Crowdfunding is emerging as a sustainable and reliable model to increase healthcare access in the country

Anoj Viswanathan, Co-founder and President, Milaap.org, India’s largest crowdfunding platform gives insights on the role of crowdfunding in enabling access and affordability in healthcare delivery

How did Milaap come into existence? Why was it set up?

Milaap was set up with a vision to ease the process of rendering and receiving financial assistance. With a background of working with solar power in rural areas, and in micro-finance, the Milaap founders Mayukh Choudhury and Anoj Viswanathan were initially looking for a way to ensure sustainable development at the grassroot level. The platform initially catered to micro entrepreneurs in rural areas where people could support multiple small scale entrepreneurs.

Gradually they moved to the donations sphere, with the idea of letting people take their own causes online to their circles and beyond with greater ease. The donation/ crowdfunding concept picked up fast, and soon categories like medical treatment, emergencies, education, sports and animals started to emerge.

There is a growing popularity of medical and emergency causes which have collected over 70 per cent of the total funds raised through donations.

In India’s healthcare conundrum, how can a venture like yours offer a relevant solution? Elaborate on how crowdfunding as a method to raise medical funds is relevant in the Indian context?

Crowdfunding isn’t really new. People have always turned to their friends, family and communities when a significant amount of money is urgently required. We are only taking this regular behaviour online, making it easier to reach out to more people. It also gives donors a chance to participate, and do their bit, while seeing their contribution make a difference.

India’s private healthcare spend stands at $90 billion a year. Of this, merely a third is covered by insurance, and the balance $60 billion is met largely with borrowings from friends and family. This is the segment we are looking to tap — capturing 10 per cent of this segment would mean a medical crowdfunding market of around $6 billion. That is where Milaap plays a role. We would like to bridge that gap and ease the process of seeking financial assistance.

Tell us about your revenue model? How do you ensure and verify the authenticity of the claims?

Milaap has a five per cent platform fees on the total funds raised. There is no upfront fees, but the platform fee is charged on any funds raised through our platform. In addition, the third party payment processor may charge a standard fee based on the medium and currency of payment: cards, net banking etc.

We have a dedicated team, and a robust process to ensure the legitimacy of both the beneficiary and the cause of a fundraiser at setup. Before making any fundraiser public, we verify the mandatory documents provided, and the institution issuing the same. Moreover, anybody viewing the fundraiser might report it, with a reason to call for a more stringent investigation. Other than this, campaign organisers are required to post frequent updates informing their donors of the utilisation of funds, or of any progress in the situation. We also have some members on ground, who visit beneficiaries and follow up from time to time.

Do you see crowdfunding emerging as a sustainable and reliable model to increase healthcare access in the country?

Yes, with more people now being able to fund, and therefore afford quality healthcare, crowdfunding is emerging as a sustainable and reliable model to increase healthcare access in the country.

With greater accessibility to the internet, and the popularisation of digital payments, crowdfunding would definitely give people more people better access to quality healthcare.

How are you ushering more access, transparency and efficacy in healthcare?

We are now working with hospitals from where we see frequent causes coming in. This hastens the process of verification, while helping us collect any missing details and information. Hospital collaboration across the country also makes quality healthcare available to people who are unable to continue treatment due to financial constraints.

We believe that awareness on the ease of online fundraising through social media and the press, crowdfunding could be made accessible to anyone who has access to the internet or knows someone in their circle who can help them out.

Better transparency and efficacy are ensured by bridging the gap between the patient and hospital on one hand and anyone who helps on the other. The updates posted keep the donors informed about any progress made as the funds are utilised. This way efficacy is achieved, while maintaining transparency.

Are you tying up with hospitals/ clinics to expand your business?

We are now working with hospitals from where we see frequent causes coming in. This hastens the process of verification, while helping us collect any missing details and information, other than making quality healthcare available to people who are unable to continue treatment due to financial constraints.

lakshmipriya.nair@expressindia.com