Techie’s social work helps lakhs
By Hitesh Shetty
The booming IT Sector has empowered many highly qualified Techies to pursue their heart felt calling even when it involves using much of their spare time helping others. A Group of idealistic Techies set up "Friends to support" - an online organization that brings voluntary blood donors and those in need of blood on to a common platform. Their website has been a huge success.
Started in the year 2005, on 14th Nov, in a small room with just 100 voluntary donors, today it was helped more than 2 lakh people and won a number of awards and honours.
Techgoss had a chat with Shareef. Sk
Techgoss (TG): Tell us about your educational and IT work background?
Shareef: I have an M.Sc degree from Nagarjuna University. Post that I had done a course in Web engineering from Arena Multimedia, Hyderabad.
I have been working as a Manager – Design for Excelsoft Technologies PVT Ltd since last five years. Prior to that, I worked as a Technical Consultant for Sonata software limited. I also worked as a Design Lead for CNK Management Ltd in the past.
TG: How did the 'Friends2Support' mobile app come into existence? What are the major events that led to the birth of this rather innovative app which went on to win the World Summit Youth Awards?
Shareef: The philosophy behind the launch of ‘Friends to Support’ app is to help people find blood donors & register as a voluntary blood donor with their smart phones in more smarter way in their own locations whenever required. These days, every youngster has access to smart phones and they end up spending a lot of time using it. Since, the usage of desktops is fast depleting in everyone’s daily life, we stumbled upon the idea of applying this novel concept through mobile apps. If we develop user friendly and easy to access apps, we can spread this noble work among one and all.
So I have asked some volunteers to develop 'Friends2Support' mobile apps for us. To my surprise, I have received 100 emails who were ready to develop apps for us. Today we are happy to say that in just 6 months, All our apps got 5000 installations and people are appreciating our efforts for developing these apps. Now we have got global recognition also by receiving the world summit youth award recently. But we get ultimate recognition when see happy and smiling faces after getting blood from our service. We get hundreds of such smiles every day. So this is more than everything else to us.
TG: At what point did you and your colleagues get this rather innovative idea? Were you guys just having a cup of coffee at work? Or was it serious brainstorming?
Shareef: The idea behind ‘Friends to Support’ was inspired from the organizational malfunctioning that I happened to witness in most of the blood donation camps and hospitals. Although, the happenings of such discrepancies are innumerable, but few of them have left an impeccable mark on me which eventually lead to formation of ‘Friends to Support’.
There was a heart-rending incident published with one of the dailies in 2000-01 that triggered the idea of ‘Friends to Support’. Kids between the ages of 12-15 years were playing cricket match in their neighbourhood where they were infact lured by a blood bank to donate blood in exchange of goodies.
Later, I read about another incident where rickshaw-pullers were offered alcohol to donate blood. Surprisingly, a rickshaw-puller goes to the bank fortnightly to donate pints. These incidents ignited the thought behind of ‘Friends to Support’, but the initiative spark triggered when a close neighbourhood friend succumbed prematurely due to excessive blood loss. None of my relatives, friends or neighbours had voluntarily stepped in to donate blood and save his life.
When I gaze back at these incidents, I feel more than just angry. It is not because of malfunctioning or misconceptions or fear to donate blood but rather about lack of awareness among people which actually leads to such loopholes where donors and survivors end up being a victim. ‘Friends to Support’ was therefore launched as a vehicle not only to create a pool of donors for those who need it but also create an awareness among people to donate for a good cause, without being exploited or lured.
Friendstosupport (F2S) is a website where blood donors from all over the country voluntarily register and those in need of donors can find them online very easily. Shareef Sk, Naveen Reddy, Koteswararao. S, Phani Kethamakka and Murali Krishna, five childhood friends from Narasaraopet, Guntur District, Andhra Pradesh are the founders of Friendstosupport, a non-profit blood donation organisation which was launched on November 14, 2005.
We wanted to make a common man believe that there is something in this world for which you don’t have to fight; at least not anymore. This is why ‘ F2S’ was started. The website allows any person to register and volunteer to be a blood donor. Those in need of blood can choose the city, the required blood group and select the kind of donor best suited for them.
TG: Who are the principal donors of 'friends 2 support'? Have people from IT/ BPO industry also been a part of this noble initiative?
Shareef: 70% of our registered donors are from IT industry & Employees between the age group of 20-40 years. Rest 30% comprises of non-IT & general public. People feel that this is their own organisation and promote our startup by word of mouth after receiving service from friends2support. They end up writing emails and forward SMSes about friends2support services voluntarily. Sometimes we wonder after seeing impact of this cause from unknown persons. Now it becomes people’s moment….India’s moment.
TG: Do you have any mentors who helped you on the way? Any prominent tie-ups with the big players in the medical arena?
Shareef: No, we do not have any tie-ups with any big names in the industry. Hard work & dedication is our strength. If someone wants to work with us without any commercial intention, We welcome them. Ultimately people should benefit from our services and receive blood free of cost when they actually need it. We are not expecting anything more than this. We are very emotional in such things because this organisation is our life, passion, dream.
Initially I met many doctors, blood transfusion officials to know myths and facts about blood donation, knowledge about blood donation & transfusion history. Almost I did one year ground work before starting this website. We didn’t starting simply by designing 5-10 web pages. We have taken care of each and every step including privacy issues .
TG: What hardware and software do you use?
Shareef: By profession I am a web/graphic designer, so I myself designed the entire website by using Photoshop and Dreamweaver. We have developed our website database using .NET and respective mobile applications with respective tools.
These days, we are spending some time to update our official FB, Twitter pages & Youtube channel also. Recently our FB page has 7,000+ likes. We update each and every information on our pages, so that our members should not miss any communication with us.
TG: Tell us about your latest award. What was it all about? How many people has your organization helped so far?
Shareef: We are feeling proud that our small initiative has saved/helped 2,00,000 lives so far in an average of 500 voluntary blood donations per day.
We dedicate our recent award (World Summit Youth Award) to all those voluntary donors who have registered with us and responding promptly during emergency situations.
The mobile applications ‘Friends2support.org’ was chosen by the United Nations MDG as the best project in the Fight Poverty, Hunger and Disease category. The WSYA organizers said that ‘Friends2support.org’ is the world’s largest voluntary blood donors’ organization bringing together donors and those in need of blood onto a common platform through a website and mobile applications.
Out of over 2,500 projects from 160 UN countries that were submitted, friends2support.org is one among the 18 winners in different categories.
TG: Any other start-up ideas you are working on?
Shareef: We also have an idea to start book donation to poor students/people similar to blood donation project what we are doing now. Book donation is the concept of providing all types of used books to the students/people who need them. At present working on the implementation process. We hope we can provide some assistance to those who really need. We plan to collect used books from students, job holders and all the Indians who are willing to donate. Then we will provide these books to the meritorious students who can’t afford them.