CXOToday has engaged in an exclusive interview with Mr. Rushil Palavajjhala – Co-Founder & CEO Bandhu
1. What are the origins of Bandhu?
Rushil Palavajjhala, Bandhu’s co-founder and CEO, closely understood the plight of migrant workers As an architect, where he spent several hours every day on construction sites and also faced labour-supply challenges as a project manager/employer. He later worked for two years on implementing affordable housing under the PMAY (Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana) government initiative for five towns, finding that over 90% of slum-dwellers, often migrants, lived as renters and hence could not avail of the government benefits intended for them. Rushil investigated the root causes of this vulnerability in his Master’s thesis at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His thesis approached this issue using geospatial data science, through coursework across multiple departments at MIT and Harvard and field interviews in urban and rural areas of India’s Ahmedabad-Mumbai corridor. His findings pointed to very actionable solutions, and directly led to the creation of Bandhu.
2. What is the role of tech in the Bandhu?
Bandhu sees technology as a bridge to improving the livelihoods and living conditions of our users, as we uncover new insights in the informal economy where data has been typically scarce and unreliable. While it solves classic problems of information asymmetry; integrates markets to rationalize pricing, its impact is in optimising choices for our users across millions of possibilities and tradeoffs ( eliminating adverse outcomes)- which would be impossible without our innovation.
Simply put, technology forms a critical part of how we help users not just succeed but thrive in their livelihoods. It allows us to offer migrant workers multiple bundled offers of jobs and housing tailored to their needs.
Secondly, given that many of our users are going digital for the first time in their lives, we’ve designed to minimize decision fatigue , by triangulating and predicting choices and then nudging. Much of this also involves processing large volumes of user-uploaded image and video data, using AI.
We take an inclusive approach to technology access- solving for multiple challenges in human – technology interaction and access – including the barriers in literacy and technical capacity that users across India traditionally face. As a smartphone is often a family or community asset, we enable multiple users to operate from the same device. Given that many in our target market may not always have access to a smartphone or the ability to operate unfamiliar apps, we provide some functions of our platform via an IVR number or a WhatsApp chatbot. Our multilingual module allows us to connect to users across various regions and languages.
The data generated by transactions on the platform allows Bandhu to offer livelihood improvements to users at below-market rates. For example, various cashflows in our ecosystem could be securitized to cross subsidize offerings or integrate LendTech of InsureTech. Repeated transactions by workers throughout the search for jobs and housing allows us to better tailor opportunities to these workers.
We use an approach to “training the trainers” in technology, using on-ground champions to rapidly and organically increase our customer acquisition rates and producing significant positive externalities in the process of making affordable rental housing transparent and efficient.
3. Do you plan on providing upskills options to the migrant workers?
Yes, both through video-based in-app skilling and evaluations and through partnerships with organizations specialized in upskilling. For example, we may identify that a worker has been performing well in a job on our app based on ratings and the worker’s own provided videos, and connect that worker to nearby skilling organizations or place them in learning on the job kind of situations.
4. How many “Bandhus” have you helped till date?
60,000 users have been able to receive necessary information to make choices/ decisions, 3,000+ job matches achieved; we’ve added 15,000 beds to the supply of affordable rental housing in the last six months provided by extremely low-income settlements who see this as subsistence income, 70+ women trained as champions to onboard properties – seen family incomes increase by 50 to 100%. Bandzhu has won an award in the 14th Sankalp Global Summit 2022 in the The Future of Worker and livelihood category
5. What are your future growth and expansion plans for Bandhu?
We are currently expanding the platform to new geographies including Mumbai-Goa, Bangalore, and Hyderabad. By 2024 we will have a recognizable presence in these metro areas. We intend to reach 300,000 users by the end of 2023; 3M by the end of 2025. This growth will be driven by the behaviour of women micro-entrepreneurs in low-income communities who adopt the app and train others under them, AS well as by micro- contractors who will be able to solve their working capital woes through Bandhu , expand their businesses simply by ensuring workers are paid digitally and on time – unlocking massive opportunities for LendTech , InsureTech and SalesTech etc. for the next billion users.
6. What do you for see for technology innovation for Bandhu?
Bandhu’s key technology innovation is creating bundled jobs and housing offers through Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) algorithms. The offer packages we provide to workers are derived from their activity on the platform such as jobs completed, self-attested and vetted skills, photo/video data, desired housing type, and searches/ratings over time. These data points allow us to make sophisticated recommendations to workers on when, where, and even whether to migrate from among millions of permutations and combination – eliminating ones with adverse outcomes. For example, if few opportunities exist in a worker’s home area that match their skill set, skill level, and desired housing situation, we can offer a menu of migration options to the worker in other localities. Such data triangulation has never been observed before for this target group, and there is a vast potential for data monetization and fintech to cross-subsidize and serve the bottom of the pyramid.