TEDIndia 2009

Shaffi Mather: A new way to fight corruption

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Shaffi Mather explains why he left his first career to become a social entrepreneur, providing life-saving transportation with his company 1298 for Ambulance. Now, he has a new idea and plans to begin a company to fight the booming business of corruption in public service, eliminating it one bribe at a time.

- Social entrepreneur, lawyer
Shaffi Mather is the founder of 1298 for Ambulance, Education Access for All, and co-promoter of Moksha-Yug Access. Full bio

The anger in me against corruption
00:15
made me to make a big career change
00:19
last year, becoming a full-time practicing lawyer.
00:22
My experiences over the last 18 months,
00:26
as a lawyer, has seeded in me
00:30
a new entrepreneurial idea,
00:32
which I believe is indeed
00:35
worth spreading.
00:37
So, I share it with all of you here today,
00:39
though the idea itself is getting crystallized
00:42
and I'm still writing up the business plan.
00:44
Of course it helps that fear of public failure
00:47
diminishes as the number of ideas
00:50
which have failed increases.
00:53
I've been a huge fan of enterprise and entrepreneurship
00:57
since 1993.
01:00
I've explored, experienced,
01:02
and experimented enterprise
01:04
and capitalism to my heart's content.
01:06
I built, along with my two brothers,
01:09
the leading real estate company in my home state, Kerala,
01:11
and then worked professionally
01:15
with two of India's biggest businessmen,
01:17
but in their startup enterprises.
01:20
In 2003, when I stepped out of the pure play capitalistic sector
01:23
to work on so-called social sector issues,
01:28
I definitely did not have any grand strategy
01:32
or plan to pursue and find
01:36
for-profit solutions
01:39
to addressing pressing public issues.
01:41
When life brought about a series
01:44
of death and near-death experiences
01:46
within my close circle,
01:49
which highlighted the need
01:51
for an emergency medical response service in India,
01:53
similar to 911 in USA.
01:56
To address this, I, along with four friends,
01:59
founded Ambulance Access for All,
02:02
to promote life-support ambulance services in India.
02:04
For those from the developing world,
02:08
there is nothing, absolutely nothing new in this idea.
02:10
But as we envisioned it,
02:13
we had three key goals:
02:15
Providing world-class life support ambulance service
02:17
which is fully self-sustainable from its own revenue streams,
02:20
and universally accessible
02:23
to anyone in a medical emergency,
02:25
irrespective of the capability to pay.
02:28
The service which grew out of this,
02:31
Dial 1298 for Ambulance,
02:33
with one ambulance in 2004,
02:35
now has a hundred-plus ambulances in three states,
02:38
and has transported over 100,000 patients
02:41
and victims since inception.
02:44
The service is -- (Applause)
02:46
fully self-sustainable from its own revenues,
02:49
without accessing any public funds,
02:52
and the cross-subsidy model actually works,
02:54
where the rich pays higher, poor pays lower,
02:58
and the accident victim is getting the service free of charge.
03:01
The service responded effectively
03:05
and efficiently,
03:07
during the unfortunate
03:09
26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.
03:11
And as you can see from the visuals,
03:14
the service was responding and rescuing
03:18
victims from the incident locations
03:21
even before the police could cordon off
03:24
the incident locations
03:27
and formally confirm it as a terror strike.
03:30
We ended up being the first medical response team
03:33
in every incident location
03:37
and transported 125 victims,
03:40
saving life.
03:43
(Applause)
03:45
In tribute and remembrance
03:50
of 26/11 attacks
03:54
over the last one year,
03:58
we have actually helped a Pakistani NGO,
04:01
Aman Foundation,
04:04
to set up a self-sustainable life support ambulance service
04:07
in Karachi, facilitated by Acumen Fund.
04:11
(Applause)
04:14
It's a small message from us,
04:20
in our own small way
04:24
to the enemies of humanity,
04:26
of Islam, of South Asia,
04:28
of India, and of Pakistan,
04:31
that humanity will continue to bloom,
04:34
irrespective of such dastardly attacks.
04:37
Since then I've also co-founded two other social enterprises.
04:39
One is Education Access for All,
04:43
setting up schools in small-town India.
04:45
And the other is Moksha-Yug Access,
04:48
which is integrating rural supply chain
04:50
on the foundations of self-help group-based microfinance.
04:52
I guess we seem to be doing at least a few things right.
04:57
Because diligent investors and venture funds
05:00
have committed over 7.5 million dollars in funding.
05:03
With the significance being these funds have come in
05:07
as a QT capital, not as grant or as philanthropy.
05:09
Now I come back to the idea of the new social enterprise
05:13
that I'm exploring.
05:16
Corruption, bribes, and lack of transparency.
05:18
You may be surprised to know
05:21
that eight speakers yesterday
05:23
actually mentioned these terms in their talks.
05:26
Bribes and corruption have both a demand and a supply side,
05:29
with the supply side being mostly of
05:32
greedy corporate unethical businesses
05:35
and hapless common man.
05:37
And the demand side being mostly politicians,
05:39
bureaucrats and those who have discretionary power
05:42
vested with them.
05:44
According to World Bank estimate,
05:46
one trillion dollars is paid in bribes
05:48
every year, worsening the condition
05:51
of the already worse off.
05:53
Yet, if you analyze the common man,
05:55
he or she does not wake up every day and say,
05:58
"Hmm, let me see who I can pay a bribe to today."
06:01
or, "Let me see who I can corrupt today."
06:04
Often it is the constraining or the back-to-the-wall situation
06:07
that the hapless common man finds himself or herself in
06:12
that leads him to pay a bribe.
06:15
In the modern day world, where time is premium
06:17
and battle for subsistence is unimaginably tough,
06:20
the hapless common man
06:23
simply gives in and pays the bribe just to get on with life.
06:25
Now, let me ask you another question.
06:30
Imagine you are being asked to pay a bribe
06:32
in your day-to-day life to get something done.
06:34
What do you do? Of course you can call the police.
06:37
But what is the use if the police department is in itself steeped in corruption?
06:40
Most definitely you don't want to pay the bribe.
06:44
But you also don't have the time, resources,
06:47
expertise or wherewithal to fight this.
06:50
Unfortunately, many of us in this room
06:53
are supporters of capitalist policies and market forces.
06:57
Yet the market forces around the world
07:01
have not yet thrown up a service where you can call in,
07:04
pay a fee, and fight the demand for a bribe.
07:07
Like a bribe buster service,
07:10
or 1-800-Fight-Bribes,
07:13
or www.stopbribes.org or
07:15
www.preventcorruption.org.
07:19
Such a service simply do not exist.
07:22
One image that has haunted me
07:25
from my early business days
07:27
is of a grandmother, 70 plus years, being harassed
07:29
by the bureaucrats in the town planning office.
07:32
All she needed was permission to build three steps
07:35
to her house, from ground level,
07:37
making it easier for her to enter and exit her house.
07:39
Yet the officer in charge would not simply give her the permit
07:42
for want of a bribe.
07:45
Even though it pricked my conscience then,
07:47
I could not, or rather I did not
07:49
tend to her or assist her,
07:51
because I was busy building my real estate company.
07:54
I don't want to be haunted by such images any more.
07:56
A group of us have been working on a pilot basis
08:00
to address individual instances of demands
08:02
for bribes for common services or entitlement.
08:05
And in all 42 cases where we have pushed back such demands
08:08
using existing and legitimate tools
08:11
like the Right to Information Act,
08:14
video, audio, or peer pressure,
08:16
we have successfully obtained whatever our clients
08:19
set out to achieve without actually paying a bribe.
08:21
And with the cost of these tools being substantially lower
08:25
than the bribe demanded.
08:28
I believe that these tools that worked in these 42 pilot cases
08:30
can be consolidated in standard processes
08:35
in a BPO kind of environment,
08:39
and made available on web, call-center
08:42
and franchise physical offices,
08:45
for a fee, to serve anyone confronted with a demand for a bribe.
08:47
The target market is as tempting as it can get.
08:52
It can be worth up to one trillion dollars,
08:55
being paid in bribes every year,
08:58
or equal to India's GDP.
09:00
And it is an absolutely virgin market.
09:03
I propose to explore this idea further,
09:06
to examine the potential of creating
09:09
a for-profit, fee-based BPO
09:11
kind of service to stop bribes
09:15
and prevent corruption.
09:17
I do realize that the fight for justice
09:19
against corruption is never easy.
09:22
It never has been and it never will be.
09:25
In my last 18 months as a lawyer,
09:27
battling small- and large-scale corruption,
09:30
including the one perpetrated by India's biggest corporate scamster.
09:32
Through his charities
09:36
I have had three police cases filed against me
09:38
alleging trespass, impersonation and intimidation.
09:41
The battle against corruption
09:44
exacts a toll on ourselves,
09:46
our families, our friends, and even our kids.
09:48
Yet I believe the price we pay is well worth holding on
09:52
to our dignity and making the world a fairer place.
09:54
What gives us the courage?
09:58
As my close friend replied, when told
10:00
during the seeding days of the ambulance project
10:02
that it is an impossible task
10:05
and the founders are insane to chalk up their blue-chip jobs,
10:07
I quote: "Of course we cannot fail in this,
10:10
at least in our own minds.
10:13
For we are insane people,
10:15
trying to do an impossible task.
10:17
And an insane person does not know what an impossible task is." Thank you.
10:19
(Applause)
10:23
Chris Anderson: Shaffi, that is a really exciting business idea.
10:31
Shaffi Mather: I just have to get through the initial days where I don't get eliminated.
10:36
(Laughter)
10:40
CA: What's on your mind?
10:42
I mean, give us a sense of the numbers here --
10:43
a typical bribe and a typical fee. I mean, what's in your head?
10:45
SM: So let me ... Let me give you an example.
10:48
Somebody who had applied for the passport.
10:52
The officer was just sitting on it
10:55
and was demanding around 3,000 rupees in bribes.
10:58
And he did not want to pay.
11:01
So we actually used the Right to Information Act,
11:04
which is equal to the Freedom of Information Act in the United States,
11:06
and pushed back the officers in this particular case.
11:09
And in all these 42 cases,
11:14
when we kept pushing them back,
11:16
there was three kinds of reaction.
11:19
A set of people actually say,
11:21
"Oh, let me just grant it to them, and run away from it."
11:23
Some people actually come back and say,
11:26
"Oh, you want to screw me. Let me show you what I can do."
11:29
And he will push us back.
11:32
So you take the next step, or use the next tool available
11:34
in what we are putting together,
11:38
and then he relents.
11:40
By the third time, in all 42 cases, we have achieved success.
11:43
CA: But if it's a 3,000-rupee, 70-dollar bribe,
11:46
what fee would you have to charge,
11:51
and can you actually make the business work?
11:53
SM: Well, actually the cost that we incurred
11:55
was less than 200 rupees.
11:59
So, it actually works.
12:02
CA: That's a high gross margin business. I like it.
12:05
(Laughter)
12:08
SM: I actually did not want to answer this on the TED stage.
12:10
CA: OK, so these are provisional numbers, no pricing guarantee.
12:13
If you can pull this off, you will be a global hero.
12:17
I mean, this could be huge.
12:20
Thank you so much for sharing this idea at TED.
12:22
(Applause)
12:24

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About the Speaker:

Shaffi Mather - Social entrepreneur, lawyer
Shaffi Mather is the founder of 1298 for Ambulance, Education Access for All, and co-promoter of Moksha-Yug Access.

Why you should listen

Shaffi Mather was a successful young entrepreneur, who brought a family-run real estate business to the forefront of the local market before moving on to take major positions at two of India’s largest communication corporations -- Essel Group and Reliance Industries. However, after a perilous ride to the hospital with his mother he was forced to confront India’s need for a dependable ambulance service. He left his career at Reliance and founded 1298 for Ambulance, a for-profit service with a sliding scale payment system that has revolutionized medical transport in Mumbai and Kerala.

Today, Mather is also a co-founder of Moksha-Yug Access, a microfinance instiution that operates in rural India, and The Education Initiative, which is involved in e-learning and in creating schools across India. In addition, Mather is a lawyer focusing on litigation in public interest -- battling for transparency in governance and use of public funds, human rights, civil rights and primacy of constitution. He is a TEDIndia Fellow.

More profile about the speaker
Shaffi Mather | Speaker | TED.com