The second wave was particularly tough on everyone. Whether or not we were directly affected by the virus, all of us had to bear the brunt of the deadly outbreak. However, when the government crumbled, humanity stepped up to take charge. We came across several stories of people getting together on a virtual platform and providing help wherever possible. In more than one instances, technology bound us together in tough times. One such story of a carpooling app, sRide, also got us thinking about how sometimes making a change for the good is necessary at a time like this.
Shortly after the app introduced its new feature --sNeighbour -- India descended into a nationwide second wave. However, that did not deter Lakshna Jha, Co-founder and CEO, sRide, and she turned it into a resource hub for its users. The Bridge Chronicle spoke to her to find out more about her spontaneous decision and upcoming goals for the app:
Could you tell us a little about your journey to developing sRide?
We started sRide in 2015, and it began with a vision of creating a platform for like-minded people to form communities and carpool. So, as you know that travel, the commute is very tough in India and infrastructure is absent -- and public transport is very challenging; so the whole purpose was that if people are going in the same direction, the app connects them together so that they can go together because most of the people go during the same time frame (viz 9 to 11 AM or 5 to 7 PM) and one of the significant achievements was, 60 per cent of our riders, people who take the ride are women because women have more challenges trying to get to work. We were very proud knowing that we were able to help a lot of women commute to work. There are 2 million users in sRide. Now, in March and especially in April, the second wave of Covid gripped the country. It had people struggling with infrastructure and medical issues, beds, oxygens, even like getting groceries -- some families were entirely down with Covid and were grappling even with basic needs like food. So, right before that, we actually launched sNeighbour, and in late March, early April, we quickly added a feature for people to give and take help during Covid.
So, the purpose was I might be able to help you in terms of either taking you to the hospital or giving information about where a bed is available. Or something as simple as cooked food, because if the family's down, then I, who lives in the same neighbourhood or same society, can help you with things like this. It made us extremely happy to see that people came together to help each other. On the first day, a few thousand people registered to give help, and people were also listing themselves to take help. So, with sNeighbour, what we have done is we have augmented our existing technology and infrastructure and network of the two million users that we have. To make a positive impact in terms of giving and needing help.
What are the facilities, goals that sRide aims to achieve with its service?
We were always a strong community where people were helping each other by carpooling and go to the office. So that made us understand that there are several areas where people can help each other in the community. For example, we see a lot of people help each other to get to the vaccine centres. But there is a much more extensive use for sNeighbour that we see people connecting with each other. For instance, if they don't have jobs, they're reaching out to each other to get jobs -- that is one case that we have. If I need a mentor in my area, I can reach out to them in person -- after the Covid situation gets better.
If I'm interested in playing badminton, I can find fellow players in the neighbourhood. There's a lot of interaction around interest also. Similarly, mothers can also find a lot of information, like if they need any classes for the kids or the overall development of the kids. That's also an area where there's been a lot of interest to exchange information within the community.
What were some challenges that you faced?
When the peak pandemic hit in April, right before that, we had already launched a social piece for sNeighbour. So, the entire tech platform turned towards it. When the second wave hit, we had to bring in the feature immediately because (clearly) there was a time constraint. So, I still remember that we had a discussion on Friday saying we have to bring this out, and we had a crew working over the weekend and Monday, we had this feature out. Time was the only constraint, and we wanted to build this technology so that people could reach out to each other really quickly. We wanted to make sure we have this feature out really quick, but I think it was totally worth it because we saw that people were helping each other during Covid times. So, I'd say that was the only challenge we faced -- trying to meet the timelines and people.
Do you think the Covid-19 pandemic has changed carpooling?
Definitely Covid has changed carpooling, one way not a lot of people are travelling, so less number of people are travelling. But we had seen that in Covid times people still had a social bubble, and they were carpooling with those who are comfortable with them because they knew they were safe and had not tested positive. Now people know that lots of people are getting vaccinated. So, people have created social bubbles for carpooling, but this has helped us to create a platform that is beyond carpooling. Here, people can connect with each other about something that is not just that and can help each other within the neighbourhood or community.
Whether it is professionals, or mental health, or trying to connect with similar people and interests -- For the long term, sNeighbour is looking to create a platform where like-minded people can continue connecting with each other. Whether it is to commute or to help each other, follow and share interests. Neighbours and communities play a crucial role, and we think there's a massive significance.
Will this feature be around after the pandemic has passed? If not, which other highlights do you plan to introduce for sNeighbour?
This feature will definitely be around after the pandemic, and as I said, it will be around for social aspects, professional help. The initial buzz might go down after the Covid-19 pandemic, but this feature is much beyond that and is here to stay and help communities.