A year ago this December as many as 100,000 Russians took to the streets in Moscow and other cities in Russia to protest election fraud and discontent with their government. Protests continued over the next six months, beyond Vladimir Putin’s reelection in May, illustrating the great number of Russians disturbed by corruption in their government. Eugenia Kudya, a 26 year-old entrepreneur who had been living in London and New York until September 2012, followed the protests from abroad and based on what she saw, returned home to Moscow with a new idea. She immediately started work on a crowd-sourcing initiative called Bribr ( http://bribr.org/), a website and smartphone application that allows Russian citizens to anonymously register and categorize bribes they had to pay. “I wanted to help the people who had taken to the streets in Russia.”
According to Kudya, until last year’s election protests, “the biggest problem with Russians was that no one believed in society.” Kudya says that she was pleased and surprised to see so many “normal Russians” demanding change from their government and she wanted to capitalize on this spirit. After attending a tech conference this March at SXSW in Austin, Texas, Kudya, who had just completed a master’s degree in business at New York University, got the idea for a social media tool that would aid what she saw as a modernizing Moscow. She says the Bribr app allows regular people to safely document the bribes negatively affecting their everyday lives while illustrating Russia’s corruption problems to an international audience. According to Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perception Index, Russia is ranked 143 out of 182 countries surveyed.
Kudya developed the app in two months with the help of a team of young Muscovite volunteers. They worked out of what she jokingly refers to as her “office,” a long wooden table at the hip Strelka Bar, located in one of Moscow’s artsy warehouse districts and owned by one of Kudya’s many entrepreneur friends. “I was surprised when twenty young designers and technology professionals showed up at Strelka, after a full day of working at their paying jobs, to help me with Bribr for free.” Kudya stresses how unusual it was to see young Russians willing to work for something greater than their own individual needs, and attributes this to a new spirit that seems to have come out of the protests.
Bribr is a success story. More than $8 million in bribes have been documented since it was approved by Apple in September and the app continues to receive 20-200 new uploads each day. The bribes are categorized into thirty-three different categories, with police and investigators bringing in the most at 9% and kindergartens bringing in 3% of all bribes reported. “Sometimes people try and include their names when they upload bribes but we think it is important to remove them for safety reasons,” Kudya says. She and her team verify each bribe before they upload it onto the site, basically checking to make sure it is a believable amount for the type of bribe reported.
Although Kudya says she is happy with the application and has been pleased with the media notice that draws attention to a grassroots reporting of Russia’s major corruption problem that affects the country’s economy and foreign investment, she says that not as many people are using Bribr as she would have liked. “[When I was designing the application] there was more enthusiasm,” says Kudya who thinks that while many “normal Russians” are not happy with Putin they are no longer excited by the opposition movement either.
“We have learned that the] Russian government is very hard and slow to change,” Kudya says. She says that today what inspires her most are the possibilities for technological advancements in Moscow and the support of the newly appointed 29 year-old Minister of Communications and Mass Media, Nikolai Nikiforov. The minister is working to expand internet access in Russia and funding high-tech projects that Kudya hopes will push Russia’s technology out of the Soviet past into the future. “If you are energetic and bright there is still great opportunity to do something big in Moscow.”
Need to Know’s Alexandra Nikolchev reports from Russia.