Karl Mehta is launching a non-profit to get the tech industry involved in solving the world’s most pressing problems.
Code for India (CFI) is a global community of software engineers who are developing tools to address issues in education, entrepreneurship, food and water, and health and sanitation. While India is the “test-bed,” the long-term vision is to work on improving life for people all around the world.
Mehta is a well-known entrepreneur and investor. He was a founder and CEO of PlaySpan, which Visa acquired for $190 million in 2011. He served as a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow for the Obama Administration and is now a partner at venture capital firm Menlo Ventures. He has been actively involved in various civic initiatives that apply technology to effect social change.
Code for India resembles Code for America, the “Peace Corps for geeks” that strives to improve the way governments work through the creative and intelligent use of technology. CFI’s tagline is “think local, hack global.” It focuses on “day-to-day public service issues” and aims to get local people more involved in the process of building more efficient, responsive governments.
Widespread Internet access opens up tremendous opportunities to improve communication, education, civic operations, and support innovation. Code for India will connect thinkers and engineers with local governments and citizens to give them “the power to help themselves.” Its mission is to inspire millions of techies to volunteer their time and talent to give back to their communities.
It tapped tech professionals of Indian origin from Microsoft, Google,eBay, Visa, and Facebook to get involved in building “social awareness apps” as part of the first phase. Current projects include Spotter.in, a web app that makes it easier to report problems with civic infrastructure and mobilize action; and Adopt-a-School, an initiative to get individuals more involved in supporting local schools. CFI is also working on a mobile app that brings people together to avert and alleviate crises.
India is a country of contradictions. It is home to incredible history, culture, people, and food but also to violence, serious health and safety issues, rampant social and economic inequality, and ineffectual government. India has about 160 million Internet users, and this number is growing fast. It also has a vibrant technology industry. Businesses from around the world commonly outsource development and customer service operations to India, and domestic and international investors are beginning to take notice of Indian startups. People of Indian origin are also a significant part of the American technology ecosystem. Furthermore social entrepreneurship, the use technology to solve civic problems, and the formation of a global community of innovators are gaining momentum as the Internet lowers geographic barriers to communication.
All these forces together make India ripe for an initiative of this kind. CFI has offices in Mountain View, Calif., and Bangalore, India.