Social Innovators Seek to Balance Economic Sustainability and Impact

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bridging the digital-divide in India has long been a cherished dream. While much is yet to happen, IT industry body Nasscom has taken initial steps to identify business models that can change the access of technology at the bottom of the pyramid.

This year too, Nasscom presented awards to six businesses that are trying to bring social innovation. The awards showcase the impact and learnings from the ideas of winners that have gained shape, acceptance and success.

Take for instance, Anudip Foundation for Social Welfare. Led by Radha Basu, Anudip Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation involved in the building the skills of rural youth and women in IT and language skills to improve employability. The foundation has created IT project centres across districts in east India on a build, operate and manage basis, which serve international clients on voice and data-based operations. “Unlike the last 20 years where IT development has remained concentrated in the metros, we wish to bring this development from within rural India now,” says Basu.

Over the next seven years, the Foundation is aiming at training at least one million people from rural areas, generate employment and replicate the model in other states and countries.

On the other hand, E Healthpoint (EHP) is a for-profit organisation that provides families in villages with clean drinking water, medicines, comprehensive diagnostic tools, and advanced tele-medical services that bring a doctor and modern, evidence-based healthcare to their community. Amit Jain, director EHP said that just like education has moved from classrooms to computers over the last couple of years, in the next 5-8 years, all health facilities will move to tablet computing devices.

EHP is upbeat about scaling up its operations and has started pilots in countries like Philippines and Mexico, which according to Jain, are facing similar quality and quantum of health problems.

The government is not far behind. To tackle high infant mortality rate and maternal mortality ratio, Anju Sharma, mission director of State Rural Health Mission (SRHM) of government of Gujarat, began a project in January 2010, which in two years has been so successful, that the Indian government wants to replicate it on a pan-India basis. Sharma and her team have developed a mother and child health tracking model which serves to remind the unaware rural population of their medical needs using mobile-based technologies.

About 9.7 million families were covered in extensive district health surveys to bring together data and create a health card for every individual. Sharma said, “Any social initiative needs faith of the people working for it to have faith in it. The public it seeks to benefit must have faith that there are no vested interests in the project. It needs support and great political will to be sustainable.”

Tyagarajan said he believes that the biggest pool of innovative ideas come from students. Confirming his statement, Harpreet Singh & Amanjot Singh, students of University College of Engineering, Patiala, talked about their software Web Assist. The software seeks to make regular websites accessible to the differently-abled using cloud computing. The websites then appear modified as per every person’s need, based on the options they selected and saved while accessing it the first time.

Source: Business Standard (link opens in a new window)

Education, Health Care, Impact Assessment
skill development, social enterprise