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January 26, 2021: Skilling for farmers Is missing from this standoff

January 19, 2021: A Post-COVID fundraising opportunity?

A recent poll in the United States showed that nearly 70% of Indian-born NRI’s plan to visit India within a year of being vaccinated for COVID-19.  This is not surprising, as the majority of NRI’s in the United States are Indian-born and have been separated from their families for almost a year now.  Many will take their “ABCD” children with them and make a point to travel a little.  

The return of so many provides a unique opportunity to India’s development sector.  NRIs love visiting their homes, but often get bored after a few days.  There are opportunities for NGOs to create “days of services” for NRIs to volunteer, and site visits to nearby schools and villages to experience the economic and social diversity of India.  This doesn’t pay off immediately, but NRI’s have shown their willingness to give money and raise money once they are personally connected to a program.  The Akshaya Patra Foundation has been giving tours of its kitchen to visitors for years now, and is able to raise $8-$10 million annually in the United States.  

January 12, 2021: What do we do about Social Media

The rioters at the US Capitol added the United States to the growing list of countries were lies and propaganda have resulted in mass violence, destruction and death.  Its happened in India, where WhatsApp has become a tool for attacking minorities, and in Europe and the Middle East, where right-wing fundamentalists (of different faiths) use it to attack refugees, Jews and immigrants.   Rioters and conspiracy theorists roam free online, while on the other hand, private tech companies have become the de-facto public square and yield too much power to silence anyone.  

NGOs, human rights groups and activists have always struggled to fight non-state actors.  Hopefully for many, the malicious side of social media will lead to capacity-building in this space.  While many governments continue to threaten their own citizens, its clear that uninformed mobs, incited by terrorists, conspiracy theorists and agitators outside of power can have similar effects.   Its no longer just about the strongman leader, but the way in which he mobilizes his radicalized mob for free and with ease.

January 5, 2021: Some Predictions for 2021 from Equal Innovation

Happy New Year!  Some predictions on development issues for 2021 from Equal Innovation.  We welcome your thoughts:

  • The Indian diaspora of 20 million is going to use its cash and contacts to get vaccinated in India rather than in their country of residence, either because of incompetence (America today) or discrimination (Gulf countries).   This could effect several million Indians (in India) waiting for the vaccine.
  • Vaccine tracking and cold-chain management will be a big problem in the emerging world, as governments unnecessarily shut out capable private tech companies and prefer to build their own systems
  • ESG investors will start moving towards early-stage startups and technologies in order to achieve impact and away from large public companies that greenwash their work
  • India’s startup scene will accelerate rapidly as young people decide to solve the myriad problems facing India and the world.  A particular emphasis will be placed on sustainability and public debate/journalism/social media.

December 1, 2020: CSR to the Rescue…in Vaccinations?

Globally, the conversation has quickly transitioned to the process by which a COVID-19 vaccine can be equitable distributed to nearly 7 billion people.  Unfortunately many nations had followed the lead of the United States and only supported the production of doses for their own population.  Hopefully one of the first decisions of the Biden Presidency will be to rejoin global efforts to have an equitable distribution of the vaccine.   For nations like India, it will be equally important to figure out the supply chain and logistics of distribution.  

Many have been rightly critical of CSR efforts in India for being narrow in scope and funding.  But this might be a time when that narrow expertise comes in handy.  If CSR and India’s corporates can take responsibility for vaccinating everyone associated with, or living near their factories and office parks, then the Indian government can focus its efforts on India’s rural areas more efficiently.   We keep asking CSR to step up and have an impact – here is their chance.

November 24, 2020: Forgot to Announce Their Plan

The 2020 G-20 Summit came and went last week without any significant announcements or coordinated plans to vaccinate the world and end the COVID-19 pandemic.    It’s easy to blame the Summit’s challenges on the disruptive behavior of President Donald Trump.  But with Trump leaving the White House in 2 months and 2 vaccine candidates on the cusp of being available, there are no excuses left for the lack of coordination among leaders.  Indeed, any plan to produce, distribute and track a coronavirus vaccine will require a Herculean effort by all of the world’s nations and a temporary relaxing of thorny diplomatic issues like intellectual property, trade tariffs and local content requirements.  Prime Minister Modi’s remarks, like many of his counterparts, laid out an admirable vision for a post-COVID-19 world.  Unfortunately, that reality is still too far away.  

November 17, 2020: What’s the Trade Policy?


November 10, 2020: Modi-Biden Show starts in 75 Days

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wasted no time in congratulating US President-elect Joe Biden and Vice-President Elect Kamala Devi Harris.  There was much speculation that Modi preferred Donald Trump because of a perceived personal relationship between the two and the misguided notion that Trump had done more for the US-India relationship.  In reality, the leaders of both nations will always work closely with their elected counterpart.  And India’s leadership already acquainted themselves with Joe Biden and many of his senior advisors from 2014-2016.   The President-elect and Indian Prime Minister know what they are getting in the other.

We hope both leaders use this moment to transform the US-India relationship.  Never before has there been an opportunity for collaboration as on the global eradication of COVID-19.  American innovation + Indian pharmaceutical manufacturing can save the world.  To do it, both leaders will have to quickly work around thorny issues like intellectual property, tariffs and priority in vaccination.  But if they can, we will have a model for US-India trade collaboration to apply to every other industry.  

November 3, 2020: What Will Be US-India Relationship Be Moving Forward

2021 will be a critical year for the US-India relationship and the development of India, depending on the outcome of the US Presidential election today.  As we have reminded readers weekly, our scan of the philanthropy and development sector worldwide reveals scant commitment from funders and NGOs to returning to traditional development goals until COVID-19 has been defeated.  The potential collaboration between the United States and India to defeat COVID-19 could unlock a model for even further collaboration around development and economic growth.

In the short term, American innovation, combined with Indian pharmaceutical manufacturing and cost-efficiency will be critical for the world to produce enough vaccine doses to defeat COVID-19.  In order for this to happen, both nations will need to find short-term work-arounds in the areas of trade, intellectual property and logistics.  But if they can make it work, we might discover permanent models to solving roadblocks in these areas, and further unlock collaboration to fight climate change and boost economic investment.  The Biden and Modi agendas align significantly in the areas of poverty alleviation, and all we need is one victory to get the ball rolling.  

October 27, 2020: India’s “filthy air” – Was he wrong?

For the first time in history, India received mention in the US Presidential debates.  Unfortunately, the three references, all by President Trump, were negative.  Trump referred to India’s “filthy air”, its open pollution despite signing the Paris Accord and its COVID-19 case load.  India was never singled out, but was instead clustered with Russia, China, sometimes Europe, and other nations that Trump believes break the rules at the expense of America.  

Politics aside, was Trump wrong?  Don’t we as leaders of the social sector constantly complain about exactly these things? We complain about air pollution, corporate pollution and India’s struggle to contain COVID-19.   We may not like the messenger at any given time, but the message is truthful.  Perhaps this is an opening that both nations should take advantage of.  Instead of boasting about defense exercises that have marginal benefit, maybe the US President can be on the debate stage in four years boasting about his partnership with India to clean up the air.    

October 20, 2020: Trump or Biden for India’s Development?

As the United States election approaches, many have wondered who is really more aligned to the development needs of India – Biden or Trump?  The leader of the nation has two roles – one is to inspire, while the other is to lead the government.  As a famous European political scientist once commented, “the most conservative political party in the world is the American Republicans.  The second most is the American Democrats”.  

While its true that Trump and Modi share a leadership style – based on the muscular promotion of the perceived majoritarian view, they actually have shared little in common on policy.  The Democrats and BJP are much closer, particularly on policies that impact the poor.  The BJP’s signature initiatives – health insurance, free bank accounts, Aadhar unique ID, Swachh Bharat and Make in India, are all progressive economic policies that involve massive government engagement to empower the poor and rural in India.  This aligns very closely with the progressive economic vision that Joe Biden has laid out for the United States.  

October 13, 2020: Its Only About COVID-19 At the National Level

October 6, 2020: Indian Biotech’s Enter Global Stage

India’s life sciences and biotech sector continues to impress the world with its abilities.  By now we all know how important the Serum Institute will be in vaccinating the world.  And the just-announced Feluda test, to be rolled out by Tata group, will provide a low-cost, paper-based coronavirus test that can be administered to tens of millions daily.  In addition, the Marico Foundation recently provided grants to 3 organizations developing affordable ventilators for Indians.  

Six emerging Indian biotech startups have been invited to compete on the global stage at the M2D2 $200K International Med-tech Forum.  M2D2 is the leading medical device startup program in the world, and the six teams are sponsored by the Deshpande Foundation.  The six groundbreaking ideas from India-based researchers include:

  • ChemBio—Plasmonic fiberoptic absorbance biosensor (P-FAB) technique
  • Cygenica—Oncology targeted delivery
  • Elchemyc—Electro-Chemo Therapy (ECT) treatment for tumor cells
  • Fast Sense—Portable diagnostic kits for complex diseases
  • Mimyk—AR/VR and robotics for surgical training 
  • Nesa—Procedure to treat symptomatic uterine fibroids

September 29, 2020: Social Entrepreneurs Need to be Lean

In recent remarks to students at IIT Roorkee, it became clear that COVID-19 is not phasing India’s young people in their quest to become entrepreneurs.  Many remain committed to making transformational impact in areas like education, skilling and sustainability, even while they are social distanced from their co-founders and faculty.  

It’s time to dust off the old copy of the Lean Startup, and the Mission Model Canvass.  These philosophies were created for entrepreneurs during times of scarcity in 2008 – when global recession shut off debt markets, and philanthropic funding dropped significantly.  These models became mandatory for startups and social entrepreneurs to launch and build traction until they could find funding.  The next year will call for a return to that Lean mentality.  

September 22, 2020: Its UN General Assembly Week

This is UN General Assembly week.  Normally that would mean hundreds of events related to the Sustainable Development Goals and the pace of global development and poverty alleviation.   But the agenda put forward by the global development community this week doesn’t accurately reflect the impact COVID-19 is really having on the world.  A recent report by the Gates Foundation estimates that 37 million people worldwide have been pushed into extreme poverty because of COVID-19 – effectively negating the gains of the last few years.  And as a senior Indian education leader recently reminded me, even if India vaccinates 1 million people a day, it will take nearly 4 years to vaccinate the country.  How many of you believe India can vaccinate 1 million people a day?

Should the SDGs themselves be adjusted for the reality of COVID-19?  The world is already way behind in achieving them, COVID-19 has already set us back further, and there doesn’t appear to be much change in the next 1-2 years.  For the leaders assembled in New York, and for the thousands on Zoom calls discussing development, maybe this is the question to be answered.  How do we pivot our goals and objectives for the new reality?

September 15, 2020: Is Debt the Magical Solution?

During a recent conversation, a Managing Director of a multi-lateral funding agency shared her belief that global agencies will make capital available – through favorable interest rates and accessible lending programs for the next few years to come.   They hope that small business, microfinance and independent workers will all look at debt and long-term low interest rates as a business model to adopt.

The training of business is often the role of civil society.  Will NGOs and philanthropists push the aspiring business leaders in their programs to adopt debt? Is that a responsible position to adopt?   Should NGOs themselves transform into social enterprises, raise debt in order to expand their programming?  We may be at the cusp of a time when the NGO sector rapidly transforms itself.  

September 9, 2020: Innovation for the Workers of the World

In the United States, Monday, September 7 was Labor Day – the American version of May Day, which commemorates the contribution of workers to society.  While these days have often become added holidays from work and school, the importance of the holiday has never been greater.   Many of the greatest innovations and transformations in the world have scaled primarily because they solve an important problem facing the world’s laborers, farmers and industrial workers.

The Green Revolution empowered millions of subsistence and contract farmers to become self-sufficient.  Microfinance was an innovation that provided access to capital to millions of informal workers to create their own livelihood.   And about 75% of new technical innovations relate to manufacturing and industrial work, according to the National Science Foundation.   So while we think of innovation as something done in university labs or gleaming office parks, we must recognize that it is only relevant if the workers around us find it to be so.

September 1, 2020:Financial Assistance for the Long-Haul

In my recent conversation in Forbes with US Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, he raised the importance of greater financial assistance for small business over a sustained period. Krishnamoorthi believes that in the United States, the Congress will need to stay with American small business owners all the way through to the other side of the pandemic until new business models have emerged. 

This is probably true worldwide.  In India’s case, the upside of the coronavirus is the continued move toward electronic payments and the use of government led efforts to move people to the formal economy.  The government can better identify small business and easily provide them with direct cash transfers.  Philanthropy should continue to support skilling and entrepreneurship to help the private sector imagine an economy with more people in the formal sector, formally banking, but changed by coronavirus.

August 18, 2020: Harris Selection Resonates Globally

A historic week in the United States as Kamala Harris will accept the nomination to be the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate this fall.  Her successful election victories in California and her selection by former Vice President Joe Biden is a testament to her political, intellectual and leadership skills.  But it also speaks to the strong assimilation by the Indian American community in the United States over the last 50 years.   Outside of a few right-wing crackpots, nobody is questioning her patriotism or her ability. 

India is also a very large, diverse democracy.  But while President Obama appointed over a thousand people of color to serve as Presidential staff over his eight years, India’s leaders have no similar track record of cultivating leaders outside the majority.  While India has a progressive system of preferences to provide opportunities to under represented communities, it wouldn’t hurt if political and business leaders also identified candidates for leadership in business, academia and policy.  

August 3, 2020: Taking it to the finish line. 

This has been an emerging mantra in philanthropy over the last few months.  Coronavirus and the subsequent economic shutdown have laid bare some of the problems of traditional philanthropy and impact investing.  Specifically, they haven’t solved any problem or identified solutions that have made a major dent.  Despite billions in grants and investments, India still has significant challenges in basic areas of education, health care and economic development.  Many leaders are reassessing their strategy to focus on the finish line. Can we allocate enough money for long enough to actually solve a problem?

Globally, there are only a few organizations that have been able to do this.  Akshaya Patra, the midday meal NGO, is one of the only to do it in India.  They have scaled up to serve several million children daily, and the model is being replicated by partners across the country.  We can conceive of a day where every child in India gets one meal per day and has a reason to attend school.  Its not a panacea, but its a model for how we attack every problem – with focus and a long-term plan.  

July 28, 2020: Time to Build R&D Capacity

Research and development (R&D) underpins India’s security, health, economic strength, and innovation enterprise.  It needs new collaborative initiatives that leverage the nation’s substantial assets; multi-sector partnerships that bring the best ideas, capabilities, and people to the table; and strategies for greatly accelerating progress and removing barriers to innovation. Moreover, India must leverage the full potential of its human resources by overcoming historical barriers that have limited inclusion of individuals in STEM. This can unleash new potential and create pathways to economic prosperity for all, while helping to meet critical workforce needs.  In a time of coronavirus, climate change, urbanization and global economic chaos, these investments will be critical to India’s growth and development.

July 14, 2020: Only Government Can Move as Fast as we Need

Life science and medical devices companies often take over a decade to prove their science, raise capital and deliver an approved vaccine, medication, therapeutic or device to market.  As it relates to COVID-19, we don’t have time for that.  We know that vaccines don’t have much of a business model.  Instead, the government should work with startups and researchers to ensure that their research is funded, and they are adequately compensated for their innovations, while also ensuring that their technologies scale up quickly, and that the world as 7 billion swabs or vaccine doses as fast as we can. 

Our society’s return to normal will probably involve a mix of innovations.   Social distancing was itself an innovation – a social innovation that has had remarkable impact to flatten the curve so far – where it is adhered to.  We will need other innovations in how we live our lives – how we sit at school or work, how we eat, and how we see our physicians and dentists.   And those need to come quickly and scale quickly.

July 6, 2020: Get Your NGO ready for a Vaccine

The surprise announcement by the Indian Council of Medical Research to fast-track a potential COVID-19 vaccine at exponential speed has triggered great debate in India about whether or not its actually feasible to do so, or if it will even be safe to administer.  Our assessment of the regulatory and political environment worldwide is that regulatory agencies from the US to Europe and India will not relax their approval requirements – but will expedite trials, allow for combinations of trials and fast-track those treatments that include pre-approved ingredients and uses.  

For philanthropy and civil society, this portends a quick ramp up of COVID-19 related community programs.  As with all such interventions, civil society will be called upon to vaccinate many Indians – particularly those in peri-urban and rural India.   There are some great models to follow here.  Logistimo is a Bangalore-based social enterprise that tracks 60 million vaccine and medicine deliveries throughout rural India.  KnowYourMeds is a mobile app that will alerts patients if they are at-risk to react adversely to a COVID-19 treatment, and the Wadhwani Initiative on Sustainable Healthcare (WISH) has turned around over 600 primary health clinics in rural India to work more effectively.  Philanthropy and civil society must scale up these types of solutions so that Indian citizens are quickly and effectively treated for COVID-19.  

June 30, 2020: Adjusting to less Global Migration

What do the sudden limits on global migration mean for development?  Air India is flying plane loads of Indian migrant laborers back from the UAE.  Many Gulf nations have promised to reduce their reliance on foreign labor.  The United States stopped several visa programs, including the controversial H1-B program that provided opportunities for thousands of Indians to work abroad, gain experience and build assets.  

It is our opinion that neither nation is likely to permanently close its doors to foreign workers.  But there is no doubt that even a 1-2 year stoppage will have a measurable impact on India.  The loss of remittances will hit some states hard, particularly those with little private industry in which to place those returned workers. And the loss of access to the latest technology will hamper India’s own IT industry in the short term, even though it has the capability to catch up.

June 22, 2020: Global Poverty Could Surge Past 1 Billion

India has passed 425,000 cases of COVID-19, putting it well on its way to third place worldwide, behind the United States and Brazil.  At the same time, India’s talented population has mobilized to help their fellow Indians.   Women’s Self-Help Groups have shifted to produce personal protective equipment (PPE) – face masks, shields and scarfs.  And India’s researchers have nearly 100 treatments in the pipeline for COVID-19, second only to the United States in research pathways.  

But India faces the same challenge as the United States – a model for scaling up innovation that relies on the private sector and the importance of profit maximization.  COVID-19 treatments and protective material need to be scaled up rapidly with government and private sector support.  We can learn from the defense and health care industries, where the largest, and often only, purchaser, is the government, but a private sector thrives.   It is a model that can work to rapidly scale up treatments without destroying India’s burgeoning, but fragile, private startup and R&D ecosystem.

June 16, 2020:Why Self-Study Is Such an Important Skill

Equal Innovation is proud to tell you more about a book project involving one of our own summer associates, Sophie Oestergaard of Yale University. 

Over 1.2 billion students have been subject to school closures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to UNESCO*. Learn Better at Home is written to support the vast numbers of students worldwide as they meet new educational challenges, particularly those who are not receiving as much guidance from their schools or families.  Learn Better at Home offers guidance to students as they face an increased focus on self-study while learning from home.

Before writing Learn Better at Home, the authors surveyed schools in order to determine the biggest challenges students were experiencing during lock down. They discovered that many students struggled with self-study including motivation, setting goals, and staying focused. After market analysis, the authors discovered there was no comprehensive, in-depth, student-written book to address this. They cover key tools, tips, and methods for success in learning from home. To illustrate the techniques, Learn Better at Home offers three subject-specific self-study examples, including mathematics and English literature. The book is designed to help students formulate and fulfill their personalized self-study aims: whether that be to succeed in exams or just to learn for enjoyment.

Learn Better at Home believes that this is the world’s first student-written e-book on self-study as a whole. The authors have all had extensive experience of self-study at the secondary school and university level. The book isn’t just about habits, or motivation, or exams. Instead, it aims to touch on all the main things students might want to know, whilst offering an empathetic viewpoint from authors who have ‘been there’.

Today’s students are tomorrow’s founders and innovators. The school system too often locks the disadvantaged out of opportunities, even in the best of the times, and Learn Better at Home is determined to do its part in reducing the educational inequality that is likely to be made worse by the COVID-19 outbreak.  All proceeds from the fundraiser are donated to The Life You Can Save’s COVID-19 Fund. This fund sends money to COVID-19 charity efforts that are independently evaluated as likely to provide the greatest positive impact. 

June 8, 2020: Is India spiking because of better testing?

Over the weekend, India surpassed Spain in the number of infections and became the fifth-worst affected country in the world.   Given the coming monsoons and the ramp-up in testing, its only a matter of time before India rises even higher on this list.  If that increase is the result of widespread testing, then at least Indians can better understand where they stand and how well government policy is working.  

But a spike in cases after this week’s re-opening will cause widespread concern and calls for a second shutdown.  Civil society, which is already providing a disproportionate amount of logistical support to serve India’s poor, will need even greater resources the second time around to support migrants and more traditional causes.  Now is the time for India’s wealthy and foundations to go all in to support these efforts.   

June 1, 2020 The Challenges to Online Learning?

A lot of discussions in the education space are centering around the concept of seamless learning.  For the next few years, the “new normal” in education may be a standardized mix of classroom and virtual learning.  The child will need to move seamlessly between both mediums to learn, communicate and be evaluated.

EnglishHelper, a leading provider of English language software to India’s government schools, began creating such an infrastructure for its programs soon after the advent of COVID-19, as have other educational NGOs and social enterprises.   But for this to work, governments have about a year to really understand what works, and what does not, in online learning. 

May 28, 2020 Is Drastic Change Necessary?

Is this the right time to transform our strategies for societal impact? Or do we wait a year or so until we have better data about the impact of COVID-19 on our public health, and on sectors like SME and education.  These are some of the questions government agencies, funders, NGOs and startups are wrestling with.

As Ashok Kamath, CEO of Akshara Foundation, recently pointed out, most of India’s children lacked access to online content even before COVID-19.  The crisis just laid bare a growing inequity in education.   Even though the data about online learning is still nascent, there is no doubt it needs to happen.  Is it better to go all-in or wait until we understand how far and how fast to go?

May 19, 2020 The Power of Public Innovation

The coordinated efforts between industry, government and philanthropy to fight COVID-19 might signal a new model for scaling up innovation.  As I have argued before in Forbes, there are public goods, such as education and basic health care, that must be available to all.  Because of COVID-19, we are having a conversation about what those public goods are.  Now, it’s not just vaccines and the ability to attend school, its also Internet access and virtual education. 

It seems like the private sector is embracing this model.  Innovation still comes from the academic and private sectors with research support from the government.  But the commercialization and scale up is defined and demanded by the government to serve the greater public.  At least in the vaccine space, private biotech companies seem fine with this.  Hopefully we can extend it to education, agriculture and other sectors where we need innovation and rapid scale up.

May 12, 2020 Talent Available Now….Use it

One of the few positive opportunities arising out of the COVID-19 quarantine/lock down situation is the availability of high-quality human capital.  There are millions of really smart people sidelined and stuck at home right now.   Some have unfortunately lost their jobs, while others are furloughed, have had internships and contracts cancelled, or are underutilized because they are stuck at home.

In addition, everyone would like to give back right now.  NGOs, CSR and impact startups should consider tapping into this pool of talent right now.  They are looking for something to do more than compensation for the most part.  Using them for analysis, strategic planning, creating content and teaching skills to your team are all possible now at a very low cost.   The social sector has always relied on volunteers and donated services  – now perhaps we can do it at scale.

May 5, 2020 World Considers India’s Experiences

India is having an unusual impact on global efforts to stop COVID-19.  We are not speaking of the actual state of the coronavirus in India.  Instead, two Indian experiences are weighing heavily on governments in their COVID-19 response planning.  The first is contact tracing.  India developed a unique contact-tracing program in its efforts to eradicate polio a decade back.  The rigor with which India completed that program in its final years has become a model for tracing COVID-19.  

The other experience in policy-oriented. For decades India has not recognized intellectual property for medicines it deems critical to having a healthy population.  This policy has brought significant criticism towards India from global pharma.  But today, health-care innovation as a public good is an increasingly popular viewpoint.  We need to scale treatments for COVID-19 rapidly, and more leaders are willing to push intellectual property and shareholder rights out of the way to get there. 

April 27, 2020 Thinking Beyond A Vaccine

If we are to return to normal in anything less than 2-3 years, its time to start looking at innovations and research breakthroughs other than vaccines and push them along as fast as we can.  A vaccine for COVID-19 will hopefully be available within 18-24 months, pending fast-track approvals from government agencies and rapidly organized clinical trials. There are some promising vaccine candidates from companies like Gilead and Moderna.   And in my recent article, I highlight a slew of other innovations to address COVID-19.  

Do you know of innovations coming out of Indian universities and hospitals? Or social programs that have shown success by NGOs and government agencies at addressing this public health crisis?  Equal Innovation would like to know.  Indian NGOs have done amazing work to transform their self-help groups into an army of PPE production line workers. Are there other such stories about low-cost ventilators, medications or treatments?  Let’s share with the world as fast as we can.  

April 20, 2020 Vegetarianism Will End Pandemics…

Vegetarianism and harmonious living with nature. These two philosophies appear critical to the long-term management of viruses and pathogens.  Biodiversity can keep pathogens from leaving the wild and entering human society. The “virus spillover risk” from wildlife to people rises as contact between them increases.  Dr. Lee Hannah, senior scientist at Conservation International, identifies the following steps as critical to future pandemic management

  1. Stockpile masks, respirators and PPE
  2. Build a testing infrastructure that can quickly be stood up
  3. Ban the global wildlife trade, including open animal markets
  4. Take care of nature

The first two we know.  The last two are increasingly important.  All the recent global pandemics – SARS, MERS, Ebola and now COVID-19 have transmitted from animals to humans.  The most obvious short-term solution is a vegetarian diet.   The long-term solution is a better plan to fight climate change and take care of our planet.

April 14, 2020 What is your Jugaad Innovation for COVID-19?

The old phrase, “necessity is the mother of invention”, is proving true again as the world deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.  Jugaad innovation’s are occurring all over the world in a desperate attempt to prevent, treat or kill the virus.   Mann Deshi Mahila Bank, a women’s bank in Maharashtra, developed a car-wash like machine where individuals are sprayed with disinfectant as they walk through from the street into the bank branch.   NGOs across India are sewing masks and protective gear.  Social distancing is itself a social innovation.

One area where more innovation is needed is government.  Right now governments are following a well-worn path of providing stimulus payments directly to individuals or concessional loans to companies.  In the 21st century, this model is no longer efficient.  Most Indians still work in the informal sector, even if they are formally recognized now through their Aadhar ID.  But without strong data on personal or business income, the government is spreading money around without targeting the most honest and the most needy.  And new financial institutions, from microfinance to fintech, are often sidelined by the government, which prefers lending through public sector banks.  The next round of stimulus, whether in the US, Europe or India, should reflect these new realities.

April 7, 2020 Vaccines Are a Public Good

Recently in Forbes, I wrote about the importance of innovation in public goods.  Societal challenges require transformative solutions, and the last few weeks have been a reminder about the importance of innovation for the public good.  COVID-19 has shown up and impacted civilization faster and more swiftly than anything we have seen in a century. While the world has a robust innovation pipeline and thousands of institutions developing innovators and entrepreneurs, we don’t have similarly strong pathways for innovators creating public goods in areas like vaccine development or education technology. The results have been on display over the last few weeks – shotgun starts to create a COVID-19 vaccine, coronavirus tests and treatments created on the fly, and parents frantically struggling to figure out which online education tools to use for their suddenly home-bound children. 

India has expertise on both ends of the spectrum.  It has research hospitals and universities that are part of the global effort for a vaccine.  But it is also one of the few countries that can also think about scale and producing the vaccine at a very low cost.  If there was ever a time for jugaad innovation, it would be now.

March 31, 2020 COVID-19 Dominates Priorities Again

During India’s current lock down, not enough charities and NGOs have taken steps to certify themselves as providers of essential services.  While IT companies and others have convinced the government that their work is essential, the providers of public health, food and charity for the poor are shut down.  We now have countless stories of patients stuck at home without access to medical care or medication.  And of migrants and children without food.   NGOs and charity’s, along with their CSR colleagues, should push the government for greater financial support and flexibility to work during this lock down.  They are the most essential.

In addition, CSR should consider rapid grants to the IIT’s and AIIMS’ to conduct research around COVID-19.  Indian researchers may have insights that are unique to the Indian population, and experience from India’s battles with viral infections that could add perspective to the treatment of coronaviruses.   Researchers worldwide are moving at a rapid speed to find treatments.  India’s collective expertise could bring additional knowledge and lower cost to the table.  

March 24, 2020 COVID-19 Response Is Charity Above All

Citizen philanthropy and charity for all are the themes of the day.  As we enter another week of the global coronavirus crisis, citizens around the world are self-mobilizing to stem the spread of COVID-19.  In general, governments have reacted disappointingly to this crisis.  Some of taken excessive authoritarian steps, while others have shown incompetence by not testing their citizens enough and not ramping up national production of medical supplies.

But the people of the world have shown their true charitable selves.  Worldwide, people are pushing their friends and family to practice social isolation.  They are offering to cook, clean and drive neighbors to the grocery or doctor’s office, and they are sewing surgical masks at home for strapped hospitals.  The COVID-19 crisis has shown the true nature of people is not fear and greed, but charity and community.  Let’s hope it continues through these trying times.

March 17, 2020 Philanthropy Stands Out During COVID-19

The two communities we work most closely with – startups and philanthropy, are both mobilizing quickly to help the world cope with COVID-19.   And that’s important, because investors will not, and governments often cannot move nimbly to pivot for the long term.  Startups and emerging technology companies in the biotech space are promising vaccines and treatments in 9-18 months.  A biotech here in Cambridge, MA plans to begin human testing on a coronavirus vaccine in a few weeks – much less than the five years it often takes to begin human testing.  

Philanthropy too has led the way – working with NGOs focused on supporting hourly wage earners, workers in the sharing economy, migrant labor communities, older adults, people with disabilities and other communities vulnerable to the physical health, mental health and economic impacts of the pandemic.  The support has provided much needed capital in the short term while everyone adjusts to this crisis.

March 9, 2020 Coronavirus and Global Poverty Are Linked

The hysteria surrounding COVID-19 has shrouded the important role that poverty has played in many recent pandemics.   Whether this becomes a full-blown pandemic or endemic to specific countries once we know how to control the virus is unknown.  But we do know that versions of the corona virus have jumped from animals to humans and therefore, exhibit properties that we have not seen before.  

Why are these viruses able to jump? Poverty and poor public health.  In India, as in China, we know that millions keep their livestock in their homes for fear of thieves and violence.   A decent proportion of illness in rural India stems from this living arrangement.  In China, the virus appears to have jumped to people at a public meat market.  The lack of regulations in the developing world about preserving and selling meat, fish and poultry puts millions at risk every day.  By addressing poverty and public health better, we reduce the risk of more pandemics. 

March 3, 2020  Corona Virus and the Legacy of Swachh Bharat

So far India has been relatively spared from COVID-19 (the corona virus).   But countless commentators have raised their concerns about India’s ability to cope with a public health crisis such as corona virus.   India has done a good job identifying cases and closing the doors at international airports to keep cases out.  And international authorities fighting the spread of the virus, from the WHO to country-level agencies, are mimicking India’s successful push to eliminate polio a decade ago as model for how to track down cases in the developing world.     

If the virus does reach India in numbers, it will also be a test of the vaunted Swachh Bharat program.  A key component of the program was to improve sanitation habits across India.  While billions were spent building toilets in rural areas, several billion was also spent, by Government and private philanthropy, to improve sanitation infrastructure at public facilities and to educate the masses about clean habits.  If India can staunch the spread of the virus, the program will have validated itself.  This will be a huge victory for the Government and society overall.

February 25, 2020 What Comes After Namaste and Howdy?

This week’s short visit to India by US President Trump is high on spectacle on low on substance.  That can be okay if its a means to carry dialogue through difficult times, and to continue to showcase the growing relations between two nations.  But its hard to tell where the substance in this relationship is going.

The US-India bilateral relationship has had, for twenty years, the potential to be the most transformative partnership created in our lifetimes.  But the word potential sticks.  We are still talking about civilian nuclear energy, a few defense deals and those Harley Davidson’s.  Meanwhile China and Mexico, with whom the US has had much fiercer trade clashes, are on track to have much larger trading partnerships with the US.  Why aren’t we talking about big issues, like infrastructure, health care in India and immigration?  Isn’t this where the big opportunities lie?

February 18, 2020 Social Innovation is Hard

On a recent trip to India, I was both encouraged and discouraged at the state of innovation for solving India’s challenges.  On the one hand, there was tremendous entrepreneurial energy in places like the Deshpande Foundation’s Development Dialogue, and at the Atal Innovation Mission in Delhi.  Private organizations of all types are launching programs to support social entrepreneurs and scale new solutions. 

On the other hand, innovation is hard, and many funders seem to be losing patience.  Some are shifting towards “innovative finance” – or finding private funding for successful public-sector programs.  While this is not a bad thing, we remain skeptical that enough financing is available for the challenges we face at their current cost and program level.  If investors start showing a willingness to scale the way they have an Uber or Oyo…then maybe, we will see change.

February 5, 2020: Insights from Development Dialogue Conference

Last weekend I had the privilege of attending the Deshpande Foundation’s 13th annual Development Dialogue, a conference I helped launch back in 2008.  As usual, I came away inspired, but also more aware of some big trends in Indian philanthropy and development programming.  Some insights are:

-The skilling sector has learned much from the last five years, including the importance of long-term measurement, not short-term placement information.  The sector has also moved towards skills development that is career-defining, rather than task-oriented.

-The philanthropic and CSR sectors are finally willing to provide more funds for capacity building to NGOs.  This is a welcome change from the straight-jacket, program-based approach of CSR to date.

-Technology platforms remain a challenge for NGOs.  Each one is building their own, and data is not being shared.  

Please share with us your insights on these trends.

January 28, 2020 The Importance of Philanthropy to Peace

Monday, Jan. 27th marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a commemoration of the systematic killing of 6 million people of the Jewish faith from 1933-1945 by the Nazi government of Germany.   Since then, philanthropy, grassroots activists and public funds have played a crucial role in educating the world about the horrors of the Holocaust and keeping its memory alive so that future generations do not have to live through a similar experience.

Unfortunately, humanity continues to behave badly, whether its in Syria, Myanmar or several other places in the world.  For vibrant and diverse democracies like India, civil society efforts to build community must be supported by philanthropy far more than they are.  Its a tough topic, with political backlash probable. But if political and ethnic strife in India is to be overcome, a robust civil society will lead the charge.  

January 20, 2020 How Can I Engage the UN SDGs?

Congratulations to the Deshpande Foundation on being named a regional hub for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals!  It is one of the first private philanthropic organizations worldwide to be engaged with the UN in this way.  Through this partnership, the Foundation will share their Sandbox model with other philanthropic organizations, companies and large NGOs.  The Sandbox, based in Hubbali, Karnataka, is a unique development model which focuses on problem-solving through local leadership development, partnerships, innovation and entrepreneurship.  It has already been replicated in India.  

The UN SDGs, as most people know, are very ambitious goals for the planet and its people to be achieved by 2030.  Signed by over 190 governments, the goals aim to eliminate poverty, mitigate climate change and address major societal challenges through mass mobilization of people, organizations and resources.  While governments have made plans to achieve the SDGs, they are often missing local partners who are aligned to national policy.  The Deshpande Foundation Sandbox is one example of how non-governmental organizations can participate in the process.

January 14, 2020: We Need Innovation For Climate Change

Worldwide, governments are struggling to effectively respond to critical threats – whether its the wildfires of Australia or the earthquakes in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.  As I described in Forbes last week, The US government has done a miserable, unimaginative job in Puerto Rico for the last several years. In Australia, the fires are just overwhelming a small country.

In both cases, part of the challenge is the lack of solutions that can be scaled to address such overwhelming problems.  There are few new solutions being developed for clean water, emergency services or modern agriculture relevant to the Caribbean.  And worldwide, there is little research funding for wild fires, even though we hear about them every day. Dedicated funds for innovation-driven reconstruction could bring more solutions quickly to needy global citizens.

December 17, 2019: The Future of DFID in India

DFID and USAID are important multilateral funding agencies with big footprints in India.   In the case of DFID, the recent British election call into question the future of the agency.  Will it become part of the British Foreign Office, or remain independent and able to take a long-term view towards development?  A similar apprehension surrounds USAID and its future state – one that we will understand better in early 2021.  

Sometimes, these multi-lateral agencies have pushed the boundaries of development, as with their funding for Development Bonds.   Other times, they have provided important money to scale up interventions launched by others. In any case, multilateral funding is important to India, and here is to hoping that domestic politics can see that – in India, Europe and America.

December 10, 2019: 20% of Indians want to be Entrepreneurs!

Recent data confirms that Indians are as entrepreneurial as the citizens of any other nation in the world.  The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor estimates some 20% of Indians (aged between 18 and 64 years) aspire to become entrepreneurs in the next three years, while more than 11% are already nascent entrepreneurs.  And overall, about 63.7% of people in India consider entrepreneurship to be a desirable career choice, against the global average of 62.4%.

To date, the conversation has been dominated by two ends of the spectrum – the high growth tech startups exemplified by Flipkart, and the women micro-entrepreneurs of rural India.   The results of the GEM study confirm that there is great scope for Indian entrepreneurship beyond the extremes. With the right policy framework, a culture of innovation, and access to capital, India can build strong, growth-oriented businesses across sectors that are tied to the formal economy and able to create high-quality jobs across India.

December 3, 2019: The Importance of #GivingTuesday

In the West, #GivingTuesday has become an important day for charities and NGOs to raise money from the general public.  This unofficial holiday always falls on the Tuesday after the US holiday of Thanksgiving (today), and has grown into an antidote to the rampant consumerism of the Christmas holiday season.  

It’s a powerful idea that all countries and cultures can replicate.   #GivingTuesday is a great way to leverage Indians growing social media presence and mobile banking adoption for impact and development.  For Indian NGOs that are just beginning their professional fundraising, #GivingTuesday is a good way to jump straight past telemarketing and direct mail fundraising.  

November 26, 2019: How Mobile Banking Will Transform

The startup world is abuzz with news that India’s leading mobile banking company, PayTM, recently raised $1 billion from leading investors Softbank and Ant Financial.  Softbank, you may recall, has backed many of the world’s largest consumer startups, including Uber and WeWork.  

The raise is a vote of confidence for the company, but also for mobile banking in India.  As we know, one of the unplanned side effects of demonetization was the mass movement of nearly 300 million Indians to mobile banking.  PayTM and its investors clearly believe that several hundred million more will make the move in coming years. This, combined with the India Stack strategy to create mobile apps for Indians, and government plans towards e-governance, could truly move India to a digital economy in a decade.  

November 13, 2019: The Role of Philanthropy in tense times

Last week, we implored philanthropy, CSR and impact investors to invest in technologies to alleviate the terrible air pollution in Delhi, and India overall.   The problems of climate change and pollution will mostly require technological solutions that are then adopted through social change. 

But the recent court ruling regarding the Ayodhya temple site highlights the need for continued efforts around community building, interfaith dialogue and conflict resolution.  This is one area where philanthropy and CSR have been active and engaged. As we enter some uncertain times, a continued focus on strong communities will be just as important as technology and skills building. 

November 5, 2019: How Would Gandhi Build His Movement Today?

The 3rd article in my series on Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary is in Forbes below.  But first…The poor air quality in Delhi is a ready made problem for Indian philanthropy to take leadership on.  Delhi and Gurgaon are home to nearly every major Indian company, the Fortune 500 and India’s own Public Sector Enterprises.  That makes for over 1000 companies with CSR programs and an important stake in keeping their local employees healthy and productive.  Millions of employees in all.

There are opportunities to take leadership on technological innovation through research funding to universities around clean energy, more efficient vehicles, devices and homes, and medicine. And there is massive opportunity to fund community outreach programs to reduce exposure to poor air quality, live healthier lives and improve congestion or use of pollutants in every day life.  In the West, philanthropy plays an important role in showing which programs work at relative scale and then advocating for government to implement more broadly. India should be no different.

October 29, 2019: Happy Diwali!

Happy Diwali and Sal Mubarak to all the readers of the Equal Innovation Newsletter!  We are honored that you have chosen to read our newsletter and engage with us. Wishing you and yours an IMPACTFUL Diwali holiday season!

October 23, 2019: Traumatic Injury as a Leading Cause of Death

What determines our development priorities?  The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals were developed through a process that included local stakeholders, advocates and NGOs alongside governments and funding agencies.   While we may not achieve the goals by 2030, they certainly reflect the areas where much work is being done.

But what about the areas left out?  Currently, traumatic injury – from car accidents, gun violence and other injuries, is the leading causes of death worldwide for people under the age of 50.  Should we be putting resources into preventing distracted driving and vehicle injuries as the world gains more vehicles and mobile phones at the same time? Perhaps the SDGs should be flexible, and change as problems arise.

October 16, 2019: Why the World Bank Meetings are Worthless

A few weeks ago, we had the UN General Assembly, and a whirlwind of meetings associated with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.  This week, the World Bank and IMF hold their annual meetings in Washington, DC. The same crowd of globe-trotting NGOs, activists, thought-leaders and media tend to attend both weeks. They are either based in the United States or come from organizations with resources to send representatives.  Usually its where they find the resources…

For the last two years, these meetings have made colossally-little progress on development challenges.  There is precious little participation by private philanthropy and the corporate sector, and very few opportunities for innovative organizations to gain traction.   Social entrepreneurs and researchers are better off reaching out to high-net worth families searching for investment opportunities than wasting 2 weeks with the global elite at this point.  

October 9, 2019:  Celebrating Gandhi’s 150th Birthday

In Forbes recently, I published the 2nd in a series of articles about Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership and how he would be viewed as a “social entrepreneur” today.   While we don’t often associate Gandhi and entrepreneurship, the comparison is apt. He was not an elected leader or head of government, but he did lead an organization, the Indian National Congress, that scaled and mobilized millions of people to achieve social and political change.

While there will never be another Gandhi, it is worth looking again at the tenets of his leadership philosophy, and how social entrepreneurs today can continue to learn from his example.  Our values are clearly different today than in 1947, but all leaders can learn from his commitment, dedication and use of unique tools to mobilize the nation.

September 25, 2019:  Howdy, Modi. Why Aren’t You Talking About Rural India?

On Sunday, September 22, Prime Minister Modi spoke to 50,000 Indian Americans in Houston, Texas.  Most people have focused on the synergies between Modi’s and Trump’s populism and the transition in Kashmir.  A more interesting discussion should surround Modi’s investment in rural India – from sanitation to electrification and skilling.  

The Prime Minister discussed how hundreds of millions of Indians now have gas connections for clean cooking, electrification in their villages, access to toilets, skilling programs and access to capital.  The question economists should be explaining is whether or not the Prime Minister is focused on the right things – or whether the Western consensus, about reducing regulation and boosting top-line economic growth, would have been a better approach. 

September 11, 2019: When 15 seems bigger than 150

We are sitting in between two important milestone’s for India’s development.  October 2 marks the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth.  This momentous occasion is being marked throughout India with workshops, conferences and commemorations around Gandhi’s life and achievements.  

August marked the 15th anniversary of the publication of “Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid” by Dr. CK Prahalad.  Although its a smaller milestone compared to the birth of Gandhi, Dr. Prahalad’s book, and the subsequent Nobel Prize to Muhammad Yunus, really transformed development thinking in India.  The last fifteen years have been about scale, not small is beautiful, and about business models, not just community empowerment.  

July 23, 2019: If I Can Be Helpful – Of course You Can!

“If I can be helpful, let me know”.  While President Trump may have been sincere in the offer he made yesterday to get involved in the various conflicts between India and Pakistan, it was not a formal offer of mediation.  The widespread coverage the Indian media afforded this passing comment reflects a lack of understanding about diplomacy and the American President’s style of communication.  Don’t hold your breath.

But the comment could easily have been made by a leader of India’s business and philanthropic community.  Funding for peace and conflict resolution is woefully low in India. Some of the largest line items in public sector budgets are related to national defense, class/caste concerns and policing.  Small efforts that resolve internecine conflicts across India would unlock more capital for education, health care and rural livelihood than anything else. We have seen this succeed in other sectors – the Green Revolution and the eradication of polio both required third parties to build trust among communities for the greater good.   

July 9, 2019: The Social Stock Exchange Doesn’t Work

The social stock exchange is an idea that has been around for a long time.  And there is a reason it has not succeeded – even in countries with much more developed capital markets like the United States and European Union.  In the private sector, there is a very clear measure of a publicly-traded company’s success – earnings per share.  No matter what the company, product or service, its shares can be valued the same way, an, bought and sold on a common platform. 

In this way, NGOs and social enterprises are more like private tech startups. They are under-resourced, understaffed, and fighting against established players, regulations and culture.  The objectives of NGOs, social enterprises and tech startups are also the same – to create big change in society.  But they are not big enough, or liquid enough, to trade “shares” with the general public and meet the expectations for growth or impact that “investors” seek. What is needed is much, much, much more philanthropic capital that is patient, unrestricted and willing to bet on innovative technologies or passionate social entrepreneurs.    

June 18, 2019: India needs to be better to Allies

The relationship between the United States and India, which has been stagnant for the last two years, is about to slide in the wrong direction with the expected announcement of tariffs by India on US products.  This was, of course, in retaliation for the United States’ decision to revoke India’s tariff benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences.  India had been the largest beneficiary of the GSP, with $6.3 billion of its goods eligible for preferential duties under the program in 2018. 

While this does not directly impact philanthropy or development in India, it should be noticed that the Indian style of policy management has left it with few friends in the United States beyond the Indian diaspora, who yield little influence with the current Administration.  Natural allies, including multinational corporations, global NGOs and philanthropies, have always had difficulty operating in India. They aren’t about to waste their political capital to help India.  As a result, millions of philanthropic dollars have stayed away from India the last few years, and now, due to the ensuing tariff war, important tech transfer in areas like health care and manufacturing will slow down as well.   

​Jul 24, 2018:  Is This India’s Century of Philanthropy?

The time is now for Indian philanthropy to invest in alternative energy distribution – whether its solar, water-powered or wind.  American foreign policy towards Iran and Russia portends a precarious global energy market for India, specifically.   Already there are reports that India is being pressured to reduce its reliance on oil and gas from certain countries in the world, not just Iran.  While India, as a nation, may be able to absorb such a shock, the 1 billion + living in the informal economy will certainly suffer disproportionately. 

For India to become energy independent, a lot of risk capital will be required.  Philanthropy and CSR are the best capital for this.  Investments in rural solar and wind technologies, off-grid distribution solutions and training programs for energy industries can all go far towards leveraging India’s assets and reducing its dependence on the whims of global geopolitics.  Today, nearly 20% of the startups worldwide are focused on alternative energy generation and distribution.  Many are focused on emerging markets.  Rather than wait for investors, who require a clear path to profitability, CSR and philanthropy can be the source of funds to test and validate these technologies. 

​Jul 18, 2018:  What Difference Has CSR Made Anyway?

There is a robust debate going on right now in Indian development circles about the efficacy of corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs.  There have been recent reports that Indian companies are indeed donating 2% of profits to worthy NGOs or towards their own corporate foundations.  Others say that the math simply does not add up – the aggregation of NGO financial reports, CSR projects outlined in corporate reports and data from the Ministry of Corporate Affairs simply does not add up to 2% of profits of India’s publicly-traded companies.   The truth is somewhere in between.  At the individual corporate level, many of India’s business houses have developed robust CSR programs over the last five years.  But in aggregate, India Inc. is still short of the expectations set forth by the 2013 Companies Act legislation.

One thing is for sure.  Whatever the CSR departments are doing – none of them have moved the needle.  India’s problems remain large and complex.  Philanthropy remains conservative and less focused on impact than it should be.  There is not one CSR-led initiative that has become a global model for development in the last five years.  The scope of India’s problems require constant experimentation with new models until the right one is found, funded and scaled. 

​Jul 10, 2018:  Transforming Ideas Into Solutions: The Role of Innovation in Social Impact

Equal Innovation’s 2018 Report: “Transforming Ideas Into Solutions: The Role of Innovation in Social Impact“, was recently cited on CNBC India during a segment about the fifth anniversary of the Companies Act.  In this report, we highlight the importance of innovation, new technology and business models to solve the great challenges facing India.  In addition, we showcase the work of five of India’s largest companies to use their CSR funds to think “out of the box” and support new approaches that could be transformational.  

Jul 3, 2018: India’s Advantage for the Youth Bulge & Job Creation

Last week, Equal Innovation’s Nish Acharya spoke alongside President Michel Aoun of Lebanon and UN Under Secretary General Dr. Ali Alhakim at a UN Ministerial Conference focused on the role of technology in job creation.  The conference came out of a report created by Equal Innovation for UNESCWA highlighting the potential for technology and innovation to drive job creation and economic growth in the Arab region.  Ministers from across the region spoke about the challenges to diversification from oil and gas, or to rebuild in a post-conflict society.

India is also struggling to create jobs for its youth bulge.  But it has two advantages over the Arab region or other developing regions.  First, as a singularly large nation, it provides NGOs and entrepreneurs with the opportunity to scale under one set of rules.  This will only be easier when the GST implementation is complete.  In the next 10 years, it will also have completed the “India Stack”, or the ambitious effort to connect people through Aadhar, online banking, mobile apps and government benefits.  Developing this indigenous platform will help India’s development sector to far more rapidly connect with its working class and poor constituents.

Jun 26, 2018: McKinsey study – India most Solar Home System ready

According to a recently released report from the consultancy Mckinsey & Co, India is one of the “most ready” nations for solar home systems, or solar power systems built for individual homes.  The nation has good off-grid regulatory infrastructure in place, a good business environment, financing mechanisms and a large consumer base.

India did not get to this point overnight. Global philanthropy played an important role in creating the solar industry in India.  Globally, solar energy research has been funded by foundations, non-profits and governments for decades.  More recently, the success of companies in India like Selco, which has received public, private and philanthropic capital, have shown that rural Indian consumers will invest in solar energy systems.   Indian philanthropy has an opportunity to be at the forefront of creating multiple new industries for the working class and base of the pyramid.

Jun 19, 2018: Trade War Effect on Farmers and Innovation

On Tuesday, India announced that it would increase import tariffs on 30 items from the United States totaling $240 million, in retaliation against tariffs imposed on aluminium and steel imports by the United States.  While small compared to the trade war developing between the United States and China, there are certain items included in this list, such as legumes, that will directly affect small farmers in both countries.  

What is more concerning is the possibility that the next round of tariffs and trade restrictions will include technology transfer and intellectual property that is critical to India’s growth and development.  There is a lot of innovation in areas like health care, energy, environment, and agriculture that can benefit India if transferred correctly from the United States (or elsewhere).  Hopefully, the trade war doesn’t get farther than steel and Harley Davidson’s.

Jun 12, 2018: Are you Aware of the Latest Technologies in Your Sector?

​Equal Innovation recently released its 2018 Report: “Transforming Ideas Into Solutions: The Role of Innovation in Social Impact”.  In this report, we highlight the importance of innovation, new technology and business models to solve the great challenges facing India.  In addition, we showcase the work of five of India’s largest companies to use their CSR funds to think “out of the box” and support new approaches that could be transformational.  

And there is still time to sign up for Equal Innovation’s 2018 Impact Accelerator, which we will be hosting this summer.  Join leading Indian funders and NGOs to learn about the latest technology breakthroughs and work with innovators and entrepreneurs.  We will introduce global concepts around innovation and entrepreneurship in partnership with IIT-Gandhinagar and IIM-Bangalore, among others.  

May 29, 2018: Equal Innovation Presents: “Innovating for Impact in CSR”

A Panel Discussion Featuring:

Meenu Bhambhani (VP & Head CSR, Mphasis)

Pratima Rao (Mission Director, Biocon Foundation)

Kshitija Krishnaswamy (Dir. Corp. Citizenship, Accenture)

Thursday, June 7th 2018 10:00 am to 12:30 pm
Mphasis – Laurel Building, Citadel Board Room, Bagmane Tech Park,
C V Raman Nagar, Bengaluru 560093

Hear prominent CSR leaders share their insights on:

  • Key learning’s from experiments
  • The Impact of Innovation
  • Suggestions for new Innovators
  • Why Innovation is necessary in philanthropy
  • The different ways to Innovate in CSR
  • How the Innovation approach is different
  • A program to build your capacity to Innovate Event Details

Reserve Your Spot!
Email: moreinfo@equalinnovation.com
Call: Vishwanath at 97894 59384

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.