Meet Mumbai's Google guide stars championing inclusivity and sustainability

16 May,2024 10:36 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Ainie Rizvi

With the travel season abuzz, we focus on Mumbai`s Google Guide stars, who document their travels to help small businesses, mark autism-friendly spaces and promote eco-conscious practices

(From L) Isha Badachikar, Falguni Paleja, Rohan Mudshingikar

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With travel season lurking around the corner, wanderers are on the hunt for unique destinations. In doing so, the first thing that comes to mind is Google Maps: an app that helps millions of users make informed decisions every day.

Yet, Google Maps would not be what it is without the contributions of local guides across the globe. This travel season, turns its attention to Google's guiding stars and local guides, who inspire people to explore the world by sharing what they know about theirs.

The inclusive mapper: Isha Badachikar

For Thane-based Isha Badachikar, it all began in London with a simple desire to assist others. In a conversation with this writer, she says, "Back in 2019, while residing in the UK, I found myself looking for places to visit with my infant."

She continues, "As I checked Google Maps for recommendations, I was unsure whether the suggested locations would be accessible for a mother with a stroller or suitable for a baby. Whenever I stumbled upon a fitting spot, I made it a habit to share that information on the map, believing it could be beneficial to fellow parents in similar situations."

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Today, Badachikar has emerged as India's first woman to be recognised twice as an ‘Inclusive Mapper' by Google. This honour is conferred to people who produce valuable content in the field of inclusion, diversity, empowerment and accessibility.

As a local guide, she has taken the initiative to compile a list of autism-friendly places in and around Mumbai. While her typical contributions involve adding photos, videos and reviews, Badachikar sought to go beyond the usual approach. "For instance, my reviews would address questions such as accessibility, specifically whether the location is wheelchair accessible, whether there are quiet spaces available for individuals with neurodivergence and whether a restaurant has a braille menu for blind people."

Working as a senior manager for the Insights and Data Business Unit at Capgemini, she is also India's only female connect moderator to feature in a group of 44 moderators around the world. With approximately 11,000 approved contributions and 5.2 crore views on photos, Badachikar helps Google make maps more user-friendly, assisting people to get the most out of the experience.

Her recent initiative, launched in Thane, is the "Hashtag Green" map series which is dedicated to local businesses that prioritise harmony with nature. By highlighting these eco-conscious enterprises, the initiative aims to promote sustainability and encourage efforts to keep the earth green and clean, all while reflecting these practices on maps.

The local business champion: Falguni Paleja

Due to the unforeseen devastation caused by Covid-19, many businesses found themselves unlisted online with crucial information like phone numbers and operating hours unavailable. Recognising this need, Falguni Paleja took it upon herself to visit local shops, gather their details, and add them to online maps.
This effort to support local businesses during a challenging time led Paleja to be awarded as a local business champion by Google in 2022. In a Zoom call with this writer, she opens up about her journey. "Essentially, I've been focusing on local shops in my area that offer products or services. Primarily, it's product-based businesses, as some service providers lack physical stores."

She continues, "We're now expanding our efforts to include artisans by bringing their work online. Many talented individuals sell their artwork from home, and we're dedicated to promoting their creations. This initiative sprouted from the constraints of Covid-19, limiting our ability to venture far from home."

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Recognising the need to support local businesses online, Paleja initiated an effort to inform them about the free opportunity to list on Google Maps, as many were unaware of this option. "Many individuals initially believed that Google required payment to list businesses on maps. We took the responsibility to educate people about the process, breaking this misconception. This initiative garnered widespread participation, extending beyond our local community to regions across the globe," informs Paleja.

Another initiative she undertook was to aid local restaurants in their post-Covid recovery efforts, identifying the decline in customers due to decreased outings. To enhance support for these establishments, she actively promoted her favourite restaurants that prioritised health and hygiene measures in the wake of the pandemic.

Currently serving as a local guides connect moderator for 120 countries, Paleja has also been conferred the Google Guiding Star recognition in 2020.

The local travel guide: Rohan Mudshingikar

For trekker and photographer Rohan Mudshingikar, "it's a way of giving back to the travel community." The Borivali-based contributor aims to evoke in fellow travellers the same emotions and experiences that he encountered at scenic locations.

"Having wandered through charming alleys, misty forests and meandering rivers across India, it's a fulfilling act to be able to show it to the world. Capturing and sharing these breathtaking places on Google Maps remains a consistent priority for me," Mudshingikar tells Midday.

When it comes to Mumbai, he has enhanced information on places like Nehru Science Centre, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, and other places in the realm of history and heritage. Additioanlly, living close to Borivali has given him the opportunity to cover Sanjay Gandhi National Park extensively as he received a badge of honour for sharing his review on Gandhi Smark inside SGNP.

While he is not a Google guide star, Mudshingikar's contributions are no less. Currently, he holds a seat at the Local Guides Connect forum where he has been featured for 100+ posts on travel tips, places to go and things to do. As an electrical engineer, he frequently adds updates on accessibility, restroom facilities, and operating hours that have fetched him 2.8 crore views for his content.

How does Google decide that someone is a map star?
Paleja informs that Google identifies individuals as map stars based on several criteria. Firstly, they consider the level of initiative taken by the individual, including their ability to engage and mobilise others to participate in map-related activities. Active participation and communication within the forum community are also taken into account.

Additionally, Google assesses the quality and quantity of map contributions made by the individual, such as detailed reviews, photographs and other informational content. The overall helpfulness of the content provided to users is a crucial factor in determining map star status. Ultimately, individuals are recognised as map stars based on their consistent efforts to contribute valuable and relevant information to the Google Maps platform.

Looking to contribute? Here are the 6 Google contributor categories to partake in:
Helpful Hero
Inclusive Mapper
Community Builder
Local Business Champion
Creative Contributor
Sustainability Star

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