We at www.medicosindia.com caught up with Shareef SK who started www.friends2support.org … and found out more about this award winning portal that has saved many lives by having the biggest online database of voluntary blood donors
What is ‘www.friends2support.org’ all about?.
Friendstosupport (F2S) is a website and mobile application where blood donors from all over the country voluntarily register and those in need of donors can find them online very easily. I, along with my childhood friends, Naveen Reddy, Koteswararao. S, Phani Kethamakka and Murali Krishna,from Narasaraopet, Guntur District, Andhra Pradesh are its founders. F2S is a non-profit blood donation organisation which was launched on November 14, 2005.
How did this idea come about?
The idea of F2S was inspired from the organizational malfunctioning that I witnessed within most of the blood donation camps and hospitals. Although, the incidences of such discrepancies are innumerable, a few of them have left an indelible mark on me which eventually lead to the foundation of F2S.
In 2000-01, a heart-rending incident, published in one of the dailies, triggered the idea of ‘F2S’. Some kids of 12-15 years of age, who were playing cricket in their neighborhood, were lured by a blood bank to collect blood, in exchange of goodies. Later, I read about another incident where rickshaw-pullers were offered alcohol to donate blood. Surprisingly, a rickshaw-puller goes to the bank fortnightly to donate pints.
However, the main initiative spark triggered when a close neighborhood friend succumbed prematurely due to excessive blood loss. None of his relatives, friends or neighbors had voluntarily stepped forward to donate blood to save his life.
When I looked back at these incidents, I felt more than just enraged; I felt that the real causes of such incidences are not malfunctioning clinics, misconceptions of people or fear to donate blood. Real cause is lack of awareness among people which lead to such loopholes and which makes both donors and recipients its victim.
F2S, therefore, was launched as a vehicle not only to create a pool of donors for those who need it but also to create awareness among people to donate for a good cause, without being exploited or lured.
Any reason behind choosing the name, ‘friends2support’?
Whenever there is any blood requirement, people respond and donate without knowing about the recipients’ nationality, state, caste, creed, gender. That’s why we also set a caption to our organization- ‘Where Strangers Become Friends”. We thought all the likeminded people are friends who are ready to support our society. That’s how we decided to name our website, ‘friends2support’.
What was the beginning of the venture like?
We 5 founders of F2S became its first donors, after which people joined in as we progressed and the group grew. We had to manage our IT jobs and the challenge of spreading the idea. We mailed whoever we knew about the site in our spare time and they, in turn, spread it to other people. We held gatherings, approached people door-to-door and gradually gained popularity.
Was it difficult to get blood donors initially? If so, any specific reasons behind this reluctance to donate blood?
The real task was to convince people about the idea. We faced a lot of discouragement initially. A thorough research had to be done on the myths and facts of blood donation, the present system of blood donation had to be studied and relevant data on blood donation needed cooperation from many people like medicos, etc. Finding the right persons and convincing them to cooperate was a difficult task. Eight years down the line, though F2S still faces many challenges, we are glad that people have accepted the idea wholeheartedly and are coming forward to volunteer. We work on the principle, ‘one should donate blood only when the need arises’ and, hence, are against blood donation camps which, we feel, lead to colossal wastage of blood. The donors on the website have registered with the sole purpose of serving the society. They donate blood out of their goodwill.
How did Limca Book Of Records come to know of your achievement?
In 2009, someone informed the Limca people about our organization. They contacted us to know more details. After the screening, they listed us in the Limca Book of Records 2009 as India’s biggest online database of voluntary blood donors. Since then our database has been growing steadily and we have been listed in the Limca Book of Records every year, including 2014.
Reaching 1,10,000 registered donors and becoming the biggest online database of voluntary blood donors- What has it been like? Did you ever expect it to happen when you started the portal?
Initially, we did email campaigns through friends in software companies who told their friends and family, who told their friends in other professions. That is how it spread to all age groups. We also conduct signature campaigns, marathons, walks and bike rallies across the country. Competitions are held in colleges. We create posters on special days and promote the cause on social media. Donors are registered from mandals, even, and anywhere that has a government hospital. Volunteers go there and explain the process. Citizens take volunteers’ help if they can’t use the internet. It has become the people’s movement. People believe in it because they get prompt responses. Even remote areas have received help. There is sheer commitment and no money involved. Our aim and intention is to get blood available for those in need. We have crossed 1 lac 25 thousand registered donors and 2 lac donations have happened so far.
I never expected such a response and recognition! In the initial days, we thought that if we are able to motivate 25,000 people, it would be more than enough and hoped that it will spread all over Andhra Pradesh. But today, F2S has reached all corners of our country and has become the World’s largest voluntary blood donors website/movement.
What, do you think, needs to be done in India to motivate more people to become donors- be it blood, or organs..?
Regular awareness campaigns are really required to motivate people. And in rural areas, maximum people don’t know even their blood groups. So, a lot of blood grouping campaigns is also required simultaneously along with awareness and registration camps. We are planning to conduct a 3-5 year bus campaign throughout India to create awareness. But for this, a lot of support is required from people. We believe time will show us the path to do this. Let’s see what happens in future.
What do the team members do professionally and how do you balance job and managing the portal?
We 5 founders are working as software engineers in different locations. But now we cannot say that we are the team. In these 8 years, many students, employees, senior citizens from different walks of life have voluntarily come forward to join the cause. We have given them some responsibilities and appointed them as field volunteers, district coordinators, campaigning team, technical team and state coordinators. While all of them take some time apart from their daily activities and do this work, I monitor on a day to day basis. If an emergency call comes, we can’t say ‘No’ at any hour of the day. We have to be in regular touch with the volunteers. We have a data validation team which calls every registered number once a year to check on their availability.
And we have also launched mobile apps to provide a smarter solution to people to get in touch with donors.
Any plan to start another similar venture in the future?
We have lots of plans to do for future. We are currently working on a project through which whatever problem people have- free medical facility, finding NGOs, schools, orphanages, old age homes, tribal issues, schools, technical support, scholarships etc- they can find a suitable service organization on our website itself. We are in the process of collecting data at present and are planning to launch it this year end.