Thanal is a mobile app and web technology platform that works on the delivery of government welfare scheme information to citizens.

Many a time, government scheme benefits do not reach the intended beneficiaries simply because they don’t know about them. This is what prompted Youth entrepreneur Varun Chandran, to develop a tech-enabled welfare scheme app, Thanal, in 2018 to try and bridge this information gap.

The simple solution: Thanal is a mobile app and web technology platform that works on the delivery of scheme benefits to citizens. The app can work even without internet connectivity and gauges a candidate’s eligibility for government scheme by asking 7 to 10 questions.

Defining a civic problem: The issue of social injustice, fueled by unawareness of government welfare information for disadvantaged communities.  

“In 2017, while volunteering in rural villages of Kerala, I saw many citizens at the bottom of the social pyramid don’t know about the government welfare schemes they are eligible and can apply for. We realized that schemes are for the bottom 25% of the population, and to reach them we put an app on Google Play Store. We also hope to implement an assisted model, where a Panchayat Member, Anganavady Teachers or Asha workers can be trained, who would then use the app to help citizens,” explains Varun. Social workers, Public servants & Govt staff can access welfare scheme data on their phone during their meetings & discussions with citizens and advise them directly.

Phase-2: Thanal, which is at present voluntarily developed for government of Kerala, is experimenting with speech-to-text models to make the application more accessible. This will be a helpful feature for visually impaired and those not well versed with using mobile app. “Most of our users being semi-literate and semi-urban, we are trying to build a tool for them,” Varun says. The effort also aims for delivering welfare services through a network of specially trained community representatives on the ground, who help out with applications and form submissions. Thanal will also be made available in The App Store.

Supporting pillars: In 2017, during an annual startup conference of Kerala Startup Mission, State IT Secretary Sivasankar urged startups to come up with civic-tech solutions. The idea of a welfare scheme app was discussed with Corporate360 CEO Varun Chandran. A small team of student entrepreneurs were formed and the team then began receiving excellent support from Kerala IT Mission and PRD. Thanal is acclaimed as “ICT-led Social Innovation by Youth Innovators” from Kerala. It also raised about Rs1 lakh from Corporate360, a social enterprise startup from Kerala.

Student entrepreneurs: Sanju Payankannur & Akhil Suresh, both graduate students of College of Engineering Idukki were handpicked by Corporate360 and started off as a student startup support project, enabling them with professional exposure. The two focused on integrating their research with technology which was critical to ensure impact design and enable scale. “Our aim is to reach millions, and to be able to do that we had to build it like a public scalable platform and back it with a research engine,” Sanju adds.

Reality check:  Social impact startups — those using business tools to solve social problems – are making a big statement in Kerala. From ‘Aditya’, the solar boat from Kochi-based startup NavAlt, to ‘Bandicoot’, the drainage cleaning robot developed by Thiruvananthapuram-based Genrobotics, to Traffitizer, which helps clear the road for ambulances, and Corporate360, a rural B2B startup where 80 per cent of its employees are women, startups that create a positive impact on society are slowly but surely growing in Kerala. Corporate social responsibility mandates are triggering more interest in the space. ‘Says Saji Gopinath, CEO of Kerala Startup Mission. There are several other social impact products which are in the implementing stage under KSUM such as a hardware that helps dairy farmers in early detection of cattle diseases to a long-range early warning and climate information communication system for fishermen.

Future plan: The important thing is to make a difference with your work. Believes Varun. “The thing that really drives me is an urge to bring overall inclusion of all citizens. We will try more social impact projects in the same sector,” he says. Thanal idea has great potential but believes it should reach the beneficiaries frequently comes from the bottom of the income and social pyramids. “Also, this should see through the engagement till the last mile and ensure delivery of the benefits of the scheme to the intended recipients,” he adds.

Thanal App can be downloaded from Google Play Store.

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