Enter the “Rice Bucket Challenge.”
Indian journalist Manju Latha Kalanidhi, who works for the U.S.-based rice research website Oryza.com, says when she first heard about the ice bucket challenge, she got thinking.
“Why waste water?” she asks. “I felt like doing something more locally tangible. Rice is a staple here. We eat it every day, we can store it for months. Why not donate rice to someone who is hungry?”
And it rhymes with ice. So Kalanidhi started her own challenge: Donate a bucket of rice to someone in need, post a photo online, and challenge your friends to do the same.
The original version, designed to raise funds to fight amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) — also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease and motor neurone disease (MND) — is a global viral phenomenon.
People take videos of themselves getting doused with a bucket full of ice, share it online, and challenge friends to do the same or donate money to the cause. It is in effect a modern virtual chain letter.
Hundreds of celebrities — from Oprah Winfrey to Roger Federer — have participated and fueled interest, raising more than $70 million in donations for the ALS Association.
In India, the ice bucket challenge has generated attention too — Bollywood stars have mirrored their Hollywood counterparts — but it now seems it will be eclipsed by what some are describing as an Indian challenge for Indian needs: fighting hunger.
#RiceBucketChallenge is on its way to going viral in India — it’s on TV news, on Twitter, and it now has a Facebook page with thousands of likes.
“People from all over the world are responding,” says Kalanidhi, listing off letters of appreciation from people in Sweden, England, and beyond.
The explosion of interest in the rice challenge is an indicator of how powerful social media has become in India.
According to eMarketer, the number of internet users in India is expected to be around 200 million in 2016, a nearly three-fold increase since 2011.
Much of the growth comes from smartphone users: younger Indians who would be more likely to use social media.