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For a better Bangalore (and a better India)

If you talk to the founders of early stage startups in India at the moment, they will tell you that it is a lot harder to secure funding at the moment and that it is harder to raise money. If you look at the non-startup side of things, be it infrastructure projects needed for urban development or finding better and more efficient sources of sustainable energy or combating healthcare problems that take millions of lives a year, again the complaint is a dearth of funding to make advances in these areas.

The problem is not that there is a dearth of funding. There are over $43 trillion worth of assets under management in the US alone. The investors are simply not finding projects that they can back that will increase their wealth over a period of a few years. As John D Macomber of the Harvard Business School puts it, there is a bankable projects gap.

It is not that much of a concern if there are fewer ways of getting food and groceries delivered to my house, or if I have to rely on a friend to tell me what restaurant is good in an area or what doctor I have to visit. The bigger problem I see that needs to be tackled is rapid urbanization.

We have seen this happen in Mumbai, Bangalore and NCR in India, Sao Paolo, Jakarta and Guangzhou in other parts of the world. The cities are multiplying in size at such a rapid pace that there is a severe threat on multiple fronts - increased traffic, depleting water tables, increased pollution - that all lead to a reduction in the livability of a city.

Despite the lowering livability of these cities, they are quickly growing in size as people from everywhere else are swarming here in search of better career and financial prospects.

Despite these being very important problems to solve, there are very few takers for solving them. Majority of the efforts are by governments to solve these problems and they seem to be half-hearted at best (look at the execution of the Bangalore metro for example). And even if people outside the government want to solve these problems, there are no real incentives for them for doing so. And what's worse, the government regulates a lot of these areas preventing quick responses from outside their realm. For instance, I don't think I could go repair Bangalore roads even if I was willing to spend my own money in doing it without the government having a say in it.

I have been thinking about this and the problem appears to be that of scale. These (increasing traffic, increasing pollution, depleting water tables) are all issues that unbiasedly affect everyone in the city. The wealthier class finds ways to be shielded by them to a certain extent because they can afford to pay for work-arounds (like employing a driver, always staying in air-conditioned environments, paying more for the available water) that is only increasing the divide between them and the not-so-wealthy.

Any solution to these problems is inherently approached with the idea that it should work for everyone concerned. And that is not how startups work and that is not what results in bankable projects that get funded.

As Paul Graham says, do things that don't scale. Solve the problem for a handful of people first and then figure out how to solve it for a larger set of audience. Scale later.

One of the ideas I have on how to do this is to have a Kickstarter equivalent for solving these problems (that the government ideally ought to be solving but for one reason or the other isn't able to right now). If you've been living under a rock, Kickstarter is a platform for crowdsourcing funding for projects you might want to work on, like make a movie or write a book.

A kickstarter-like platform will let anyone come and post the problem they want to solve. For example, a stretch of road needs asphalting, or a skywalk needs to be built and I will go put up the details of the current state, proposed end state and the timelines and the money needed for the same. Whoever wants to fund this project can contribute towards the funds being raised.

After all, this is just tweaking the existing model of taxing. These same people pay taxes today and that money is used for executing such projects that are for the public good. Now, obviously, people who pay their taxes diligently wouldn't want to pay more for such projects as they are already doing their bit. It is just that the government is not prioritising this project over others as something to be done with the taxes collected.

To address this, I think the government should reduce the taxes a person has to pay to the extent that the person has funded a project on this platform. Of course, the government can have a say in whether a project falls under tax reduction or not.

This should drastically reduce the red-tape and the corrupt practices involved in the tender process and will increase competition in the space and allow smaller firms a chance to compete and make profits.

I don't really see a downside to this and would love to see this implemented.

PS: You can either help point out flaws and solidify this idea (or shoot it down completely) or help get Narendra Modi to hear this.

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