In all honesty, India isn’t the most nurturing environment for creative ideas and creative people. Those pursuing a creative profession, especially writers, singers, artists, dancers, are often asked, “okay, so that’s what you do for fun, but, what do you really do for a living?” Even the concept of freelancing is something most people from our parents’ generation don’t quite grasp. They consider freelancers “jobless”. Indians who start off with dreams of becoming a writer, director, actor, musician, singer, dancer photographer – you name it – eventually brush those dreams aside when burdened with the weight of society’s expectations of playing it “safe.”
When I was in the U.S. pursuing my bachelors at the University of Pennsylvania several years ago, I was so happy to see academic institutions pushing the arts, and so many funds and trusts established across the States to help fund creative projects. That’s why we see a significant number of creative projects from the West catching widespread attention – because creativity is valued, creative people are respected, and the cultural environment is a haven for the arts. Compare this scenario to the India, where out of a population of 1.25 billion people the creative output is barely there, it’s heartbreaking. Do you know how many Indians have won an Oscar or Grammy over the past 100 years? Just ten! I felt I had to do something to at least create a shift in the scene.
When I returned to Mumbai after working with McKinsey as consultant, I decided that I wanted to run my own business that will bring about change, make a difference India. So I set up Wishberry, a fundraising platform for charity-based projects. Roughly around the same time, an ex-McKinsey India colleague Anshulika Dubey was researching how online fundraising, aka “crowdfunding”, can be put to practice for creative entrepreneurs, and she reached out to me. However, Anshulika was working with McKinsey at the time and was about to be placed in the U.S. But all it took was a single email sharing my passion for Wishberry to convince her to give up on her “American dream” and help turn another dream into reality – one to help creative entrepreneurs in our own nation bring their dreams to fruition. This was the beginning of Wishberry as we know it today.
And, so Anshulika and I co-founded Wishberry with a new vision; instead of focusing on fundraising for charity-projects, we became India’s first reward-based crowdfunding platform to exclusively cater only to creative projects. In essence we had both quit our jobs, said goodbye to stable paychecks and any form of stability for two long years – all to make our vision to spur creativity in India into a reality. We did just that, and how! Over the course of two years, 200 creative projects spanning across all creative industries have raised 4 crores ($650,000) of funding from 9000+ funders across the world; 20% of this funding has actually been accumulated by funders from outside of India, who comprise 15% of our overall network of Wishberry project funders.
And, Wishberry itself recently raised 4 crores ($650,000) seed funding for itself through 44 strategically chosen investors including Rajan Anandan (MD, Google India), Sharad Sharma (Co-Founder, ISPIRT Foundation), Shankar Mahadevan (Founder, Shankar Mahadevan Academy) and Vikramaditya Motwane (critically acclaimed director and producer).
Unlike in the US where the concept of DIY is popular, we realized Indians are not used to DIY and many lack basic knowledge of marketing, even. So we did something most crowdfunding portals anywhere in the world didn’t – we introduced the system of assigning a campaign coach to campaigners to help mentor them throughout their entire campaign.
Over the past two years, we’ve not only seen an array of successful projects, but also seen ideas propelling a social and cultural change. Notable among these are – an innovative and eye-opening comic book called Menstrupedia that busts myths about menstruation, which raised Rs. 5,16,230 ($9,000) from 175 people; a film called Leeches that brings to light the sensitive issue of one-day brides in Hyderabad, which raised Rs. 9,51,901 ($15,000) from 145 people; Pothole Watch – an app that helped Mumbaikars become whistleblowers by using their smartphones to report potholes in the city, which raised Rs. 1,22,100 ($2,000) from 22 people; music projects like Mame Khan’s upcoming debut album, Vasuda Sharma’s album Attuned Spirits, Bhaskar Hazarika’s upcoming Assamese feature film Kothanodi and so many more projects ranging from theatrical productions to dance festivals and more!
We’re hopeful that Wishberry will grow substantially in the next few years. I will not rest until a Wishberry funded film or music composition wins an Oscar, Golden Globe or a Grammy. The dream is to make India the next “it” place for creative projects.