India has one of the biggest start-up ecosystems in the world with a huge network of angel funders, venture capital/private equity firms and co-working spaces. But, a similar ecosystem for not-profits is largely missing.
On top of that, laws also deter not-profits to access institutional funding in their initial years. NGOs become eligible for CSR funding after three years of inception. Even eligibility to obtain FCRA licence kicks in after three years. Ultimately, the founders have to bootstrap and navigate the initial upheavals of starting up all on their own.
To fill in these gaps, The/Nudge Foundation started the Centre for Social Innovation to play the role of an enabler. "Our focus is on providing and building infrastructure for the social sector," says Sudha Srinivasan, CEO, The/Nudge Centre for Social Innovation.
What started as an incubator programme N/Core to create a support system for early-stage non-profits in 2017 gradually evolved into a plethora of offerings under Centre for Social Innovation.
It now has six different programmes, an incubator for early stage not-profits that offers grants of up to Rs 15 lakh, an accelerator to offer scale up support to not-profits with proven models offering grants up to Rs 2 crore; research innovation grant for land and property rights, an initiative with informal waste pickers called Saamuhika Shakti and prize challenges to award start-ups solving India's pressing problems.
Other than the grant, the entrepreneurs also receive mentoring from changemakers in the social space. They are the likes of Madhav Chavan (co-founder and CEO of the educational not-profit Pratham), Samit Ghosh (founder of Ujjivan Financial Services), Kamakshi Rao (Senior Investment Director of Ankur Capital). In addition, the founders get access to the network of funders, donors, experts and administrators to accelerate the scale of their not-profits. For instance, Facebook through its CSR initiative is incubating women led not-profits that are driving adoption of technology among women. Similar programmes have been funded by organisations such as Mphasis, and HCL Technologies, among others.
In the last four years, 81 organisations have been a part of these programmes. "Each one of these has raised 10-15 times the seed grant amount within a year from graduating from the program," says Srinivasan.
Take the case of Intelehealth that is working to make quality primary healthcare accessible in the poorest districts of India using a simple technology of a smartphone. It has worked with 60,000 people across four countries, been part of global fellowships like Mulago and has received support from organisations including Google.org, The Abell Foundation and AWS.
Another is Udaipur-based Khushi Baby that gives NFC-enabled pendants/ taweez to track immunisation data of children. Primary healthcare givers in tribal communities can scan the data with the app and access the vaccination's due date and their other medical records, helping to mitigate infant mortality. In 2019, they won the MIT SOLVE- Early Childhood Development Challenge.
"These 81 organisations collectively have raised Rs 100 crore till date and have benefitted nine million lives. The larger impact has come from partnerships with the government where they have done state-wise education transformation or health care transformation," says Srinivasan. Fifteen organisations are in their incubation programme, currently.
Now, The/Nudge Foundation is looking beyond entrepreneurs on tapping senior professionals for development space. "This is continuing the hypothesis that talent is required to create change. While we are working with entrepreneurial talent, we are now shifting gears to provide senior talent opportunities to create impact in social space," says Srinivasan.
Its recent initiative, the Indian Administrative Fellowship, is an 18-month fellowship for C-suite executives and leaders who will work with Principal Secretaries in state governments in areas of health, skill development and entrepreneurship etc. "It came with the realisation that great talent can unlock other levers important for success be it innovation, money, political will or just the ability to use the support that we provide in the program," says Srinivasan. The IAF plans to have a cohort of 10 fellows in its first program and grow to 100 fellows pan-India by 2025.