Recent Blog Posts



May 22, 2018: Have India's taxes laws created fewer Philanthropic Foundations


A recent report about global philanthropy by UBS Investment Advisers starkly shows the nascence of Indian philanthropy.  The research was conducted with support from the US Agency for International Development and others.  According to UBS, India only has 583 foundations that are focused on philanthropic giving and programs (not including corporate programs or NGOs).  In addition, Indian philanthropy is only spending about $20 million a year on programs - or about 3% of their endowments.   The exclusion of CSR and NGOs is a big thing - because of Indian tax law, much of India's giving and development programming is done through these vehicles.  

The lesson from the report is not so much to indict India, but to point out that a vast majority of India's wealthy have not set up their own philanthropic institutions.  Perhaps this is because of unfriendly tax laws, or because their companies conduct their philanthropy for them.  But to date, 90% of the world's philanthropy is still done by American and European institutions.  


May 15, 2018: The WhatsApp Philanthropists


In his recently released book, "Unscaled", Hemant Taneja, a noted Silicon Valley venture capitalist, writes about the growing impact of new technologies on across business and society.  Taneja serves on the board of several leading companies, including Stripe and Snap, but also the education on-profit Khan Academy and the Advanced Energy Economy.  While most of the book is about the impact of technology on business, the insights are equally applicable to traditional public and non-profit sectors like education and health care.  For example, the movement of education to computers, Internet and cloud-based solutions is well-documented. But the combination of this transformation with Big Data and artificial intelligence will eventually create mass-customized learning in a way we have never seen.  In health care, electronic medical records, combined with Big Data around research and clinical outcomes, could transform health care delivery and truly connect health care providers worldwide.  The question for both is....when?

This remains the promise and challenge of technology.  The transformation is inevitable, but without organizations in India who can spearhead the change, the local pace of adoption will remain slow.  Right now the most ambitious startups seeking a foothold in India end up gravitating to the leading hospital chains or high-end private schools.  Their growth stagnates as they try to reach working class and rural areas because of a lack of capital or inability to source partners to reach these emerging communities.  To accelerate this process, there needs to be more startup-technology-service provider engagement, from NGOs to philanthropy and impact investors. 



May 10, 2018: Gates Foundation Poverty Plan A Model for India?


This week, the Gates Foundation announced a $158 million plan to alleviate poverty in the United States.  The grant making strategy was the result of a two-year study of poverty in the United States, including the challenges to social and economic mobility, income inequality and the role of broader factors, such as access to education and health care, on eliminating inter-generational poverty.  The Gates Foundation first funded the comprehensive research, and then announced its strategy.  While the United States is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, it does have its share of people living in poverty - with limited housing, education, health care or access to opportunities.  Outside the East and West Coast, in what is referred to as "fly over country", the problems have been exacerbated by the opiod crisis, automation and globalization.  

India's leading funders should consider taking a similarly holistic approach to India's poverty challenge.  Too many funders are attacking a small slice of the problem by funding school infrastructure, midday meals, skilling programs or health camps.  A more holistic approach to each sector, whether its education, health care or the environment, is needed among funders.  And beyond that, a more holistic analysis about the relationship between poverty and access to services or high quality of life, is needed to guide the nation's funders.  Too often, Indian philanthropy has not funded research because the size of the problems facing India are so large.  This is understandable, as are the interventions that
most have funded. But every few years, a more comprehensive study is a good thing.



May 1, 2018: A Bunch of New Entrants to Indian CSR


An emerging entrant to the CSR space in India are companies based in the United Arab Emirates.  In 2017, the UAE parliament and stock exchange put forth rules urging leading UAE-based companies to practice CSR in the form of corporate citizenship, volunteer programs and grant making. Although the rules are not as binding as India's requirements, it has impacted the philanthropic scene in the Middle East by bringing a large volume of new actors.  Because of the rapid growth of Dubai and Abu Dhabi over the last few decades, the UAE has become regional home to many multinationals and startups.  The favorable tax treaties have also made it home to investment funds focused on countries like India.  All of those companies will now be developing CSR programs, and most will be externally focused on the Greater Middle East, Africa and South Asia.

The UAE is the favored destination for many companies promoted primarily by Indian citizens.  Thus, the push towards CSR will have an impact on India as well.  Many of the largest UAE-based, Indian owned companies are launching CSR programs in India, while others are funding well-known Indian NGOs.  Over the next decade, expect tens of crore rupees to make their way into Indian philanthropy. 



April 24, 2018: What Will Social Security for 500 Million Mean?


The announcement by Prime Minister Modi's office that the Labour Ministry will be reviewing a social security proposal for 500 million Indians will have enormous consequences for the Indian social safety net.  About 40% of India's workforce will be eligible for the social security benefits program to be paid in full, while the remaining 60% will be eligible for partial benefits in addition to paying into the program.  Much as it has done in the United States and Europe, social security can potentially eliminate poverty among parts of society such as the elderly and the working class that don't earn enough to build assets for themselves.

Around the world, there are interesting experiments being conducted with regards to social security
programs, universal basic income and the use of technology.  Indian philanthropy can fund these experiments for the Indian context.  We don't know whether a universal basic income, or the PMO's proposal is a better safety net.  We also don't know if block chain technology or the "India stack" will be better to connect Indians to the formal banking system and government programs.  Better policy can be informed through the data collected in successful pilot programs and research in all of these areas.  And private capital is better served for that sort of innovation and experimentation.  



April 18, 2018: Will Civil Society Stand up for Women in India?


According to a 2017 report from the prestigious British medical journal, The Lancet, a majority of women in India, over 360 million, have reported suffering from domestic abuse - verbal, emotional, sexual or physical in nature.  According to the World Bank, female participation in the Indian workforce is only 29% - compared to 79% in Nepal.  And this is not just a problem of the rural poor.  Nearly 68% of educated women in urban India do not work.  

These statistics explain, in part, the wildly divergent responses this week in India to a terrible tragedy.  Outraged Indians, aware that the nation is wasting a precious resource, have taken to the streets demanding change.   Traditionalists, worried about a changing society, have taken to defending the indefensible, and using tired old stereotypes to do so.  #MeToo and #TimesUp had arrived in India long before last week's events.  But for those movements to succeed, they will have to eventually move from street protests and social media posts into robust efforts to change government policy or active community programs to support men and women.  Indian funders should embrace the challenge and step up in this time of crisis.  



April 11, 2018: Running to Raise Millions for India's Health and Development


Among the 30,000 runners in the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 16th will be a team from the Association for India's Development and Asha for Education.   This year marks the 15th year that the Team AID Asha has trained and run the marathon - raising $850,000 to support grassroots development and educational projects in India.  Millions more will be raised for medical research by other Boston-area charities with running teams, many with a focus on global public health and development.

As Indian society begins to embrace large-scale public events like marathons, walks and organized festivals, the NGO community must, in parallel, learn to leverage those opportunities to fund raise.  For two decades, the United Way Vadodara has been a model for this - raising several crore rupees annually for local NGOs through its Navratri Garba festival.  Today, the NGO sector is too reliant on high net worth families and CSR.  The much larger scope for fundraising lies with retail fundraising - small gifts from large numbers that give year-to-year.  In a deeply social country like India, this can be a goldmine.



April 4, 2018: Income Inequality and Philanthropy


Today, 22% of India's national income is accrued by the 1% of India's population.    According to research by Thomas Piketty and Lucas Channel,  the share of India's national income accruing to the top 1% income earners is now at its highest level since the creation of the Indian Income tax in 1922.  In their paper on the topic, the researchers found that "the top 1% of earners captured less than 21% of total income in the late 1930's, before dropping to 6% in the early 1980's and rising to 22% today."  While this may be alarming, it is important to realize that the main driver of this inequality growth is economic liberalization, which has also lifted hundreds of millions of Indians out of abject poverty.  So rising inequality cannot be judged in isolation.

This is a global problem.  In the United States, recent studies have shown that an even greater percentage - possibly 28%, of income is controlled by the top 1%.   But America's other 99% has an advantage over India's other 99%.  The advantage is a robust culture of philanthropy that redirects billions of dollars to societal needs.  Wealthy Americans give a much greater portion of their earnings to NGOs, universities, hospitals and charitable causes.  In addition, a far greater number practice strategic philanthropy that includes professional staff, multi-year planning and deep engagement in the causes they support.  The top 1% in India has only begun to donate strategically.  The result is a weaker network of community groups, NGOs and social services without the ability to serve India's poor at the scale necessary.  India must address inequality, but one way to do so is to simply give back a large portion of what is earned.    As Bill Gates has said with the Giving Pledge, the goal is to get off the Forbes Rich List because one has given all their money away to charity.



Mar 27, 2018: India can use Advocacy and Activism for Good


India and the United States both have a vibrant culture of political protest, discussion and advocacy that is cherished and practiced regularly.  On Saturday, March 24, over 1 million American teens across the country marched in support of greater gun control and safer schools.  While India is fortunate to not have a problem with school gun violence, there are certainly many other issues that Indian youth could march for.

This is the second time in a year that Americans have mobilized en mass for social change.  In 2017 it was the Women's March, which drew tens of millions.  This year it was the March for Our Lives for safe schools.  For both movements, the biggest challenge is channeling the energy of Marchers into money, organizational development and a policy agenda that leads to real change - at the grassroots and in government.  As is the case in India, NGOs, foundations and advocacy groups must leverage grassroots anger at the status quo to build capacity for the long term, and translate "energy" into concrete solutions.   

In India, NGOs have done a great job about raising awareness, but haven't translated their voice into bigger budgets, strategic plans for large-scale change or the use of innovative technologies to keep large bases engaged.  All of these tools are going to be necessary to focus people for change in a noisy world.



Mar 20, 2018: India's CSR evolution - what's next?


India's path breaking CSR law went into effect five years ago.  While there are some important critiques of the law and its implementation by corporations, on the whole it has been an important step forward for India.  Over the next five years, Equal Innovation predicts a rapid scale up of CSR - leading to enormous impact.   Corporations have staffed up their CSR departments, put processes in place, made grants and started running programs directly.   In other words, they have been getting organized.

But to have impact and move the needle on a social problem, Indian CSR will need to become more strategic and show bold leadership.  Through issue-focused strategic planning (up-front) and measurement and evaluation (at the end), CSR and their corporate parents will pave the road for real progress in education, healthcare and other areas.  Corporations will move from strategic planning that is corporate-focused to one that is issue and national leadership driven.

In addition, Equal Innovation is seeing technologies from around the world that are available today to Indian CSR.  Through leadership, effective strategy and strong partnerships, India can roll out cutting edge technologies to its most remote regions in short order.  This will be an exciting period for Indian CSR and philanthropy.



Mar 13, 2018: Is Indian Philanthropy funding what matters?


On March 8th, the world celebrated International Women's Day and on March 22nd, we will celebrate World Water Day.    These two days shed an important global spotlight - first on the challenges faced by women in societies around the world, and next week, World Water Day raises awareness about the most important resource for life on Planet Earth - water.    And yet,  India's philanthropies are not at the forefront of either movement.

The last year has seen an incredible awakening among women who are the victims of harassment in their workplaces and communities. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements bring harassers to justice and improve working and living conditions for women of all socio-economic backgrounds.  And while India has some of the world's most thoughtful and articulate women leaders in civil society, the philanthropic sector has not done their part to move the needle for women.  India continues to have the lowest rates of education and employment among women in emerging markets, and continues to under utilize nearly 50% of its population at a time of labor shortages and skilling problems.  

In Forbes last week, we wrote about the Safe Water Network and their efforts to provide clean water to over 1 million people worldwide.  In India, there are analysts who believe that Bangalore could suffer a similar water crisis as Cape Town, South Africa, which is quickly nearing "Day Zero" when no fresh water is available.  And every year, Indian officials race to provide water trucks during droughts, rather than build the right infrastructure.  Here, Indian philanthropy has invested quite a bit, but it has shied away from the large grants needed to scale solutions.  




Mar 6, 2018: India's Renewable Energy Capacity is Growing


According to the International Energy Agency, India is poised to pass the European Union in renewable energy capacity by 2022 and become part of the top three nations in the world for renewable capacity, along with the United States and China.  India's renewable capacity is expected to more than double by 2022, with solar and wind representing 90% of India’s capacity growth due to contract auctions to develop power-generation capacity and drive down prices for both energy technologies.

Of course, this depends on several factors, including the construction of better power grid systems across India, and more affordable battery and storage systems.   Philanthropy will have an important role in making this energy revolution happen.  It must continue to support R&D, particularly in India, to innovate and bring prices down.  In addition, it must invest in a clean tech work force that can install, repair, sell and manage renewable technologies with consumers, business and government.  And finally, philanthropy will have to seed many of the NGOs and social enterprises that will be needed to extend renewable power to rural areas at affordable prices. 




Feb 27, 2018: Look Beyond the Metro's!


The Equal Innovation weekly newsletter is back after a brief hiatus!  We are pleased to inform you, that in the interim, we completed our first Social Impact Accelerator with some of India's leading CSR departments.  Although our firm has decades of experience with social innovation and entrepreneurship, there were still many things we learned from the accelerator about innovation for impact.   Most importantly, we were reminded of the deep level of commitment and dedication to development among India's social sector leaders - from NGOs to CSR executives.  As any entrepreneur will tell you, change only occurs when there is deep passion and commitment to achieve that change - and we saw that in spades.

But bringing contextually relevant innovation to India's rural areas or to address environmental sustainability will require a sustained commitment from funders, NGOs and practitioners.  Even at some of India's largest social sector organizations - those that have been feted around the world, the level of innovation is quite basic. For example, India's change makers must move beyond a vision of computers in schools, however practical and important, to a more innovative vision for learning on all technology platforms, by using artificial intelligence and how to better utilize out-of-school time to improve learning outcomes.  Innovation in India's social sector must move beyond process change or jugaad towards real changes in technology and business model to achieve the scale required to really impact any problem.   




Feb 1, 2018: Equal Innovation attends the World Economic Forum in Davos


Last week, India stood tall at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.  Prime Minister Narendra Modi set the tone for the week with his opening keynote address about inclusive economic growth.  India boasted the third largest delegation at the elite conference - surpassed only by the United States and the host nation of Switzerland.  And for the first time, and Indian woman was named a Co-Chair for the World Economic Forum - Chetna Sinha, the CEO of Mann Deshi Mahila Bank, one of India's largest financial institutions focused on female clients. Equal Innovation attended the forum as guests of the Co-chair, Chetna Sinha.

Chetna and Mann Deshi are long-time friends and collaborators of Equal Innovation.  We are so proud of the work that Chetna and the leadership team at Mann Deshi have done to bring financial services, loan products and new technology to women entrepreneurs seeking loans and business acumen.   Through her work, hundreds of thousands of families in Maharashtra and Karnataka have improved their livelihoods over the last 30 years.

India is full of amazing social entrepreneurs like Chetna Sinha, Anshu Gupta of Goonj and Kailash Satyarthi, who was also a speaker at the conference.   Their innovative models for impact, along with a lifelong commitment to serving the people, are transforming India more rapidly than political speeches or government programs ever could.




Jan 19, 2018: Putnam's big Investment in social impact!

Today, Putnam Investments, a Berkshire Hathaway company, and one of the largest asset managers in the world, announced that it would be investing $5 billion into socially responsible investments and impact investments - including startups, publicly-traded companies and portfolio funds.  They will be using their own methodology to determine social responsibility and impact, and will also integrate well-known measures of ESG (environment, social and governance) as part of their analysis.  To date, this is one of the largest asset managers to jump into impact investing and continues the trend whereby impact investing becomes more mainstream.

For India, this will hopefully be part of a long-term windfall of capital available to social innovators and social entrepreneurs that are developing new solutions for the environment and the base of the pyramid.  They are sorely lacking in the capital to experiment and/or scale their programs and companies.  With new funds sprouting up to take advantage of investments like Putnam, its only time before India's BOP entrepreneurs benefit.

Jan 9, 2018: Renewal and hope for the year ahead!


Happy New Year to everyone from Equal Innovation!  It's also the last quarter of the current financial year, when philanthropies and CSR departments across India are scurrying to get grants out the door.  While the calendar year has changed, the issues facing the world remain the same.  2018 will see ongoing discussions about income inequality, climate change and a never-too-late emphasis on ending the harassment of women.  

Equal Innovation is proud to share that a long-time friend, Chetna Sinha of Mann Deshi Mahila Bank, has been named a Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.  She shares the honor with luminaries such as Ginni Rometty, the CEO of IBM, and Christine Lagarde, CEO of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).  Mrs. Sinha leads India's largest bank for women and has supported thousands of women entrepreneurs over the last twenty years.  It is a great honor for one of India's development sector leaders to recognized by her peers worldwide like this.   

Whether its among the elite or in the villages of India, 2018 will be an important year for determining how we treat each other, the quality of the air we choose to breathe, and whether we embrace economic opportunity for all.




Nov 28, 2017: Big problems in education require big thinking


Big problems require big thinking. And based on the findings in the World Bank’s recent World Development Report 2018, which focused on education, India and most of the developing world is facing an educational crisis. Current trends in education funding indicate a simplistic approach to a large and complex problem. By ignoring the fundamental pillar of education, India’s government and social organizations could turn its demographic dividend into a liability.

Today if 100 students enter primary school in India, only 30 of them will finish secondary school.  While the reasons for the drop-outs are varied, the more concerning thing is that the competence gained is below the curriculum taught. According to the report, only 50% of Grade 5 students in Andhra Pradesh could solve math problems at grade level, with many often stuck at a Grade 1 level understanding.

From our vantage point, the funding of infrastructure and instruction seem to be ‘smart’ workaround's at best, while ignoring the fundamental issues. Introducing smart boards, distance learning or apps in class rooms implies an assumed lack of competence in the system and teachers to deliver education effectively. The limited effort to address the systemic issues will result in programs that try in vain to repair the problem, instead of creating a system that grooms young minds effectively.

There is a need for action at many levels - policy, curriculum, teacher training, management and teaching. Efforts to sponsor more structural re-design will yield better long-term outcomes. This includes working with NGOs that help central and state governments improve educational systems. Sometimes the best solution is not always the easiest.



Nov 22, 2017: How NGOs have fundraised effectively during the festive season


This week Americans celebrate Thanksgiving and the spirit of sharing.  It also marks the start of a furious fundraising season when American non-profits, including many of those working internationally, raise a significant portion of their annual funds through retail fundraising campaigns.  It starts next week, with a social-media driven trend called #Giving Tuesday.  Giving Tuesday was a response to the US-based shopping phenomenons called Black Friday and Black Friday, which mark the start of the Christmas shopping season.  In response, social media and non-profits mobilized to remind people to donate to charity and the less fortunate during the holiday season.  In addition, non-profits have historically launched fundraising campaigns by mail, phone and holiday card in December to take advantage of the holiday spirit and the tax benefit in the United States of donating prior to December 31.

India just finished its equivalent of a holiday season with the celebration of Diwali. It is not commercialized in the same way as Christmas in the United States, but it marks the end of several religious, regionally and community holidays across India in September, October and November.  India's NGOs should develop similar fundraising campaigns to take advantage of the charitable nature of India's during their own holiday season.  People are willing to give, but they need to be asked - repeatedly.  This will also reduce the dependence of NGOs on CSR and large philanthropy.  




Nov 8, 2017: Is India's improved 'ease of doing business' ranking going to aid its development


​Recently, I wrote a piece in Forbes about the release of the World Bank's 2018 Doing Business Report.  This report, published annually by the World Bank, measures and ranks the ease of doing business in various countries around the world.  It measures the ease with which individuals can start/stop businesses, get permits, have access to credit and electricity, and protect the rights of investors, among other things.  However, I believe that this measures the wrong things for the 21st century.

India is an unnecessarily difficult country to do business in, no doubt.  So I understand why the Indian government was so excited that the country jumped 30 positions into the top 100 worldwide.  But the Rankings may be measuring the wrong things.  India needs to create millions of jobs. And this won't happen because its easier to register your company.  It will happen with a large, educated workforce and local institutions creating R&D, innovating and building local companies.  The Indian IT sector launched before liberalization, and still became a global leader and made India a technology destination, because what is critical for doing business in 2018 is access to talent, innovation and an educated workforce.




Oct 25, 2017: Tourism as a skilling and livelihood opportunity


Recently, the Government of India released its third wildlife action plan.  Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan released the document on the inaugural day of the Global Wildlife Programme conference on October 2, 2017. Although the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change did not provide much detail, there are apparently 103 conservation actions and 250 projects in the final plan, of which seven conservation actions and 11 projects relate to climate change. This is the first wildlife action plan which incorporates and talks about the effects of climate change on wildlife.  In addition, it accepts the impact of India's rapid development of the last twenty years as having a significant impact on wildlife.

Building India's national parks into research centers and tourist meccas has been discussed for many years.  What is often missing from those discussions is the critical role of private philanthropy.  In the short term, supporting wildlife and national parks will be difficult for the CSR sector.  After all, there is limited marketing and PR value.  However, in the long term, the positive brand equity created through support for national parks, wildlife conservation, and local employment through tourism is almost impossible to achieve through similar philanthropic efforts.  In addition, in other countries, tourism is often one of the largest sectors of employment.  Creating a robust skilling program focused on national park and wildlife tourism will also create positive impact in some of the most remote parts of India.




Oct 17, 2017: The International Labour Organization's view on CSR giving  


The UN’s International Labour Organization released a report in early October, entitled “World Employment and Social Outlook 2017 – Sustainable Enterprises and Jobs,”, which claims that the level of commitment and implementation to CSR is the highest in Western Europe, followed by South Asia, Central/Western Asia, North America. Rounding out the bottom is East Asia and Arab states. 

Already, the report has received significant blow back in North America and East Asia, where companies have long histories of supporting, through CSR and regulatory compliance, CSR and worker training programs.   Indeed, most independent analysts have long believed that Western Europe doesn’t do nearly enough philanthropy.    Indeed, in India, there are multiple American and Japanese CSR efforts, while few European companies have the same presence.

According to the ILO, the public commitments of multinational corporations remains far ahead of their actual commitment of funds, particularly for employment and training-related. The ILO report noted that the MNCs give maximum priority to labor-oriented CSR initiatives that focus on non-discrimination in the workplace, followed by improvement of health and safety and the integration of social factors in the monitoring of the supply chain.




Oct 10, 2017: Fewer Givers with Deeper Pockets


Charitable giving in the United States has started to see a trend that has been prevalent in India for some time now.  It is the fact that nonprofits are increasingly relying on the affluent for support, according to a new study by The Chronicle of Philanthropy.  Only 24 percent of American taxpayers reported on their tax returns that they made a charitable gift in 2015, according to an analysis of data from the  U.S. Internal Revenue Service, which collects taxes in America. A decade earlier that figure routinely reached 31 percent.

With fewer Americans giving to charity, nonprofits are increasingly leaning on the wealthy for support.  In 2015, nearly 75% of the charitable deductions claimed by Americans on their income taxes were from residents who earned $100,000 annually or more; and those earning $200,000 or more accounted for more than half.

Unfortunately, this has been the practice in India for a long time now. Very few NGOs have invested in the creation of diverse, professional fundraising.  Most do not have fundraising teams that utilize direct mail, telemarketing, social media and fundraising campaigns to tap India's growing middle class.  Instead there is a rush to rely on CSR and India's few elite that are philanthropically active.  This is not sustainable, does not create a platform for growth or diversify funding sources for rainy days.




Oct 3, 2017: India's freedom struggle was spurred on by Philanthropy


Most of India is returning to work this morning after a well-deserved long weekend.  Hopefully, you spent some time reflecting on the life and legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, who's birthday we observed on Monday, October 2.   Indeed, India's independence movement is one of the biggest success stories of the philanthropic sector in world history. 

Movements have the potential to be transformative like nothing else.  Large scale social and political change, driven by charismatic, focused leaders that mobilize millions of people,comes around only a few times in our lifetime.  The most recent being the Arab Spring and the US-based Black Lives Matter.  All such movements are funded privately - often informally. There are no grant applications or evaluation consultants.  Just a relentless belief in the cause and a willingness to apply enough pressure to achieve the change the movement seeks for the world.    And yet, none of it is possible without the long-term commitment and support of wealthy families (not corporations or governments). 

On the other hand, many have argued that, at some point, movements must build the infrastructure to sustain.  The Indian National Congress, the African National Congress in South Africa, and the NAACP in the United States all provided the all-important backstop for their respective movements.  Indeed there are many who make the argument that the Arab Spring and Black Lives Matter have not been successful because they never developed institutions, organizations and official agendas to follow.

Fortunately, India can reflect on this question every year on October 2.




Sep 28, 2017: Impact Accelerator Launched in India


Innovation lives across India's development sector.  This week, as Equal Innovation launched its social impact accelerator program, some of India's oldest and most diversified business conglomerates participated and showed us just how innovative they have been.  Often times, we identify innovation with information technology, and associate it with IT firms in Bangalore and Hyderabad.   But a lot of the most innovative thinking around development in India is coming from old-line companies that have deep roots in rural India.  They understand the Indian psyche, have access to disconnected populations, and see innovation around them every day borne of a lack of resources and opportunities.  Their insights and relationships will be critical to scaling any intervention in rural India.  As we continue with the accelerator, we look forward to accessing the deep knowledge of India's companies and connecting it with the modern tools of innovation and commercialization.




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 re-commitment 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.
​​