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Every Voice Must be Heard

Neil Patel — Awaaz.De

A Gujarati, born and brought up in California, taking up a plush software development job after completing his graduation from UC Berkeley is not surprising. What Neil Patel did, two years into his corporate career though, is astonishing. Growing tired of ‘making the rich richer’ and feeling his work lacked a deeper purpose, he quit his job to delve into pursuing his two passions: Impacting lives of the underprivileged, and technology. He reached Stanford University where he found a fellow enthusiast in Prof Tapan Parikh and this encounter ultimately led to the founding of Awaaz.De, a company providing mobile-based interventions for social change.

Neil began his research in Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) under Prof Parikh’s watchful eye. As a part of the course, he visited Baroda, and while working with an NGO, discovered the huge information gap that existed in the farming ecosystem. He learnt that this gap can be addressed by harnessing the farmers’ innate desire to share useful information with their peers and could be made possible by leveraging the simple yet effective communication mode, voice calling. A seed was sown and in the next four years, Neil designed and perfected his technology solution. This technology intervention found interest and appreciation in no small measure from all quarters alike, whether farmers, NGOs, or the government. Inspired by this recognition, he, along with Prof Parikh, founded Awaaz.De (i.e. give voice) in 2012. Over the past six years, Awaaz.De has reached out to over 7 million people across 12 countries.

“Being organised and disciplined are required, but persistence is an entrepreneur’s most important quality.”

Neil has led Awaaz.De’s transformation from a research project, to developing a line of four unique Interactive Voice Response (IVR) communication products, and now to offering customised solutions aimed at two different impact sectors. Having spent all his life in USA, he has faced his share of challenges trying to adjust to the vastly different business norms prevalent in India. Not only did he have to find a way to adapt his technology solution to Indian conditions, he also had to learn and adjust to the unsaid and often unfair business norms. At every juncture, Neil has had to push himself beyond his comfort zone. He wouldn’t have it any other way. Neil credits his team for continually pushing themselves towards achieving the goals they had set for Awaaz.De. Over the years, several moments and experiences have brought him immense joy and have kept him steady during the pursuit of his mission. The most fulfilling moments of his journey, though, have always revolved around witnessing his team members grow, farmers and communities getting empowered, and technology reaching the last mile.

While many may have chosen to lead a cushy lifestyle after completing a PhD. Not this gritty entrepreneur though. Constantly working in conditions which force him out of his comfort zone, he is determined to keep giving voice to the underserved.


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