When Beenu Arora arrived in Melbourne in 2010, he was desperately looking out to connect with other Indians or like-minded people. To his disappointment, he found nothing, not even a commonplace to, say, play cricket. So, after a year in March 2011 he set up the Indians in Melbourne group on Facebook to help bring together those who were either new to the country or wanted to reach out. He also had a broader aim: to give the opportunity to other people who wanted to learn about Indian culture.
Beenu, a cybersecurity professional with a double degree MBA from Columbia Business School and London Business School, admits it was all quite raw in the beginning although his brother Dinesh Arora who was in India then helped him with the project as a moderator . What the duo didn’t envisage was the phenomenal response the page would garner in the years to come. With the influx of more Indians into Australia, Indians in Melbourne assumed importance. By 2013, Dinesh, an IT consultant, arrived in Australia and there has been no looking back since.
Today, Indians in Melbourne have over 92,000 members and is perhaps one of the largest Indian Facebook groups in Australia. The Arora brothers are clear about the guidelines and principles they abide by in running this page. The team at Indians in Melbourne diligently spend hours every day to make this page unbiased and ensure the engagement of its members useful and productive. The Indian Weekly speaks with the dynamic brothers Beenu and Dinesh about this successful initiative of theirs.
Tell us more about Indians in Melbourne and how it evolved.
BEENU: Indians in Melbourne is one of the fastest growing group in Australia. Typically, the group focusses on how we can create a conclave that are willing to help one another. That means people come to the platform and ask for help/questions on a daily basis. We get more than hundreds of posts/queries a day which we have to filter and this is where my brother Dinesh helps me. He is like the chief operating officer. Why we do it is based on one fundamental principle: to create a group that is highly engaging and fruitful. It comes with a lot of merits but also a lot of pain points.
DINESH: When we started there was no review process because we wanted everyone to share whatever issues they were having as they were away from India. At the same time, we wanted this group to grow. As the community grew, the group also got bigger and along with it came spamming, followed by complaints that this group was not giving value anymore. That’s when we decided to sanitise the messages as a lot of them did not make any sense. So we started reviewing every post which would be time-consuming but it was for the greater good. We have 400/500 posts a day and we make sure they are not biased and hurting the sentiments of others or that of the community. This group is about what is happening in Melbourne and it is about Indians. We do get lots of appreciation and abuses at the same time for some of the posts approved. Sometimes we have to put out posts because they are real issues, we have to look for solutions.
BEENU: My core team of Dinesh Arora, Sonakshi Arora and Karuna Sharma focus on maintaining the tempo and harmony in the group by reviewing all the posts daily. If there are any exceptions, we engage with the author or the person who is being impacted and try to create some sort of a bridge. We don’t necessarily become a referee, we don’t want to, we just want to be a platform where we are giving opportunity to everyone to come and share their thoughts, ideas or points of view in a respectful manner. That is the starting process but that is where the whole team gets together. There is a lot of work behind the scenes. But at the end of the day we do it because we believe in the cause and the principles we have laid out.
What is the process of screening?
DINESH: We built the process in 2013. We have a strict screening policy and an internal mechanism making sure that any post or comment is aligned to the guideline and principles which is mentioned in “The About” section. We do not encourage or allow fake news, abusive languages, etc.
We not only look at the content of the post but, in certain situations, we will also look at the profile of the original author to ascertain it’s not a bot or somebody’s software doing it. Of course, we are not intruding anyone’s privacy but looking at logical data points such as whether they are from Melbourne or are they just trying to sell their tools or commodities from other places. That’s a very important aspect because our objective is to allow relevant and meaningful content.
DINESH: I only see it as control where I allow only legitimate accounts to become members of this group. That’s why we have a questionnaire before you join this group. Some people just create their account a day before and it creates suspicion. But if they message me and cite genuine reasons such as seeking a particular help, I take their call and admit them. They have to assure me that it’s their legitimate account and that they need help from the group. Maintaining the integrity of the group is key. At the same time, we are very transparent in terms of sharing the statistics of how many are joining and how many are being blocked because we want to give a bit of our perspective too.
What have been some of the challenges along the way?
BEENU: There are many challenges on a daily basis but the biggest challenge is preserving our principle which is specifically about being unbiased and keeping the integrity of the group. When people come into this group, they have emotional issues but as admins we have to wear the unbiased hat and stick to our principles and guidelines.
DINESH: Our internal policy is not to block people without assessing the issue, and blocking happens in serious group rules violations. We mute comments that are inflammatory or derogatory or disrespectful as sometimes these words come from a place of anger. So, often we have a conversation with the authors but if they don’t listen then we say this group is not for you. It is critical for us to be strict and drive the behaviour of respectability in the community.
What has been the contribution of the group in the growth of the Indian community?
BEENU: We have more than 92,000 members. We are growing at a rate of 2 to 3 percent month on month, which is a good growth. Our greatest contribution is setting those principles which we can use to scale the group to the next level. And those principles often come at a cost or challenges which we have to deal with. When I go to bed, I want to go with a sense of accomplishment that we did something better for somebody. For instance, it is gratifying to know that someone has found a job thanks to a contact from this group. There are a number of stories. People are getting mentorship, are able to connect with other people for various reasons, they get real information from the people here. For instance, it is a platform for students coming from India and looking for accommodation or jobs.
BEENU: One thing which I want to add here is, the Indian community is one of the strongest communities in Australia not just by numbers but by their calibre. That means we can help other communities grow as well by. Of course, there are equally great inspirational stories in other communities but our community can do a lot more. We all have to work together to take each other to the next level.
What costs have you endured running Indians in Melbourne?
BEENU: There is the economic costs of hiring contractors to review the posts, but that aside we are brothers and we both have an emotional view about things. No matter how unbiased you are, you are still going to have some element of judgement or inclination to a party. And that creates a lot of arguments. We argue multiple times on a daily basis (laughs).
But early on, we realised that we should agree on some ground rules or basic principles. That eventually started working out well in terms of the quality of engagement. If you ask me how we measure the success of the group, it is based purely on quality of engagement. The truth is, we enjoy what we are doing, we think there is a greater cause to what we are doing so we are bearing the costs – economic or personal.
There are other similar pages. How do you distinguish yourself from the others?
BEENU: Facebook is a free platform and we had a reason when we created the group. From an end user perspective, it is a good thing that there are others with similar names coming up. I don’t see that as competition, in fact it provides others more avenues for engagement and addressing their problems. However, our group grew because our end motive is very transparent to our users. We have probably one of the highest engagement rates and are unbiased in our approach. That’s the value we have been giving in the past nine years. We don’t support any specific community, religion or race, we give whatever we think is valuable to the community.
What is the goal for the group and where do you see yourself five years from now?
BEENU: We have an aspiration: to create multiple success stories. If you have ever been helped through this group, tell your stories. Often, people are good in sharing hardships but not necessarily the good things. We have to find those adhesives that bind the community together. Given the influx of Indian population, this group will continue to engage people and in five years we would love to continue being one of the greatest platforms in the entire country for people to come and engage with others. I don’t count my aspirations or success with numbers. Numbers are irrelevant, it’s the engagement that counts.
DINESH: The most important part is, in the next five years it will not just be Indians in Melbourne but people who are interested in Indian events who will enlist. So, we will probably open doors not only for Indians but for others. If we give value to other communities we will be giving the greatest value. We also want to tell the rest of the world about the pride Indians bring to the globe by their successful contribution in different fields.
(As told to The Indian Weekly)