Recent Blog Posts

Sep 20 2017: Innovation and the Sustainable Development Goals

This week is the annual UN General Assembly meeting in New York.  Ever since the Clinton Global Initiative began in 2006, General Assembly "week" has had a renewed focus around sustainability and development.  Unfortunately, the issues of development remain more important outside the United Nations Hall than they do inside.   Just this week, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation released important announcements promoting the UN Sustainable Development Goals and calling for a renewed commitment by governments to achieve those goals.  The SDG's,as they are called, could have profound impact on the world if achieved.  But as many of us in the field have noted, they will only be achieved through a combination of better policy, greater funding commitments and committed leadership. 

We at Equal Innovation believe that innovation and entrepreneurship are equally important.  In most cases, using current prescriptions and programs will not solve any of our challenges either rapidly or without ridiculous expenditures of money.  We need innovations in technology, business model and service delivery to speed implementation at a reduced cost.  There is no greater pool of capital to experiment like this than philanthropy.  The UN Sustainable Development Goals are a great way to frame the challenges facing our world, but they will remain nothing more than a wish list without new thinking and commitment.

Sep 12 2017: A growing ​number of startups are focused on social impact

Today, nearly 40% of the startups at the world's top entrepreneurship programs and accelerators have solutions that are geared more towards Civil Society than Silicon Valley. The world's most innovative thinkers are not building software for hedge funds, but trying to solve important societal challenges.  A recent survey of leading entrepreneurship programs in North America and Asia revealed that 40% of the startups in those programs have products in areas like sustainability, small farmer agriculture, financial services for the under banked, social enterprise, and wellness.  These are areas traditionally funded by philanthropy, and not venture capital. Even those startups seeking venture capital are gravitating towards innovations in life sciences and clean energy.  

Philanthropy, through grants, program-related investments (PRI) and impact investing, will continue to be the pool that funds societal innovation.  As the 2017 class of accelerators graduate with proven technologies and strong leaders, we urge foundations to line up and put these startups into the fields of development.

Sep 6 2017: DACA and the need for innovation​

Today was a tough day for marginalized populations around the world.  In Asia, the continuing crisis of the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar continues to frustrate governments and aid agencies.  In the United States, President Trump cruelly cancelled the DACA program granting US residency to about 800,000 Americans who originally came to the United States as small children without documentation.  And in the Mediterranean, another refugee boat capsized carrying desperate refugees from the Middle East.  

We live in a world where 65 million people have been displaced by warfare, climate and extreme poverty - the largest number since World War II.  The scale and complexity of the global refugee movement requires real innovation from NGOs, aid agencies and philanthropy.  We need new ideas around logistics, medical care, refugee camp management, refugee/migrant placement, technology, and the provision of basic human services like food, water and sanitation.  And most importantly, integration to new communities and cultures. The status quo cannot sustain the growing movement of humans fleeing poverty, climate change or war. Only innovation and a commitment to scaling successful interventions will.

Equal Innovation only has a few spots left for the 2017 Impact Accelerator for Indian CSR & philanthropy. We start next month and have a great group of Indian companies and foundations. Contact us to learn more about the program and register today.

Aug 29 2017: Global Entrepreneurship Summit comes to India 

India is hosting the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in November, 2017.   The country will have no problem finding ambitious, innovative entrepreneurs to highlight.  Nor is there a shortage of venture capitalists and institutional investors with an eye towards Indian startups.  But Summit organizers are struggling to find the entrepreneurs, funders and patient capital investing in the base of the pyramid and the 760 million Indian citizens living on Rs. 200 a day or less.   It's not that they don't exist - indeed there are thousands of them. But few, outside of financial services, have scaled to have an impact across India.

The Global Entrepreneurship Summit is an opportunity for Indian CSR and philanthropy to announce their commitment to innovation and entrepreneurship in the areas that they fund.  And if several of India's leading funders make public commitments of this nature, such an announcement would cement India's place as a source of transformative ideas for development.  

The 2017 Impact Accelerator for Indian CSR & philanthropy starts next month.  Here is your chance to identify ideas, innovations and entrepreneurs to work with you.  Announce your new partnerships at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit!

Learn how to transform ideas into funded programs - whether internal ideas, external NGO partners or new startups
Up to 5 participants from your organization or external partners (such as NGOs) can participate
Participants are from corporate CSR departments and large, private philanthropy
Program runs Mid-September to December
3 Collaborative Workshops in-Person (Bangalore & Mumbai)
Virtual Webinars and Manageable Assignments for CSR/Philanthropy Executives
Contact us to learn more about the program and register today!

Aug 22, 2017: Equal Innovation at the Chief Learning Officers (CLO) Summit 

This week, Equal Innovation is participating in a seminar at the Chief Learning Officers Summit India.  The event brings together over 400 senior executives in learning, knowledge management and human resources from India's Fortune 100 companies and leading multinationals with a presence in India.  The focus of our panel is an important one for the next generation of corporate philanthropy and CSR.  It's about the correlation between great performing companies and companies with strong civic culture.  

Research from Harvard University has shown that companies with robust philanthropy, employee engagement and sustainability efforts are also the best performing and most innovative. This is not surprising to many of us - a strong civic culture attracts the best employees and makes the office a place people want to be in.  

The next stage of this will be to treat CSR as a business unit that receives the same attention of human resources, knowledge management and learning as other departments.  Our philanthropic professionals deserve the best IT systems, training opportunities and access to technology.  Without it, impact will continue to be difficult.  

Join the 2017 Impact Accelerator for Indian CSR, philanthropy and foundations!  The leading training program for philanthropy and innovation.

Aug 15, 2017: India's NGOs continue to shape the Nation

Happy Independence Day!  Worldwide, the news has been full of stories commemorating the progress made by India over the last 70 years.  Many have celebrated the great strides of a nation as diverse and complex as India, while others have lamented the slow pace of progress to alleviate poverty and improve relations between different communities.  

In today's India, philanthropy and NGOs continue to play a growing role in every debate related to India's development.   Philanthropists are providing critical early stage funding for NGOs and new approaches to alleviating poverty, education, public health and sustaining the environment.  NGOs are implementing programs, innovating and staying closer to their constituents than anyone in India.   Government looks towards the philanthropic and NGO sector to share its successful practices and assist ministries to transform programs into public policy.    Over the next decade, as India's stature on the global stage continues to grow, and a new generation of technology titans enter the philanthropic space, there is an opportunity to innovate and transform development in India in partnership with governments, international donors and multi-lateral aid agencies.  

Join the 2017 Impact Accelerator for Indian CSR, philanthropy and foundations!


Aug 8, 2017: Training CSR to use Innovation to increase the impact and sustainability of programs

Join the 2017 Impact Accelerator for Indian CSR, philanthropy and foundations!
Our accelerator is designed to help Indian CSR and philanthropy launch innovations to disrupt traditional development and exponentially increase impact.  Here are some details about the program:

  • Up to 5 participants from your organization or external partners (such as NGOs) can participate
  • Participants are from corporate CSR departments and large, private philanthropy
  • Program runs Mid-September to December
  • 3 Collaborative Workshops in-Person (Bangalore & Mumbai)
  • Virtual Webinars and Manageable Assignments for CSR/Philanthropy Executives 

Contact us to learn more about the program and register today!


Aug 1, 2017: India's Urbanization: Economic benefits and developmental challenges

Today, more than 60% of India’s GDP is generated in its cities and urban areas. And with rapid economic growth, urbanization is set to increase dramatically. Such growth should, in theory, lead to increased GDP per capita and an improvement in the living standards of the average Indian. It also poses significant developmental challenges that will require proactive approaches by the social sector.

According to Census 2011, about 377 million Indians (31.1%) lived in urban areas, and is projected to grow to 600 million (40%) by 2031 and 850 million (50%) by 2051. This implies that India’s urban population will grow over 50% in just 20 years from 377 million in 2011 to a projected population of 600 million in 2030). Some of this growth will happen in current cities, and the remainder will happen in cities that may just be small towns today.

Most of India’s cities are already experiencing congestion, water-shortages, multiple forms of pollution (and the resultant health crisis), rising crime, lack of proper sanitation for most, poor delivery of public services, etc. These issues would only get magnified with rapid urbanization. And if India’s cities can’t grow, economic gains will prove elusive. It would be wise to focus efforts on policy and advocacy to raise public awareness, change behaviour and policies to prepare for the imminent future.

Urbanization will also bring opportunities for a large number who will be able to enjoy a higher standard of living than their forefathers. As cities expand and new ones will need to be built, there will be a resultant demand for housing, basic infrastructure (roads, electricity, etc.), services (transport, municipal, education, etc.).  India is projected to become the world’s third largest economy by 2030, and raising its human development index as dramatically should also be a priority for all concerned. There are many opportunities and challenges that the government and social sector can manage in order to create a more prosperous and equitable India.


July 25, 2017: Equal Innovation proudly announces the 2017 Impact Accelerator for Indian CSR, philanthropy and foundations!
Worldwide, accelerators and proof of concept centers are the main framework for launching disruptive innovations that are transforming industry.   Our accelerator is designed to help Indian CSR and philanthropy to achieve the same – launch innovations to disrupt traditional development and exponentially increase impact.  Here are some details about the program:

  • Participants are from corporate CSR departments and large, private philanthropy
  • Program runs Mid-September to December
  • 3 Collaborative Workshops in-Person (Bangalore & Mumbai)
  • Virtual Webinars and Manageable Assignments for CSR/Philanthropy Executives
  • Up to 5 participants from your organization or external partners (such as NGOs) can participate
  • Concludes with “Demo Day” of project tested and ready to launch 


July 17, 2017: Packard Foundation Report – Who is Saving our Oceans? 

Last month the David and Lucile Packard Foundation released an important report, entitled, “Our Shared Seas”.  In it, the Foundation catalogues all philanthropic funding worldwide related to oceans, seas and marine life.    The report is a trove of important information about initiatives around the world to protect the oceans and seas from climate change, pollution and over-fishing.  What is striking is that the South Asia region received the smallest amount of philanthropic funding of any region in the world – a paltry $29 million overall in 2016. 

India has a coastline of over 7500 kilometres – one of the largest in the world.   Nearly 50% of India’s population lives in coastal states and 14% of the population directly lives in a coastal district.  India has over 4 million fishermen in 3200 villages whose livelihood depends entirely on the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal.    According to the Indian Ministry of the Environment, 32% of the fishing stocks in the Indian Ocean are already fished beyond a sustainable level, which threatens the health of the seas and the livelihoods of these fishermen.

Given the deep connection between India and the oceans, why hasn’t philanthropy in India focused more on the oceans, seas and marine life?  The most obvious answer is that the government of India has not recognized the oceans as a priority area for funding under the CSR law.  And secondly, to have an impact on ocean life, a funder would need to make a very large commitment in time, money and expertise.  Most of India’s philanthropists and CSR haven’t done that on land yet.   There are some emerging examples, such as the mobile app to monitor mangroves, announced by Godrej & Boyce in early July. 

Given the importance of the oceans to climate change, fishing, shipping, commerce and livelihoods, Indian philanthropy would do well to invest in research about the impact of oceans on India, and begin investing in the water that is so close to the land mass they invest so much in.

July 10, 2017: 
International Giving Increases to 19%

Every year, the Giving USA report is published by The Giving Institute. It is researched and written by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.  It is considered the most comprehensive assessment of philanthropic giving in the United States, with data and analysis about individual giving as well as institutional giving by large foundations, corporations and pooled philanthropy. 
In the report, two particular points stood out as relevant to global philanthropy.   In 2016, international giving by Americans increased to $22 billion, or an increase of nearly 20% over 2015.  A significant amount of these funds went towards two causes.   One was refugee relief and resettlement efforts focused on the Middle East and Europe.  The second was climate change.  However, most analysts believe that this trend may reverse itself next year, as the US government is expected to eliminate funding in both of these areas.  Americans will most likely continue funding the same causes it does today, but may direct more of it towards the domestic fight against climate change.
For Indian NGOs seeking to raise money in the United States, Giving USA also highlights changes in fundraising rules on a state-by-state basis.  Equal Innovation works with several Indian NGOs to fund raise in the United States, and plans to release an updated policy paper on this later in 2017.
July 3, 2017: 
Are BOP skilling programs automation-proof?

In a recent meeting with a senior leader of a large foundation, the emergence of automation was brought up as a potential threat to the sustainability of their livelihoods program. On the surface, automation may seem like the polar-opposite of social impact, one looking to reduce person-hours and the other seeking to reach more people. But there may be a silver lining to the ominous clouds of automation hovering on the horizon.

Today, we’re on the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution powered by massive computing power, machine learning, artificial intelligence and (robotic & software based) automation. Social sector organizations and governments would be wise to reassess what tasks will be automated and what will remain in the human realm, and refocus efforts to promote the skills that will be needed in the next decade.

While automation will bring significant efficiencies in certain tasks, it will not completely automate entire jobs. Recall how computers made filing and calculations faster, while still requiring an accountant to operate the systems. The most likely roles to be automated first are physical roles in highly structured and predictable environments, as well as data collection and processing. While the ROI and roll-out will be faster in more developed nations with higher labour costs (and therefore savings from automation), the wave will inevitably affect the BOP as the technologies gets cheaper.

To offset the risks of job losses from automation, skilling programs could look to create jobs that are automation-proof. When the automobile was adopted, horse-carriage drivers had to re-skill themselves to get industrial era jobs (manufacturing, service, sales, etc.). Similarly, with automation, there will be ancillary and support services that will require semi to medium skilled workers. Skilling programs could also focus on areas that automation may find hard to compete (creative arts, human interaction, etc.) Taking this leap will require innovative approaches to skilling, and those that see the opportunity early will continue to create large-scale impact.
June 26, 2017: “Donald…meet Narendra”

Today marks the first meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Donald Trump.   Experts have strained themselves to find anything of relevance in this meeting, except for the protestations coming from each side.  PM Modi will protest America's immigration policies, rising hate crimes against people of Indian origin and the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change Treaty.  President Trump will complain about the "deal" India got to participate in the same Paris treaty, and request Indian support to fight ISIS.  Under the right circumstances, Modi may push Trump for greater development assistance through American technology transfer and manufacturing investments. But the Trump Administration, to date, has yet to appoint a team of people focused on India or South Asia.  It will probably be several months before the US even has its ambassador designate in Delhi.  In their absence, India will continue to be an afterthought in the Trump Administration, and the development agenda will be guided by private organizations in direct collaboration with the Government of India.   
July 6, 2017: America Leaves the Paris Agreement. What Does It Mean for India and Philanthropy?

Last week’s decision by President Donald Trump to pull America out of the Paris Climate Change Agreement sent shock waves around the world.    In the aftermath to that announcement, the leading emitter nations of the world recommitted to the Agreement.  Along with China and the European Union, the Indian government reiterated its commitment to the global initiative to combat climate change. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated that not taking climate change seriously was a “morally criminal act”. India’s stand on climate change is a balanced one, which regards its role as a steward of its people’s natural resources, while also seeking to improve the lives of its citizens.

The US decision will impact worldwide philanthropy and NGO activities immediately in two ways.  First, the US government plans to phase out all programs and funding related to climate change or greenhouse gas emissions.  According to our analysis, several billion dollars in US government programs to fight climate change are either directly impacted by the US withdrawal from the Paris COP 21 Agreement, or indirectly through reductions in clean energy funding in the budget proposed by President Trump and the US Congress.  These cuts will reduce a variety of programs, including clean tech research, environmental advocacy, alternative energy capacity and international efforts to build sustainable energy programs.   Cuts to the US Agency for International Development, US Department of Energy and others will be felt in India in 2018 and beyond.

Secondly, global philanthropy will have to step in to save these programs.  We have already seen Bloomberg Philanthropies step in to provide $15 million to cover the US government’s commitments to the United Nations agency that coordinates the Paris agreement.   In many other areas, foundations, philanthropy and CSR will be forced to allocate critical resources and annual grant expenditures to replace lost government grants or to support initiatives in clean tech research and global advocacy where the US government should play a role. 

Equal Innovation does forecast an increased interest in India from clean tech innovators in the United States. With India’s recommitment to the Paris agreement, innovators are seeing India as a large market with the long-term potential for impact and faster adoption than the United States.  These clean tech innovators, whether they are working on low-cost solar cells or biodegradable plastics, will need India’s CSR and philanthropy to serve as patient capital for proof of concept and early trials in India.  Historically, USAID, DFID and others have provided funding for many of these technologies, and it is not clear that this funding will be available in the future. 

In addition, we believe that President Trump incorrectly analyzed India’s goals and participation in the Paris Agreement.   When explained to them, a large majority of Americans understand the position taken by nations like India towards climate change mitigation.  In addition, India is not “freeloading” off America’s commitments to the Paris Agreement.

Addressing the world’s media at a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Prime Minister Modi - who was on a state visit to Germany – shared his world view on India’s deep understanding of the importance of acting on the issue of climate change. Speaking in Hindi the Prime Minister started his address by saying “Let’s assume if there were no Paris Climate Agreement. What would India have done?” Indian culture and tradition, he declared, had survived for generations through the passing on of wealth and wisdom to future generations, and the preservation of nature’s bounty for the generation that followed was deeply ingrained in the Indian way of thinking. He noted that Indian culture, which is thousands of years old, has a reverence for nature and has historically lived in harmony with nature. He said being rooted in that philosophy helps India instinctively appreciate the importance of climate change and the need to ratify the Paris Agreement. Prime Minister Modi cautioned that playing with nature and meddling with ecology would affect the lives of the next generation, and doing so would be “a morally criminal act”.

India when submitting its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) noted its hoary tradition as the standpoint from which it values the importance of working towards climate change. The document opens with a verse from the Yajur Veda wishing peace to all forms of life and nature. It echoes Prime Minister Modi’s tones on seeing nature as scared and the need to diligently manage our natural resources.

India’s submission makes a fair case for why India’s INDCs reflect its current developmental trajectory. While the developed nations rapidly industrialized to reach their current state, India will need to take similar strides to serve its people. India is home to 17.5% of the world population, while occupying only 2.4% of the world’s surface area. It houses 30% of the global poor and 24% of those living without access to electricity (304 million). The average global citizen consumes nearly 3 times as much energy in a year compared to the average Indian. In order to lift its people out of poverty and provide lives with dignity there will need to be investments in power, infrastructure, housing and production of goods and services. When looked at through this lens, India’s energy needs are not as unreasonable as President Trump made out while pulling-out of the Paris Agreement on Thursday. India’s economy is one of the fastest growing major economies in the world, and with Prime Minister Modi taking a decisive stand on climate change, he has positioned India as a significant player on the global stage.