“Here’s Mr. Prathaap B.’s story, Social Entrepreneur and Founder of “PotHole Raja”- a Social Venture to create safer, pothole-free roads through citizen participation, and by leveraging CSR and crowdsourcing.”
How did you get started on your philanthropy journey?
Since school days I was very active in sports and adventure. I always dreamed of being in the Air Force and so continued to work under NCC.
I was awarded the ‘Best Cadet of Indian Air Force’, under the National Cadet Corps (NCC) by then Prime Minister of India – A.B. Vajpayee in the Republic Day Parade. I represented India as Youth Ambassador to the UK for an International Air Cadet Exchange program. In fact, I got my pilot license before I got my driving license.
“I realized that once you put your mind and effort into a thing, you can get what you want- even something that seems to be beyond one’s reach. Over time, I became stronger in the areas that I wanted to focus on, whether it was serving the country or being part of elite forces.”
Then I moved on to learn more about Management Sciences to know how to take up things on a large scale. I worked in the corporate sector for about 11 years. I held senior management positions for about 8-9 years. I worked with large organizations in the US and UK, like Citibank, Aditya Birla Group, and Hewitt. I served at HP as a Global Vice President.
Meanwhile, in India and the US, I studied 3 masters – from Harvard Business School, Indian Statistical Institute, and the Indian Institute of Modern Management. I always focussed on analytics while studying management degrees. My Ph.D. is in organization, leadership, and human resource.
In 2011, I started my journey as an entrepreneur, with a vision to connect how public or private organizations, CSR, and individual volunteering can be leveraged simultaneously to create large-scale social impact.
I’ve been the founding member of a finishing school, which connects the students to corporates through the internship model, and today it continues in the name of “Blue Tiger”. We’re always thinking of ways to give students opportunities to make a difference in their communities.
I have also been working with an organization called “Education for Integrating Life”. Since 2011, we have been facilitating 300-400 social action projects proposed by students in Std 10-12. Each student commits 30-40 hours of social work as part of these projects
There was once a girl, whose mother was fighting cancer. During this time she couldn’t concentrate on social work. Losing her mother obviously caused her a lot of grief. This personal experience led her to understand the need for counselling. She started conducting counselling sessions in cancer hospitals, and at old age homes. She eventually chose this as her career path, and now she is pursuing a degree in child psychology.
“But what I learned out of this was that you don’t need to go through the same experiences as others to create impact. I realized that I don’t need an external trigger to do something significant. I think that’s a very important dimension that made me start PotHole Raja.”
In 2014, one of my close friends, Sanjay Achyut Tambwekar lost his daughter in a road accident. She was going to be married soon, and it was obviously an extremely difficult time for him. Later, his wife, Dr Shubhangi Sanjay Tambwekar and he, together started The Arundhati Foundation in memory of their daughter.
At about the same time I had started thinking about how I could make a difference in society, that too on a large scale. In 2015, I started researching to learn more about the top 3 issues plaguing India. I started focusing on road infrastructure as it needed a lot of attention. Having worked with the governments of Malaysia and Singapore, I had developed a good understanding of the global best practices for road safety. So I set out with the vision to create a pothole-free India.
Being tech-savvy myself, I was able to create an app that would let people report potholes, share pictures, and GPS locations. By the end of 2015, some IIT Bombay Ph.D. students connected with me, and I realized that many people have been working on the idea of such an app. These students had created a mobile sensor-based app to help identify and report potholes. The app could automatically sense the aberrations on the road as one would drive around, and send alerts.
“Despite these efforts, there are still many accidents and fatalities that occur due to poor road infrastructure. In fact, potholes claim more lives than terrorist attacks in India.”
In 2015, the Supreme Court of India said that about 800 people died out of terror attacks, whereas deaths caused by potholes stood at 3500. Further, my research revealed that identifying and reporting potholes did little to solve the problem – the real gap was in fixing these potholes.
I learned of a few NGOs that have been working on road safety. For example, ichangemycity.com lets citizens report issues like potholes and bad roads, and the NGO in turn sends that request to Corporators or Municipal Councils. Unfortunately, in most cases the loop is not closed. If you report an issue, the concerned people may or may not even be bothered to take action, and you will never know whether it is going to be fixed or not.
Traditionally roads are laid with a ‘Hot Mix Asphalt’. I started exploring alternative methods to fix roads. I connected with some professionals and university professors in civil engineering and understood how fixing potholes is different from typical road-laying, and the challenges that come with it.
Countries across the world use a variety of technologies, tools, and materials to lay roads that are safe and long-lasting. But in India, these tools and technologies were yet to be adopted. While I was in the US and Malaysia I learned about ‘Cold Asphalt’ – an alternate method of road construction popular in Saudi Arabia. In 2015-16, Cold Asphalt was not available in India, so I started importing it.
Please tell us more about your success on this journey?
In 2015, I co-authored a book titled, Performance Excellence: An Effective and Efficient Project Management for Social Organizations .I was on a panel of experts, discussing the book at a Toyota factory, which was located in an industrial area and I mentioned the work I’m doing through PotHole Raja. Incidentally, the head of facilities said “We have a lot of potholes inside the industrial area, within our campus, can you help fix them?”.
And that’s how we began fixing private roads. I realized that both private and public roads have the same maintenance issue. In the case of private roads, the contractors who manage the roads don’t want to do patchwork fixing, as it is not viable for their business.
As far as public roads are concerned, I started fixing potholes on my own using Cold Asphalt. A lot of people got connected, friends and family started donating money for it. I had a private ltd co. and I started accepting donations and also got CSR funding.
It became a movement in 2016 and in early 2017, after a lot of media houses started covering what I was doing as an individual. That’s when a lot of volunteers and organizations started reaching out to me. They started funding and sending their employees as volunteers.
Many automobile companies were interested in working with PotHole Raja because road safety is a relevant concern they can address through their CSR efforts. Eventually even, Tyre and Alcohol brands wanted to support the cause. Also, many IT companies, where a majority of their workforce commute by 2-wheelers, were concerned for their employees’ safety. So they saw sense in collaborating with us as well.
“By 2019, PotHole Raja became a Pan-India Movement, as a result of which 7000+ potholes were fixed. Over 5000 people had volunteered to contribute 20000+ hours of volunteering.”
We did a lot of awareness building with school children in terms of Road Safety Education. We’ve addressed around 15,000 school children, helping them understand how fixing potholes can improve road safety. They also learned about the importance of signboards, speed breakers, mirrors for corners, and Zebra crossings or pedestrian crossings.
Parallelly, l also worked on improving private roads. Media coverage of our work in fixing public roads piqued the interest of many IT parks and gated communities. But many of them were unable to get their emplyees/residents involved, so I started approaching transgender and underpriviliged individuals, encouraging them to take up working with PotHole Raja as an alternate career. This gave them an opportunity to earn livelihood.
In 2017, ‘The Hindu’ wrote a half-page article on PotHole Raja. It appeared on the front page, and I started getting calls from many individuals who were interested in volunteering.
One such story is about a volunteer who called me and asked ‘how can I join you?’. I told him to meet me near St. John’s Hospital at 5:30am the next morning. He showed up on time and we fixed potholes together, along with an RJ from Fever 104 FM and a few other more volunteers. He enjoyed doing this, and for almost 7 months, he continued to be a regular volunteer. In October 2017, he said fixing potholes was a lot more fulfilling and enriching. He resigned from his job at HP and joined us full-time in December 2017. He is still with us, running operations and managing large-scale projects.
Executives from the top management, who are associated with different types of companies, belonging to different countries, even some who were visiting India on work have joined us in fixing potholes. So far, we’ve had volunteers from 17 different countries.
Many people who were of the opinion that fixing potholes is not their job started to think differently after working with us, and slowly realized that they too can make a difference in society, rather than just pointing fingers.
What are your future plans?
“Apart from taking corrective action to fix potholes, I think building roads and road infrastructure that doesn’t require regular maintenance is critical. We have been exploring ways to optimize the methods used to fix roads.”
To this end, we have conducted research on alternate materials and methods that can be used to create sustainable, long-lasting roads. We have come up with a material that uses a combination of plastic waste and crumb rubber waste. We have also experimented extensively with Cold Asphalt.
Our efforts have garnered the support of the Government of Maharashtra, Government of Andhra Pradesh, Ministry of Science and Technology, Tata Trust, and Social Alpha. Brigade Group has also supported us under their Real Estate Accelerator Program (REAP) for innovation in the space of roads, both in private real estate and public roads.
Start-up India, through their AGNII (Accelerating growth of New India’s Innovations) program, has also recognised us for our innovative methods. Further, a large company that generates a lot of waste, which goes into landfills, has started sending their waste to us. We have done a lot of research on this front, and our product is almost ready. We have found that plastic can be a replacement for the concrete block and interlocking tiles.
Additionally, the mining and manufacturing of Granite is one of the largest industries in India. The slurry waste powder generated while cutting granite currently goes into landfills. Our research has found that this is a strong material that can be converted and used to build roads. We are also exploring the possibility of building solar roads. Some countries have tried this, but it has not been done at scale.
We are also looking to create private roads, like walkways and cycle parks that will run on a microgrid with self-sustaining solar power supply for all the infrastructure around it. The current Covid-19 pandemic has impacted everyone around the world. Millions of laborers are suffering the disproportionate consequences of this pandemic. With this in mind, we have also started creating livelihood projects for people, where we help them learn new skills related to road-building.
Since we’re trying to steer away from traditional road building methods, getting a skilled laborer is a big challenge. We are looking to create vocational skill development training related to road infrastructure for the underprivileged communities, migrants, and slum dwellers to help address this skill gap.
We are also exploring options with Earth Moving Companies, who can train the laborers on many skills related to road construction. For example, we need technically sound drivers for JCB Machines, who can maintain and repair them on the ground.
How can someone work with you or join you?
Our website lets you see real-time reports on the ‘Live PotHole View’ page. The red dots are the ones to be fixed and the greens dots are the ones that are already fixed. You can also see the Before-After pictures for every dot.
“We have already worked in all metro cities and will continue to work with tier-1 and tier-2 cities.”
If anyone wants to connect with us, they can call us at +91 814 POTHOLE (+91 814 768 4653), email us at email@example.com, or can reach us through Social Media like Facebook and Twitter. Alternatively, they can also get in touch with us through one of the founders of Your Philanthropy Story.
They can also report a pothole on our website, or send us a message on WhatsApp. We encourage citizens to reach out to us for any road safety concern, from fatal potholes to missing road signages.
Story compiled by: Nimisha Jaiswal
Edited by: Vasudha Veeranna