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Enabling tech-driven startups to solve problems faced by India’s poor

The/Nudge Foundation incubates tech-driven startups working towards solving complex problems in the development sector. The/Nudge Incubator, has incubated over 81+ organisations. Sudha Srinivasan, CEO, The/Nudge Centre for Social Innovation shares how millions of lives have been impacted through their incubatees who are leveraging technologies like AI, ML, IoT, Blockchain

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What is the mission strategy of The/Nudge Foundation’s initiative for incubating startups in the development sector?

Sudha Srinivasan, CEO, The/Nudge Centre for Social Innovation

We have an incubator in which there are multiple tech-driven startups working towards solving complex problems in the development sector.

The/Nudge Incubator is a catalyst for the nonprofit sector, nudging capable and committed problem solvers to work on some of the toughest problems faced by India’s poor.

Like other sectors, the development sector too must be disrupted by startups. A new breed of audacious nonprofit founders who have innovation, speed and scale as their DNA are at the core of the systems change required.

We back such disruptors whose breakthrough work will take us closer to the vision of poverty-free India.

What kind of support do you provide to these technology driven social impact startups? 

We offer an ecosystem of support which includes:

* Innovation grant – we offer an innovation grant of INR 15 lakhs that will enable startups to develop their theory of change and make it work.

* Dedicated mentoring – hands on 1:1 mentoring by a CSI partner to achieve strategic clarity.

* A portfolio manager who serves as a sounding board and ally.

* Connection to a powerful network of potential donors and partners as well as like minded civil society leaders including alumni of the program.

* Access to knowledge partners, technology partners, legal counsel, policy circles, etc.

With this support, entrepreneurs are able to create effective, simple and impactful solutions. Beyond this immediate ecosystem of support, they also have access to a larger network of change leaders who help them scale and grow. Startups graduating from The/Nudge Incubator are able to raise 10X the innovation grant and are on their way to creating meaningful impact.

How many such startups have you incubated and have you seen any visible impact? Are these tech startups focused on some particular sectors? 

With the recent announcement of Cohort 8 of The/Nudge Incubator, we’ve incubated over 81+ organizations. Since the inception of this program over four years ago, we’ve impacted millions of lives through our incubatees. On an average, these nonprofit startups have raised 10 to 15x the seed grant amount within a year from graduating from the program. Even more impact comes from the partnerships with the government and state-level transformations that occur. The startups are not restricted to a few sectors, but span across work areas that serve India’s sustainable development goals.

Impact stories

Khushi Baby builds scalable, digital platforms to ensure accountability, awareness and access for precision public health at the last mile.

Khushi Baby – Wearables For Good Challenge:

Khushi Baby’s solution is four parts. The first aimed at beneficiaries, is a health card, which stores their medical history in a near-field communication (NFC) chip. The second is a mobile application for the village level ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist), sub-center level ANM (Auxiliary Nurse Midwife) and primary health center MO (Medical Officer) to access, record, update and sync the data.

The third part, around community engagement, involves KB sending automated voice call reminders to beneficiaries in the local dialect. And finally, KB also provides health officials with dashboard analytics, so that they can take action in real-time. Altogether, they have created a longitudinal platform to ensure offline, informed, and accountable screening, referral and follow up care.

KB’s longitudinal reproductive child health solution is functional in the District of Udaipur and their COVID-19 tracking platform spans across the state of Rajasthan. Altogether, KB haS reached 14 million beneficiaries so far.

Rocket Learning is a non-profit ed-tech organisation with the mission to catalyse early childhood education and foundational learning in India. RL partners with governments and parents to impact millions of young children between the age of 3-8 years old.

Rocket Learning (RL) uses a custom-built technology platform to create and mobilise digital communities of parents and teachers around ECCE and Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN). It sends simple educational material to WhatsApp groups of parents and teachers each day through automation and asks parents to send back responses of their children. RL drives engagement in these groups by conducting social media challenges, influencer role modelling, and group competitions.

RL has impacted over one lakh parents and children with parent engagement, measured as the time spent by the caregiver on educational activities, increasing by 40-50 per cent. Across five districts of UP, RL works with nearly 90 per cent of schools with grades one and two, covered under the online Mission Prerna programme — with 5,000 teachers and over 50,000 parents actively engaging and doing activities with their children.

Aaroogya International is a nonprofit that focuses on early detection of common cancers like breast, cervical and oral cancers in women in urban poor, rural poor and educationally backward areas across developing nations operating in India and Uganda currently. We empower frontline health workers like Asha/ANM in India and mid level healthcare workers in Africa to screen women for cancer.

Aaroogya does this through an artificial intelligence assisted tech intervention and on-ground support by a team of fellows. The tech solution called “My Healthline” employs a verbal and visual primary assessment tool that enables healthcare professionals and workers to assess women for common cancers like breast, cervical and oral cancers. The application triages women Into three categories of risk groups in real time. Patients with higher risks are mobilised for further diagnosis immediately for early detection and timely treatment.

Aaroogya has screened more than 50,000 women and that has led to early detection of 2900+ women.

How is your incubator program different from other tech startup accelerators? What specialised mentoring and guidance do you provide to these tech startups? 

At The/Nudge Centre for Social Innovation, we believe that top talent is the key to unlock innovation and deliver disproportionate change in the social sector. We cater predominantly to nonprofit startups, which is rare among incubators/accelerators. At The/Nudge Incubator, our focus is on enabling audacious entrepreneurs to develop highly scalable and disruptive models that deliver differentiated impact. We do this by broadening their exposure, curating bootcamps for learning and growth and an inspiring peer group that pushes the boundaries of possible. Inviting them into a vibrant startup ecosystem that enables them to accelerate their impact at scale is what makes us unique.

We look for startups that serve the underserved, with a strong focus on deep social impact. Not only do we enable access to a philanthropic network, but we help these socially innovative startups with a grant fund. These grant funds play a very key role in encouraging and enabling nonprofit startups to get access to risk capital or patient capital, which is otherwise hard to come by in this sector.

This ecosystem includes some of India’s most admired change leaders who mentor our incubatees. The/Nudge CSI has a network of about 12 mentors, including KR Lakshminarayana, chief endowment officer, Azim Premji Foundation; Madhav Chavan, co-founder, Pratham; Samit Ghosh, founder, Ujjivan Small Finance Bank; Maneesh Dhir, former MD-India, Apple; and Paresh Parasnis, former CEO Piramal Foundation.

Apart from mentors, the ecosystem also includes a network of funders, donors, experts, enablers and administrators. We also have great partners like Statestreet and Mphasis enriching this ecosystem.

Your perception of how you foresee today’s social impact tech startups solving many of the complex problems in our country?

The complexity of the challenges we are trying to solve for, brings up the need for innovation and new ideas. This need can be met through technology.

There is immense potential for the creation and integration of technology in the development sector. Technology allows for more effective and scalable solutions, especially in partnership with the public sector. We are beginning to see this happen already.

A good example is agritech.

Putting the needs of the small and marginal farmers at the centre, agritech organisations are innovating from the ground up. Agritech has allowed farmers to achieve higher profitability, benefit from new and effective farming practices, attain better financial independence and much more. Technology is a key element in making this possible. Through our Cisco Agri Challenge, we have been able to discover and support agri-tech startups, with 10million lives potential each. The ideas, and the speed at which they can scale and serve small farmers aiding income increase, when supported with the right network of private and government allies – has made this very exciting and promising.

Which emerging technologies can be leveraged by these startups for social good?

All technology has the potential to solve humanity’s critical problems. The same technology that is currently being developed to solve first-world, lucrative problems, can make life better for the base of the pyramid, if innovators driven by a sense of social responsibility make it their lives’ purpose.

All emerging technologies can be used, and should be used, by nonprofits. As technology is versatile and adaptable, it has numerous applications. Our incubatees have used AI/ML and Big Data to diagnose cancers and assess learning outcomes, Chatbots (NLP) to personalize training and drive awareness on social issues, Blockchain to improve land security, and IoT to monitor service delivery in health and hygiene.

At The/Nudge Centre for Social Innovation, along with our incredible partners Sabre and CGI, we believe that there is huge social value in enabling nonprofits to stay on the cutting edge of technology – it is essential to achieve the goal of ending poverty in our lifetimes.

Any other significant factor you wish to highlight?

While India is home to over 60 ‘unicorns’, and one of the top 5 economies of the world, we still rank 131 out of 189 on the human development index. At The/Nudge, we believe that technology is not just for the privileged. When used with intent, it can be a catalyst in working towards equality, leaving no Indian out of the nation’s story of growth. Our country will witness social transformation when India’s top talent, capital, resources and attention is channelled towards solving our most pressing developmental challenges. We hope to provide incentive to this cause, through the work we do at The/Nudge Centre for Social Innovation.

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