’s Platform funded by the UN. We share their stories to give women the right to be heard,” he says.
The core team of four members moved into an office space only month ago. Until then, the team worked from their respective homes. “We felt the need to be present with each other to share ideas and co-ordinate more closely,” explains Dhimant.
The website, which has over 2 million visitors, was self-funded until last month.
Angel funding, backed by Mohandas Pai from Infosys and Ravi Shastry from Myntra, among other powerful corporates, has donated Rs 1 crore, giving them the ability to expand.
“We hope to use the money to enter new markets and write in many Indian languages,” Dhimant says. The mobile app that they plan to launch next week will be the first step towards these new developments.
The website recently featured two innovators worth knowing — Girish Badragond and Shubhendu Sharma.
While the former has come up with agricultural solutions to save water and keep birds away from crops, the latter developed a way to grow 50-odd exotic plants in one’s backyard.
Twenty-eight-year-old Girish Badragond was born to poor farmers in Vijayapura. Growing up, he witnessed difficulties created by water shortage and crops dying.
“This inspired me to develop technology to solve this crisis. I have always been fascinated with electronics and circuits, I would often open transistors to see how they work,” he says. Only an SSLC graduate, he picked up tips from the magazine, Electronics For You.
Girish has made three innovations to help farmers. His time-based irrigation system ensures that the motor pumping water to crops stops by itself when the power goes off. “It saves water by automatically switching off,” he explains.
Birds feeding on crops in the field have to watch out for the Bird Repeller, which shoos them off by creating sounds.
His most significant contribution is a solar sensor-based irrigation system that judges the amount of water that is required for the crop and prevents wastage.
“The sensors send a signal to a unit which sends the exact amount of water to the soil,” he says. The system is worth Rs 1.5 lakh.
Girish also conducts awareness drives with farmers through the NGO Swaha Krishi. Eleven drives have been conducted in Karnataka so far, where farmers come forward to purchase his products.
A former Toyota engineer, Shubhendu Sharma was first apprehensive about changing careers.
Inspired by Akira Miyawaki, the naturalist who worked on conserving land in Toyota premises, he adopted the method to develop Afforest. Fifty odd exotic plant species can be grown in one’s backyard, with the right expertise and maintenance.
“There were hurdles at first, after quitting my job. But I persevered with my vision,” he says.
How does it work? A soil survey is first conducted to identify the missing ingredients, then research is done on variety of plant species. The saplings grow up to 1 metre every day. “The major benefit of the project is its low cost,” Sharma says. Afforest has services ranging from consultancy to taking care of the entire project.
Making a difference
The Better India has impacted and empowered many who would not have found representation in the mainstream media. A child care centre in West Bengal was featured on the website and received funds worth Rs 5 lakh. The team also wrote about farmers in the Vidhuka region who created a Whatsapp group to exchange information about crops and seeds. The article was published on the test-run Hindi version and resulted in 50 new requests to join the group. And when NDTV picked up the story and put up the website’s screenshot, the group received over 400 requests. “They couldn’t accommodate them all, so sub groups were formed,” Dhimant says.