Democracy ought to be progressive. Else, it perishes. When you combine democracy and philanthropy, however, the mental image of a promising tomorrow starts to take shape. Meet Vidya Munde Müller, the entrepreneur who is shaping that image for the corporate world, bit by bit, as she realises her dream of bringing technology and philanthropy together. With STATION, she talks about making CSR democratic, what prompted her to start her entrepreneurship in the field of philanthropy, and the joy of doing business in Germany.
Guest article by Somya Abrol
So, what is Givetastic really about? In a nutshell, it’s a platform that allows each employee of a company to donate to the causes she/he/they hold dearest, as part of a certain budget allocated to each employee by the company to further its CSR activities. It’s brand new, works at a micro level, and makes sure everyone gets to contribute to the greater good.
With the 16-month-old start-up, Vidya aims to change the way companies carry out their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) activities, by making the entire process more democratic. “The aim of Givetastic is to improve social engagement within companies. In most companies, employees are not involved in CSR initiatives, except, maybe, the top layer of command,” said she, while acknowledging that Generation Z — which comprises a good percentage of the workforce in Germany — does want to create social impact. “So, I thought, why don’t we give them a chance, through their companies, to officially give their time and money to the causes that they most-relate with.”
The excitement for the new, however, comes with its heavy set of challenges. But these are not challenges that Vidya is unaware of: “I know companies are not used to doing CSR this way. Bringing about a change is obviously never easy! But my resolve in doing things right is rather strong, which is why I didn’t budge from the original concept. To be honest, I could’ve made Givetastic more commercial; could’ve made it such that any online platform could integrate our solution. Making it commercial would’ve been much easier, but I wanted to create transparency in giving, to be able to create social impact together. The mission was to empower every person, every employee, to make a social impact.”
In The Times Of Corona
In gloomy times, when Coronavirus has cast its shadow on the everyday workings of all things under the sun, Vidya has a different take on the way the novel virus has reshaped our reality. “Coronavirus has impacted people from all walks of life, all over the world, negatively. It’s important now, more than ever, to be involved in one’s community. That’s where Givetastic can also make a big difference, by establishing public-private partnerships; companies could partner with NGOs or even with the city and state governments.”
The Origin Story
With social responsibility clearly being a part of her fabric, it makes one wonder where the zeal towards social entrepreneurship began. Like most concrete personality traits, it originated during her childhood years, in the slums of Pune, India, where she lived the first couple of years of her life. “My parents come from a very backward region in Pune, Maharashtra. My mother couldn’t even read and write. I saw women being suppressed all my life, and grew up living with various other social problems. But because I got education, I was the first woman in the family to not only get a Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering, but also to come abroad, to Germany, for a Master’s Degree. Because of these reasons, I wanted to make it possible, somehow, to remove inequality, unfairness from our society,” said she.
“As life moved on, I found my passion in Product Management. When I was in Silicon Valley, California — in 2017 for three months on a job rotation from Deutsche Telekom — I got exposed to the world of AI (Artificial Intelligence), and started thinking, ‘Why can’t we use AI for social good?’. Having been in Silicon Valley, the Syrian crisis — because it was in the news everyday — was also something that impacted my conscience, and furthered my need to do something for the society,” added Vidya.
And hence, Givetastic was born, out of the idea of using machine learning and AI to recommend to people what social causes to donate their money to. Vidya’s ideas started taking a concrete shape in April 2019, and are currently in the Beta Testing phase.
Givetastic: Today & Tomorrow
“As of today, we are working to get a pre-seed round going. We are launching the app this month itself (September) after doing some testing, and knowing everything is functioning fine. We know that the value proposition is in place. In the months after the launch, we plan to build more upon the platform. Once we get the funding we’ve applied for, at a bank in Niedersachsen, for €150,000, product marketing is the next major challenge we’re looking forward to.”
That being said, Vidya is currently also in search of a Co-Founder, from within Germany, to accompany her on her exciting start-up journey. In the same breath, she is certain about Givetastic’s plans for expansion, probably to India, in the years to come: “We’re definitely planning to go to India after establishing ourselves in Germany, mainly because India has a very interesting law for CSR, which details that every company, after reaching a certain revenue bracket, is obligated to give two percent of their three-year-average profits to CSR.”
The Joy of Doing Business In Germany
When asked why she chose Germany to set-up her start-up in, she said, “I’ve been living in Germany since 2001; am a German citizen now, and appreciate the way business works here. The biggest joy of starting the start-up journey in Germany is that everybody you come in contact with gets the idea behind Givetastic, and they trust your idea, your vision for the start-up! Though social change is very prevalent in the German society, faster funding and venture capital are rather slow to come by here, compared to, say, the US. But no matter where you are, the biggest challenge remains to gather a fantastic team, which is something we have already accomplished.”
But that’s not all that Vidya likes about doing business in Germany: “The added advantage of starting in Germany is the country’s bureaucratic system, and the numerous checks and balances put in place by the government, which makes it pretty impossible for people to cheat on you — something I personally love. I like doing business honestly, with 100-percent trust, and Germany is conducive to that business environment.”
About the biggest challenges she has had to face, being a first-time entrepreneur, she said, “First, the biggest challenge is finding a good team. Second, it’s to get funding, especially since we decided to create “the costliest real estate”, an app, instead of letting Givetastic be a website-based platform, which was our initial idea.”
INFO: Givetastic founder Vidya Munde Müller is currently looking for a co-founder.