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Matching eligible people to social welfare programs in India

This report discusses major components of the outreach system built with Indus Action that connects people in India with government welfare schemes, how we deployed the system as a serverless application on Amazon Web Services (AWS), and the potential to reuse this system for other benefits.

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India has many government welfare programs designed to transfer money to some of its most vulnerable people. But for a number of these schemes, people either don’t know they are eligible, or don’t apply and many of the funds allocated remain unspent. For example, only 40% of INR 50,000 crores has been spent to date in a fund dedicated to the welfare of construction workers. The Building and Other Construction Workers (BoCW) Act, implemented in 1996, provides a range of transfers including health, education, maternal, and pension benefits, for workers in this industry. However, less than 50% of the estimated construction workers in the country are registered with labour boards, and a smaller fraction has accessed these benefits to date.

The registration and claims processes for social benefits can be complicated and onerous, which is one reason why few eligible people access these benefits. A second reason is that the government does not know which citizens are eligible, and in turn, individuals don’t know about all the schemes and their eligibility.

A number of other groups are working to improve people’s access to services by creating platforms that help them determine their eligibility for different social programs. However, even if people are aware of the service, they may not have enough digital access or literacy to effectively use them. The people who are most vulnerable are least likely to get online to check their eligibility or have funds to pay for a service.

Indus Action, an India-based non-profit that supports households to gain access to legislated benefits, overcomes these challenges by reaching out to this population directly. Their outreach approach includes phone calls, SMS messages, and in-person visits. Through their direct work with individuals and collaborations with state governments, they have rich databases with information about individuals who may be eligible for different services.

Given Indus Action’s available information about an individual, could we identify the set of benefits they would be eligible for? If we were able to build a system that answers this question of who might be eligible for what, we could then develop a smart outreach campaign that could channel resources to where they would be most likely to reach eligible households.

Indus Action and our IDinsight team recently built this outreach system that, given a set of citizens and their characteristics, can predict the probability that a citizen is eligible for a benefit. A major feature of this system is that it can still make predictions about an individual’s eligibility even if their data in the system is incomplete. The first set of benefits targeted through this system were those offered by the Building and other Construction Workers Act (BoCW) in Delhi.

In this report, we describe (1) the major components of the outreach system, (2) deploying the system as a serverless application on Amazon Web Services (AWS), and (3) potential to reuse this system for other benefits.