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Quarter 1 | October 2013



What are the next big innovations for financial inclusion? Ashoka Fellows from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka write in



Editorial inancing the social sector has changed in multitude ways in the last decade. Although a lot of social organisations still depend on charity and philanthropy to pursue their work, we have all witnessed innovative models such as impact investing, purple and patient capital, hybrid financing models still being tested and scaled up. But as we know, we still have a long way to go. Let us be honest - innovation has not yet caught up with financing models. Yes, there is lot more capital available now and we have already helped a few organisations scale up, but how do we ensure this reaches the required scale? This issue of FellowConnect focuses not just on interesting and innovative models but also on ways and means to achieve scale and optimize the last mile. There are still issues of how to balance returns on investment to measuring social impact. ROI (Return on Investment) and SROI (Sustainable Return on Investment) are not yet accepted or completely understood in the social sector. How do we ensure that there are reasonable returns in organisations? Ashoka Fellows, among other social entrepreneurs, are working towards new models that will not only be more inclusive but impact communities in a larger, sustainable way. Again, we must not see financing the social sector in isolation. We must start seeing social entrepreneurs and their

organisations as true allies. Ashoka has been championing the collaboration between the for-profit and not-for-profit sector primarily on the fact that if value can be derived from the strengths of each of these sectors, we can be sure that value would translate to financing opportunities. This is the time to not just showcase successful methods of financing but also enable the whole ecosystem to be developed to ensure innovation is encouraged and fostered. You will observe that this issue also includes articles across countries in South Asia. We are taking FellowConnect beyond India and we would like your suggestions to make it better and also available to a wider audience. I would also like to thank Manoj Chandran, our Director and the past editor, who has moved on to explore his own path, but who was instrumental in laying the strong foundation for FellowConnect. As much as we are highlighting some stories, you would agree that collectively we have to do a lot more to enable newer financing models to be created, highlighted, discussed, implemented and celebrated. We welcome you to share your ideas to build this further and also to the new avatar that FellowConnect is going to take. In inspiration, Vishnu Swaminathan

P3 Harnessing Value of Rural India

P4 Changemaking Universities

P6 Innovating for the Poor P9 Re-defining Impact P12 Nourishing Schools, The Right Way P14 Entrepreneurs Get Involved in Finance

P16 An Experience with Shakti P18 Children of a Revolution

Editorial: Vishnu Swaminathan, Meera Vijayann, Olina Banerji Contributors: Meera Vijayann, Olina Banerji, Ira Snissar, Archana Sinha, Humaira Islam, Darin Gunesekera , Nitin Chaudhary, Ribhu Vohra, Alok Soni, Amanda Misiti, Pranab Banik, Kamran Hasan, Alvina Zafar, and Maria May Cover Photo: BRAC Design: Talk to us: Website: Address: 54, 1st Cross, Domlur Layout, Bangalore 560 071 Telephone: +91 80 4274 5777

Photo courtesy : HarVa


In this issue

P20 The Power of Collaborative Innovation P22 Changing Behaviours Back Cover It’s time to WasteLess

Disclaimer: The views and comments mentioned in the articles of FellowConnect are that of the respective authors and do not reflect the position of Ashoka on these issues.

The Story of a Citibanker Who is ‘Harnessing Value’ of Rural India By Alok Soni


jay Chaturvedi was doing it all right after graduating from Wharton & Penn Engineering, working at Citibank, and taking a hefty package home until one fine day when he decided to pack his bags and go to the Himalayas. It was a forced vacation as there was a two-week mandatory leave from his work. What came next can be called as the ‘answer to life’ for Ajay. He has since then spent over 6 months in the Himalayas. He was not really convinced with his job, but this introspection helped him to get the picture clearer in his mind. Ajay recalled, “I couldn’t work for more than 2 years at my first job after passing out from BITS Pilani. The markets were booming then(1990s) and I realized my capitalistic side in trading. Though after the crash, I went to Penn Engineering and Wharton where my real journey began. It was here that I got answers to few of the questions in my mind.” After his journey to the Himalayas (Kedarnath) and going through life changing experiences, finally Ajay put down his papers in 2010 and went ahead with his plans to empower rural India and

also made his deep seeded realisation, the purpose of his life. It was the time when the foundation for HarVa was laid.

now more welcoming and supportive in participating in the developmental processes implemented by HarVa.

One of Ajay’s underlying beliefs is that the government is building capacity without creating enough opportunities. Programmes like The National Skill Development Corporation train candidates but due to the lack of options they end up being ABCD or Aya (Nanny), Bai (Maid), Chowkidar (Guard), Driver (Chauffeur) only. He further said, “Unless you don’t participate, you do not have the right to criticize. The problems in rural India need some intellectual people getting to the grassroots. We have to work towards value creation which is more sustainable.”

Microfinance has always been a part of the plan but given the current state of the industry, Ajay and his team have put their project HarVa Employee Loan Program (HELP) on the side now. HarVa Suraksha is a recent addition to the HarVa services which is basically a quasi savings product backed by Bajaj Allianz providing micro insurance to the rural people. Throwing some light on the current state of organisation, Ajay mentioned “Currently, HarVa operates 20 HarVa Digital Huts or XPOs (BPO, KPO, LPO) of which 5 are owned by HarVa and rest on a franchise model. They are spread across 14 states in India employing over 70% women and each XPO caters to three to four villages in the vicinity. We have been supporting over 1000 households and the employees are making anything from INR 1500 to INR 14000 based on their contributions towards other projects like farming, student helpdesks and selling insurance.” In the quest to expand faster, HarVa is

HarVa stands for ‘Harnessing Value’ of rural India and works towards skill development, BPO, community-based farming and micro-insurance in villages. In the past 3 years, HarVa has evolved considerably in terms of its vision and impact. They have added a not-for-profit arm which focuses on skill development. Though beginnings are always tough at the grassroots level, people are

Continued on page 23 3


Photo courtesy : Arjun Swaminathan

Photo courtesy : Arjun Swaminathan

By Ira Snissar


aving worked with both universities and young people, I have contemplated about the role of a University in the life of a young person. I often hear of a University education being quantified as a market commodity of sorts, a product which one can buy and which gives a ‘return on investment’. A university education is also a defining period in the life of a young person. It is often the first time a student has the opportunity to be on his or her own and make life-changing choices. It is often not just academics but other experiences and events which play a significant role in the formation of a person. University education is not just about acquiring skills for a job. Mario Savio a student from Berkley in 1964 famously said: “But we’re a bunch of raw materials that don’t mean to be —have any process upon us. Don’t mean to be made into any product. Don’t mean to end up being 4

bought by some clients of the university, be they the government, be they industry, be they organized labor, be they anyone! We’re human beings!”

A university education plays an important role in shaping young individuals towards becoming changemakers. People have aspirations beyond simply earning a salary. They want to create life saving medicines, build technology to solve a problem or become artists, and most of all, they want to create value for the world. However, the energy and passion young people have often lacks direction, depth and clarity. The confused restlessness and longing many young people have comes from a paucity of experience and exposure and that is

where a university can play an important role. A university should be a place where young people find the confidence to believe in themselves. The years in university are precious in terms of young people learning about themselves before the worries of adulthood take over. After graduation, social and economic pressure are dominant. Earning a living and starting a family become priorities. It is not until much later, usually when one is in their late thirties that the restlessness can come back and pull some out of ‘good’ jobs and back into the ‘unknown’. Therefore, the University is a critical time for young person to try different things without fear of failure and pressure to achieve outcomes. A university student may start an astronomy club, an environmental movement or engage in any cause important to them. This experience of taking a step to change the

world around oneself causes an internal shift, often a permanent one where one gains the skills to motivate and inspire others as well as learns about the power of ideas and effort in the service of humanity. The power of this experience multiplies when young people encounter a social problem they want to solve. Engaging with a real social issue helps one empathize to understand problems of others and find solutions. In Ashoka’s three decades of working with over 3000 social entrepreneurs, we learned that almost all of them had such an experience in their youth. We have also worked for over 10 years with young people to help them start social ventures and have observed the transformations that have happened. We now know that this is the first step to becoming a leader.

People can react and evolve differently in similar circumstances. How can we motivate many young people to find the ‘changemaker’ in themselves ? To find the answer to this question, we at Ashoka have recently conducted what we called a ‘Make-A-Thon’. We brought together more than 30 leaders from universities, the social sector and industry to come up with practical solutions on this issue. One of the ideas was to have long term internships (at least 3 month) as part of course work. It was also proposed to establish the university as

a ‘hub of problem solving’, where social entrepreneurs and companies come for help in addressing their challenges. Universities also should encourage and support students to come up with their own initiatives and implement them. Essentially, young people can work on solving real problems, with experienced mentors thus giving them life changing experiences and the chance to become changemakers and leaders. Irina Snissar is a Senior Intrapreneur who works with the Venture and Fellowship Program at Ashoka India.

A key quality of a leader is self definition to improve things around oneself complemented with the skills to do so. Importantly, a leader has a sense of applied ethics and an internal feeling of right and wrong. The reason this is so critical is because a leader takes the responsibility to guide people and institutions into unknown territory where the rules are not set. Having this experience is not a recipe for the successful creation of leaders. 5



By Amanda Misiti, Pranab Banik, Kamran Hasan, Alvina Zafar, and Maria May

In one of the most densely populated developing nations, BRAC, the world’s largest NGO, is working towards approaching problems through targeted innovations that could hasten progress


angladesh is in the process of rapid transition. We are becoming a middleincome country, as well as a younger, more urbanized as a people. The Bangladesh finance market has had to transition as well. Initially, offering credit to poor people was a novel concept. Now the needs of the poor are more complex, clients have become more sophisticated and they require products that match these needs. This includes developing customized, holistic approaches for special populations such as disabled people and migrants. Recognizing that many clients could benefit from financial education, we have recently embarked on an effort to improve their financial literacy levels.

10 million Bangladeshis currently earn their livelihoods abroad, with an additional 1 million people, predominantly young men, moving each year.

A Bangladeshi man shows off his passport and visa to the United Arab Emirates that he received with help from BRAC.

Photo courtesy : BRAC

Today, BRAC provides a range of products customized for various populations as part of its comprehensive approach to development. It also conducts ongoing research and development to identify new opportunities. Three recent initiatives include: partnering with a rehabilitation center to offer loans to people with disabilities, creating a product that enables people to migrate overseas, and developing a financial literacy program for our microfinance clients.



BRAC is increasingly emphasizing the importance of accountability to clients. Earlier this year, the staff began to distribute a copy of clients’ rights and obligations at community meetings. When clients approach BRAC to apply for a loan, the form is discussed with them again. All branch offices are now staffed with a team member dedicated to customer service and education. They provide information about different financial products, required forms and documents, and the advantage of making regular payments. To engage and inform the broader community, we also developed an “edutainment” approach. The primary component of the approach is community theatre. Eventually we hope to expand these financial literacy and client protection initiatives nationwide. Supporting migrants Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with a limited capacity to ensure employment for its many citizens. Remittances contribute to 10 percent of Bangladesh’s GDP. Ten million Bangladeshis are currently earning their livelihoods abroad, with an additional one million people, predominantly young men, moving each year. There are many more people that would like to migrate

Photo: A local theatre troupe performs a drama cautioning about the dangers of taking out multiple loans but are unable to navigate the complicated and expensive process. Most Bangladeshis fund their migration expenses by selling their land or borrowing funds through informal channels at exorbitant interest rates - at times as high as 200 percent. Unfortunately, many prospective migrants have been victims of fraud and forgery. In 2007, BRAC developed a program to promote a safer labor migration process from Bangladesh to higher-income countries, and in 2011 we included a loan component to reduce financial barriers. Part of our process is visa verification to prevent visa-related fraud and forgery. The customized loan product is specifically designed to meet the prospective and/ or returnee migrants’ needs--it covers the visa fees, airfare, and maintenance and education costs of family members who remain in Bangladesh. The average loan size is $ 2,300 USD. As of July 2013, 50,000 people received loans totaling $130 million with a 99 percent recovery rate. BRAC is currently assessing how to better meet the needs of returned migrants. Engaging people with disabilities The disabled population in Bangladesh faces unique social and economic challenges. Although data is limited, a number of micro studies suggest a disability prevalence rate of between 5 to 12 percent. In particular, the high incidence of road accidents is a significant contributor.

In August 2011, BRAC developed a strategic partnership with the prestigious organization Center for Rehabilitation for the Paralyzed (CRP). They provide holistic treatment for patients with spinal injury. CRP screens patients that may be interested in receiving a loan and then connects them with BRAC. The average disbursed loan is $ 320 USD. Although the pilot has been on a small scale, thus far it has been very successful with none of the clients defaulting. All of the clients were regular savers, with an average savings account balance of $48. The majority of our clients are entrepreneurs—they have grocery shops, tea stalls and some of them are vendors.

RE-DEFINING IMPACT Ashoka Fellows have long been working on better financial models to create an inclusive system that both benefits and empowers people. These powerful stories stand testimony to how fellows have used different models to bring about change by strengthening systems.

Need for innovation As Bangladesh and the world changes, so must the financial market. We must be flexible and receptive to our clients’ evolving needs. Clients expect more of us, and we have to be prepared to meet their expectations. In order to do that, we have to be open to innovation and prepared to customize our products and services. BRAC’s work with financial literacy, supporting migrants and engaging the disabled represents our commitment to responding to clients’ needs.

Photo courtesy : Mann Deshi

Improving financial literacy In the last decade, the finance industry in Bangladesh has been flooded with products. Although the competition and diversity of options is beneficial for the client, it has made the market more difficult to navigate. The staff at BRAC noticed that some clients’ income levels remained low, and we were able to determine that this could be attributed to a gap in financial literacy. For example, most clients didn’t check their financial records. To address this, we trained clients to review their records after each loan payment to confirm that it included the amount of money paid, the signature of the person who received it, and the date of payment. We have already begun to notice that our clients are more aware of their financial records.

Photo courtesy : BRAC


This article is a contribution by the staff of BRAC, Bangladesh. For more information on BRAC, do visit 9

Ashoka Fellow: Chetna Gala Sinha Organisation: Mann Deshi Sector: Banking

station. His enterprising nature then drove him to find out about more options and that’s when he came across Drishtee’s Microfinance Programme. When he learnt about allied services like supply chain management by which a variety of FMCG products are delivered at the doorstep of retailers, he wasted no time in applying for a micro loan and availed the same from the local Drishtee operator. With the financial assistance and his previous savings, he purchased basics like rice, dal, mustard oil and other grocery items, to start a small but self-owned store. Paul’s dedication soon captured the attention of locals and they started buying from him regularly.


he Impact Story: Vanita Jalinder Pise is a woman of extraordinary drive. A ninth-grade dropout and a simple buffalo rearer, she decided to take matters into her own hands when her husband’s poultry business failed in 1997. At the time, the family was facing a severe financial crunch with a Rs 55,000 debt to repay.

Ashoka Fellow: Ramakrishna NK Organisation: Rang De Sector: Micro-Credit


he Impact Story: Nilima Anand Suryavanshi used her Rang De loan of Rs. 5,000 to expand her grocery business. She made a few changes at her convenience shop and bought items like rice and wheat, which she has now begun to sell. She has two daughters. Her husband has a cow rearing business and also owns another shop, which allows the family access to multiple sources of income. She earns around Rs.150 each day from the shop and manages to save around Rs. 300 every month. Today, she is working on taking an education loan to invest in her daughters’ education. In the future, she would like to avail another Rang De loan to open a stationery and fancy store in the neighbourhood. 10

Nilima is working on taking an education loan from Rang De to invest in her daughters’ education. Ashoka Fellow Information:

Ramakrishna NK, Founder of Rang De, is generating a systems-changing way of delivering credit services to the poorest individuals; by blending peer-to-peer lending with a strong back-end delivery system that controls interest rates.

Despite her husband’s protests, Pise was determined to better their lives. While working as a wage labourer on other people’s fields, she took a loan from Mann Deshi to purchase a buffalo and began rearing buffaloes and goats, selling their milk from house to house. The opportunities for engagement and leadership she found in the Self Help Group (SHG) movement increasingly became a source of excitement and joy for her. In 2004 Pise decided to take a 15,000 rupee ($321) loan for a machine to make paper cups for prayer offerings. She bought the raw material, made and sold 5,000 cups each day. When she realized how successful her business was, she started a dealership of the machines so that other women could also benefit. Through this initiative, Pise has facilitated seventeen women in the purchasing their own machines. Pise’s annual income has increased five times. Through a gradual expansion of her business, she currently has 11 machines and employs 6 people. Furthermore, she has become actively involved in Mann Deshi Business School as a teacher.

Ashoka Fellow Information:

Chetna Gala Sinha, Founder of Mann Deshi, has created a micro-finance bank for women is empowering them in drought prone areas of rural India.

Ashoka Fellow Information: With the financial assistance from Dhristee and his personal savings, he started a self-owned store.

Ashoka Fellow: Satyan Mishra Organisation: Dhristee Sector: Micro Credit


he Impact Story: Gour Hari Paul, belongs to a small village in Dhekiajuli, Assam. A hardworking and entrepreneurial man, he took it upon himself to change his circumstances. The sole breadwinner for seven people, Paul started off with small ‘paan’ and candy

Satyan Mishra, Founder of Dhristee, is building service kiosks in the Indian countryside to bring essential services to the rural citizen. His organisation Drishtee helps marginalized communities develop and nurture rural enterprises and support the community ecosystem.

Ashoka Fellow: Rita Panicker Organisation: Butterflies Sector: Banking


he Impact Story: Bishwanath is originally from Kabilasi village in Nepal. He used to sell coconuts at Nizamuddin Railway Station. The educator introduced him to Butterflies and he invited Bishwanath to join the programme. This motivated him and he enrolled himself for class 12 from the National Institute of Open Schooling. He worked in the railway station for a year. During this time he also continued his studies. Then he got a chance to volunteer as a Child Protection Assistant in Butterflies Resilience Centre. He was a volunteer at Butterflies until he graduated high school. At the age of 20, he was employed at Butterflies on the condition that he would pursue his higher education. He enrolled for B.Com at the Indira Gandhi Open University and completed the same. Later, when he expressed his desire to do chartered accountancy, Butterflies encouraged and supported him to pursue a full-time education from January 2009. He cleared the entrance exam and is now doing his articleship with a chartered

Photo courtesy :

Photo courtesy : Rang De

Through this initiative, Pise has facilitated 17 women and increased her income fivefold.

accountancy firm. He will become a qualified chartered accountant in two years time.

Ashoka Fellow Information:

Rita Panicker, Founder of Butterflies, helps India’s street and working children to lobby for their rights and launch their own

self-help organizations. She provides child workers with the space, skills, networks and mechanisms to help them conceptualize, plan and implement their own programs. The street children are accredited members of Rita’s organization, Butterflies.




arlier this year, Ashoka’s Health and Nutrition Initiative conducted a baseline study in Karnataka targeting pregnant women and women with children up to three years of age. This gave us the opportunity to interact with some amazing rural women and to hear their stories. We chatted about their lives, their families and their children and learnt about why nutrition is such an obscure concept for them. Our study in the Koppal and Chamrajanagar district showed us that 41% of the women surveyed were undernourished. The conversations with these women demonstrated their limited knowledge about the recommended nutrition practices for pregnant women and the even lesser application of that knowledge. Doctors and health workers were doing their best to reach out to advise mothers and pregnant women but 39% of mothers primarily relied on their own knowledge regarding child-feeding practices. There was a need to reach out to these women before they became pregnant and to make nutrition a priority for them. To brainstorm on how we could tackle the challenge of undernutrition, Ashoka hosted a Nutrition Co-Creation workshop in Bangalore in August. The workshop was attended by Ashoka fellows, the Swiss Re Foundation and by other stakeholders such as the Watershed Organisation Trust.


By Archana Sinha

39% of mothers primarily relied on their own knowledge regarding child-feeding practices


At the workshop, the fellows suggested that as we were looking to change lifetime habits that have an implication on health, it was ideal to target adolescents, specifically children aged between 9 to 14 years. This would engage future community leaders in their formative years and enable them to be changemakers in their community. 43% of women aged 20 to 24 are married before the age of 18. Targeting them before they become mothers would be critical for optimal nutritional impact in the long term. Further, from the villages we visited it was evident that nourishing a mother requires the commitment of the larger community - from the family (especially the mother-inlaw) to the village head. Ashoka’s initiative needed to be linked to the community to have a long-term impact. Schools were identified as a strategic platform for reaching out to both the children and the community. They could play an influential role, particularly due to their links to key community leaders such as village heads.

Schools have other advantages well Meals - their focus on inculcating habits Curriculum Media and life skills can help & teaching achieve behaviour change; their curriculum offers opportunities for Clean Agriculture Water nutrition education and they are linked the government’s n u t r i t i o n activities through Design of Sanitation programmes where school spaces there is scope for improvement such as the Midday Meal Games and Healthcare Schemes. According Storytelling to Ashoka fellow Sunanda Mane, schools are about nutrition interested in initiatives that can help them • Screen students for diseases attract and retain students, and improve that would increase the risk of academic performance. Studies have undernutrition and refer them for shown that better health and nutrition is treatment linked to better educational achievement • Use participatory and entertaining and earning potential, which incentivizes formats such as games and storytelling schools to focus on this goal. Ashoka to engage students with their own fellow Bibhu Mohanty emphasized that nutrition the pilot had to include activities that • Improve sanitation facilities and were interesting and fun for the children, provide clean water to reduce the as their interest would help sustain the risk of diseases initiative. • Engage local and national media to

Nourishing Schools

Based on the workshop, Ashoka plans to launch a pilot called Nourishing Schools, which will leverage schools as a hub to improve the nutrition of families and communities. It will combine the insights and expertise from Ashoka, Ashoka Fellows and other stakeholders in the field to design a holistic package of interventions. The holistic nature of these interventions is crucial, as one of the key reasons why 48% of children below 5 years in India are undernourished is the lack of collaboration between practitioners in various sectors to tackle this challenge. Ashoka will create platforms for fostering innovations for the Nourishing Schools initiative across sectors and geographies within the following dimensions: • Improve the nutritional quality of midday meals under government schemes • Use experiential methods and peer learning to teach children nutrition modules in the school curriculum • Integrate gardens into the school curriculum to influence diets • Introduce low-cost school design elements to communicate messages

draw attention to the solutions • Outreach to the key community members such as women self help group members and school dropouts In addition to implementing this program in schools, the plan is to reach out to the community in the next phase by engaging key members such as women self help group members. This will also help involve the children that are out of school so that the initiative is more inclusive. We’re excited about partnering with fellows and have been reaching out to other potential partners as well. The critical challenge in designing the pilot is to incorporate elements that will help the programme scale to other regions organically. Archana Sinha leads the Nutrition Initiative for Ashoka India. She is working toward engaging stakeholders to design sustainable, scalable and system-changing interventions to tackle malnutrition. 13

INTERNATIONAL national authorities to give our social communities land and building rights to create decent homes and lives, with no debt, and financial assets for the Poor and operational sustainability.


Supremacy of Human Rights The commercial rights process and the social rights process are rather different. Commercial businesses makes the poor and middle class go into debt and be in negative financial assets. Our social business ensures that they remain positive in financial assets.

By Dr. Darin Gunesekera

Photo courtesy : Wikimedia Commons

Commercial businesses lead the state to evict people and send itself into debt, which adds to its annual expenses. The revenue and capital gain they get is illusory. Our social business reduces state expenditure, has no evictions, and gives the state immediate positive financial assets and added financial revenue.


ost of us, especially those concerned with social issues, shy away from talking about finance. Somehow, to most of us it seems a mysterious and specialized field. We also feel that finance involves thinking solely about capital. For those of us in developing nations, we tend to perceive banks and capital negatively. The truth is that finance is far too important to ignore. We must apply it as the first aspect of any decision of life. Without this understanding, the best and brightest of our thoughts can have no outcomes. We have to know Finance. I want to state very clearly that banking and capital is the first and largest public utility in any country. It is not a private preserve. It is by construction, a public utility. Of course, there are clearly private concerns in the greater field as merchant


houses, private equity firms and private wealth ownership. But banks and markets, despite private involvement, are public utilities. Europe’s largest capital clearinghouse in Milan, where those ‘billions-an-hour’ transactions place, is run as a public utility rather than a profits goal only company. So Finance is a legitimate area for every social enterprise. We do not need to hold up placards using words such as ‘micro’, ‘women’s empowerment’ or ‘socially responsible’ and try to sneak in. Banking and capital are true public interest territory. A social entrepreneur is closely involved in finance, whether he or she acknowledges it or not. Social v Business People often think that commercial enterprises and social enterprises are very similar. They do not distinguish between their financing. But those of us who have actually done both can assure you that they are practically completely different. I have some standing for working in the housing sector; primarily on slum rehousing and inner city re-development. Commercial companies in real estate want the national or area administration to give them land and building rights. They also intend to sell their low-income housing to the national administrators as a

preference amongst group buyers. In other words, developers uphold rights of eviction, planning and the right of state power to declare, acquire and prepare urban land for development in ways seen fit by the market, that is commercial ventures. As developers need capital for their role in this process, they recognize the right of persons to go into debt to pay for housing. In turn this leads to the rights of mortgage, of banks in development and housing processes, and so declare a peculiar determination of prices and interest rates as legal.

A social entrepreneur is closely involved in finance, whether he or she acknowledges it or not. In the year 2000, we completed the first project called REEL or generically the Social REIT. Since then, I have entered it into the approved modalities under the Indian Federal Ministry. Our project with weavers from Varnasi gained hearing by the Planning Commission and enjoyed direct federal support for the weavers towards their livelihood. Our language in generic form has been incorporated into the Indian President’s plan for ending slum dwelling in five years, through programs under the well established Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission in 2010. The authorities may or may not have agreed with promoting ‘rights-based issues’ but that is the intellectual basis. It actually should be combined with an associated right (physicals; RFC refers to the intangibles). In our case the Physicals right is RPH - The Right to a Planned Home (community or family based). By planned I mean

approved by the Planning Authority under normal standards of decency and safety. The two rights I mention impinge upon the providers of the relevant services under the regulation of the state. They do not constitute a service requirement on the State. We are dealing with public utilities and they must of necessity conform to regulations in the provision of utility service. We can also express these rights in slogans that our Social REIT has used in the past: • ‘Every community or social group of home-dwellers has the right to create equity capital’ • ‘Every urban household has the right to a planned house’ Social enterprises are guided by a person’s wants and needs. We feel a poor person must enjoy economic freedom of choice as much as a rich person. Our work in housing has been all about enabling freedom of choice and bringing people away from authoritarianism. To me, that is Finance. Ashoka Fellow Darin Gunesekera is the President of Capital Markets for the Marginalized Inc. In 2009, his work was judged as one of five best practices in affordable housing in the world and awarded a certificate by UNHABITAT in 2009.

In these processes, the usurpation of choice by authorities and non-invalidation of rights of creditors, in the event of a lack of transparency or full choice, is upheld. The creation of commercial sector financial assets and debt creates the implicit recognition of rights of commercial institutions. So when a bank gives a loan there is implicit that bank money is riskless and so the bank has the right to interest and pay back, claiming payment as interest and as penalties as legal recourse for the assumption of risk. It does not consider that the loan should place risk on the lender. As a social entrepreneur in finance, my organization wants these same

Photo courtesy : Wikimedia Commons

Finance is a legitimate area for social enterprise. Yet, several social entrepreneurs shy away from understanding finance to strengthen their models. Darin Gunesekara, an Ashoka Fellow in Sri Lanka, shares his insights from the world of capital markets.

How do we differ? I believe that the rights basis of finance must be popularized amongst social entrepreneurs. They will then see where their financial approach lies. Commercial real estate and housing finance corporates recognize very different rights. Commerce claims the rights of eviction of occupiers under certain circumstances; the right to claim debt on housing; and rights to create financial assets from all aspects of the real estate and developer process.

Our social Business, on the other hand, is dependent on the RFC. The right is that every family or community has the right to regulated financial capital.




By Humaira Islam

Micro, small and medium enterprises promise a bright future for women


he idea of working for the urban poor instead of rural first interested me after I read a research study called Situation Analysis of Urban poor (1989) in which it was observed that, the situation of the urban poor is far worse than that of the rural poor in terms of living conditions, employment, literacy, health and sanitation. Poverty and unemployment among other problems particularly affect women. In a vast majority of slums, housing structures are poor and disadvantaged people cannot escape the cycle of poverty. Women, who don’t enjoy a higher social position, legal rights and traditionally earn less than men, are particularly vulnerable. To tackle this problem, I founded the Shakti Foundation in 1992 with a group of men and women committed to alleviating poverty and bringing about a qualitative change in the lives of poor women. The Shakti Foundation provides access to credit and savings facilities for women living in the slums of different cities or towns of Bangladesh. It uplifts and empowers the poor through collateral-free loans at affordable costs.

The Shakti Foundation aims at improving the quality of life of the urban poor and to empower them socially and economically. What are the lessons that we can learn from it?

Photo courtesy : The Shakti Foundation

We address our mission through an integrated credit based program. This program seeks to develop entrepreneurship among its project members. Therefore, a limited number of members qualify for the higher amount of loan. So, we introduced a new scheme called ‘Small Enterprise Development’ in 2004 as we foresaw that women have the potential to be involved in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). These women may have the sole endeavor to do business or they may do business by collaborating with male members of 16

their families. The organisation’s prime objective is to encourage women to become entrepreneurs so that they can become significant contributors in their family and bolster our socio-economic scenario. The objective of SMEs is to provide opportunities to project members in order to enable them to enter into small and medium markets. The experience clearly indicates that lack of capital is still the main problem; absence of marketing facilities, absence of a proper sale centre are some of the major problems. A few common barriers faced by women entrepreneurs is finding a way to balance time between their work and the family. Other limiting factor were machinery, equipment, technology and power supply. Micro, small and medium enterprises has a bright future for urban women. This sector can absorb a chunk of low skilled and less educated urban women. If the major barrier in marketing for women entrepreneurs are removed then a huge number of women will be able to lead the sector and contribute to the nation’s economy. The success of women as entrepreneurs have been reflected in their socioeconomic developments. Economic solvency can bring changes in the homestead and the enterprise; speak of their untiring efforts and the urge for a better life. Increase in individual income is also an increase in the family income, and it provides the family members access to a better life-style, including education and

health for the children. Modernization of the work-place, introduction of new technology for increased production, increase of workers, along with the increase in the purchasing power upgrades their status both socially and economically. Increased self-confidence through participation in trade and generation of income had blessed most of these women with a home and a prosperous future. The poor women who live in slum area have shown that they have the capacity to establish and run enterprise. Therefore, the important role of poor women entrepreneur is to recognize at every stage and to accelerate this sector with proper attention the public and private sectors should come forward to support this sector for the greater interest of the nation. Today, the Shakti Foundation is one of the top eight micro finance institutions according to the Microcredit Regulatory Authority. The organization has received national and international awards in recognition of its extraordinary performances in the country’s micro finance sector. At present the number of members who are involved with the organisation is 433,750 women across 53 districts in Bangladesh. Ashoka Fellow Humaira Islam is the Founder Executive Director of the Shakti Foundation for Disadvantaged Women, a widely acknowledged and successful micro finance institution. 17

Photo courtesy : Design for Change

Photo courtesy : Design for Change



hirteen- year old Subashini from Hubli, Karnataka cradles the mike close to her mouth, ready to answer in rapid Kannada. Her audience listens in rapt attention to her interpreter, though her confidence is sharp enough to break through the language barrier. She speaks clearly to other students in the audience, a colourful pastiche of cultures, languages and hairstyles from across the world. In spite of their differences, they are all here because they believed they could change things in their lives.


By Olina Banerji

Children are the perfect agents of an EACH universe. Impatient and passionate about making change, they stop at nothing to change what’s bothering them about their surroundings. We, as adults, can learn much from their creative and inspirational journeys.

I look at the crowd milling around and the first thing that strikes me is the energy in the room. No one’s bored, no one’s stifling a yawn. Because what’s happening on-stage is fascinating—twenty of possibly the brightest kids in the world are telling stories about how they turned the power dynamic on its head. Subashini, along with her friends, decided to tackle the problem of garbage collection in their community. Dustbins in their village would overflow and no one came to collect the garbage. Shubhshini and her friends realized these garbage mounds, not only ugly to see and terrible to smell, were also breeding grounds for disease. To solve the problem, they began to paste a toll free number on these bins and every time a member of the community calls, Subhashini and her friends ensure that these bins are cleaned. “When I went to the village Panchayat, they told me they’d take care of it. But I knew better and asked them, what were they going to do that they hadn’t done for years?” says Subhashini. The kids in the audience, who undoubtedly have been blown off by cynical adults before, cheer on in agreement. The simple idea that we can do something


about what bothers us isn’t really simple at all. Citizen sector organisations, NGOs, multi-million dollar CSR projects often fail in their objective of creating participative environments. The “I Can” Challenge however ignores all previous knowledge and places its trust in children. Pioneered by Ashoka fellow Kiran Bir Sethi, Design For Change has now become a global youth movement that creates, and spreads the idea of changemaking. Story after story tells us how concepts like empathy, sharing, kindness and ingenuity aren’t textbook knowledge. These kids prove that. Without a manual, they have been able to distill these qualities into their own framework. The words that we hear constantly are ‘change’ and ‘confidence’. Almost every child on stage uses a combination of the two. It’s then that I realize that ‘confidence’ was key to ‘changing’ things. When taken in the context of all the jargon we sift through daily, it does sound simplistic. But what better service can you do a child than letting him/her be confident of their ideas? The teachers who influence you the most in school aren’t the ones that grade you well. It’s the ones who recognized the peer in you and respected your opinion. One of the things we strive towards in school is validation. If it’s for dreaming big instead of just getting good marks, imagine what a difference we’re making to a child’s world of possibilities. Likhma Ram, 9, has travelled all the way from Jodhpur because his was one of the 70 school stories that caught DFC’s attention. While there was a hospital in their village, pregnant women never sought medical help when delivering their babies. Spreading awareness about this

hospital then became their mission. “I played a pregnant woman in the school play,” he laughs. The campaign did its trick and pregnancy-related health issues went down in their village. Another village school from Rajasthan decided to honour the grandparents in the community through a story-telling campaign. Made redundant by age, the elders of the village suddenly found their hands full, where they travelled to different schools in the district to revive cultural associations through these parables. Changemaking needs to be a habit, not a hobby. By creating a template for action for schools across the world, DFC has accelerated the rate of change across 19 countries. Sethi, in a foreword to the ICan book, calls it an investment in human capital—in people and their ideas. In an attempt to document the shift in attitudes of those schools who took up the challenge, DFC partnered with The Good Project to highlight what areas these changes have occurred in. A significant number say they took up the challenge “to help others”. Another graph indicates that a huge number discovered skills they never knew they had. What happens as part of “designing” a solution is then apparent—you push your creative limits and discover your “can do” power. “These are the two most powerful words a person can believe. Children who have discovered this are changing their world,” says Sethi. Olina Banerji has a background in communications and works with the Venture and Framework Change team at Ashoka India. 19

My experience at the Bangalore + Sustainability event The Social Good Summit: Bangalore + Sustainability event organized by Ashoka, The Green Lungi and IDEX was a refreshing experience to young souls and all the changemakers. Most of us entered the Center for Internet and Society not knowing what to expect. But we were sure of investing our times for a better cause than in Shopping malls like most Saturday afternoons. The five social problems provided to work on were quite heard off, but the manner of approach and the process was unique and exhilarating. And the freedom to work on our problem of interest was appreciable. The planning behind the various steps and process was meticulous and helped in guiding the team, eliminating ambiguity. The best part was the opportunity to brainstorm with enthusiasts from various spectrums. Sharing insights and perspectives was of great help.

Photo courtesy : Arjun Swaminathan

My team had chosen public infrastructure as our point of interest. The prime focus of the team was to leverage technology to the public to develop and maintain civic amenities. And soon the team was chalking out various means to link communities and bridge infrastructure gaps with technology. The team devised Community signboards for the cause. These devices would act like a giant tablets, installed in local communities, ideally for every two streets. These signboards will have three main functions- to provide information, to receive inputs and link communities. The main highlights of these signboards are Map (Here I am), Where’s my bus (track buses), find an auto, events of the week, community photo gallery, public grievances. There would also be a huge panic button, which will set alarm in at least five homes of the lane randomly at times of emergency. There was also a suggestion for community helpline, where a resident can volunteer and provide their quality time to attend calls. The resident can adopt the Community board for a week, and help maintain it.


ifteen years ago, there was a wave of fresh talent in India’s IT sector. At the time, graduates focused heavily on using new economic opportunities and getting a feel of new ground. In the years that followed, this interest in technology led to a boom in shared technology spaces; primarily call centres, start-ups, service providers and consultancies. Despite this, a large number of those who worked in the IT sector were left dissatisfied because there were not enough opportunities to channel their creativity. The result of this echoed in every conversation about Indian IT on the global stage. The key question that was central to every conversation where is the average citizen going wrong in leveraging the power of his or her ideas? At the Bangalore + Sustainability event, we focused on a way to fix this. The event, held in alliance with the global Plus Social Good Summit in New York, proved a crucial platform in bringing together youth, experts and passionate citizens to 20

have a conversation about how people could ideate, co-create and collaborate to come up with creative and practical solutions to pressing problems. Unlike in conventional creative exercises, the Bangalore + Sustainability event focused on building and testing skills among the participants, based on their interests, through an innovative make-athon format. The make-a-thon aimed at coming up with collaborative solutions for pressing sustainability challenges in the city; lack of green cover, infrastructure, waste disposal and inclusive public spaces. The participants were encouraged to join a team that discussed an issue they were passionate about and develop a workable prototype, within a time limit, which could help conquer a challenge. The result of this approach was amazing. What began as a general discussion eventually transformed to a collaborative discussion where people discovered

The main reason why great innovation doesn’t come to the forefront today is because people often feel personally connected to their ideas. While this personal connect is good, refusing to allow room to shape the idea through research, perspective and analysis hinders innovative outcomes. The goal of the summit this year was to “unlock the potential of new media and technology to make the world a better place, and then to translate that potential into action.’ Never has there been a better moment for each of us to translate our skills towards working together to create and breathe life into ideas that could help accelerate change.

Prajwal Nagesh, Student, Christ University

Past events: The Ashoka India Future Forum 27 – 29 June 2013 The Future Forum brought together the India network of fellows to celebrate this journey and discuss their vision for the future.

The Ashoka Nutrition Co-Creation workshop 1 -2 August 2013 Ashoka fellows and external stakeholders brainstormed on strategies for improving nutrition.

The Bangalore + Sustainability Summit in alliance with Plus Social Good 21 September 2013

Nutrition workshop with Ashoka Fellow Kabir Vajpayei for the Shristi School of Art, Design and Technology 13-15 November 2013 Photo courtesy : Arjun Swaminathan


The last part of the event, the three minutes presentation, helped us have a peak into the interesting set of suggestions and ideas of other teams. Overall the event was of great success. The event surely transformed lost urban souls into change makers and reintroduced us to the society. I would like to thank Ashoka for providing such an enriching platform. I look forward to more such events.

and learnt how different ideas and perspectives helped them analyze and innovate better. A great example was the team that worked on a solution for better public spaces; the team had a good mix of professionals and students and proposed a workable prototype that would make spaces in Indian cities better. They proposed that making signboards interactive would help the functionality of the city better in that citizens could report crime, safety and infrastructure issues. They also pointed out that creating a central database of volunteers in each area for public issues faced by the disabled and elderly. This kind of a system is presently not in place.


Upcoming events: Ashoka Induction of New Fellows 30 -31 January 2014

Meera Vijayann handles online communications for Ashoka India and works with the Framework Change team. She works towards driving change through digital mediums.

Ashoka Globalizer on Economic Inclusion 28-3 March 2014





By Nitin Chaudhary behaviour. There has been plenty of work in this space showing how reminders to follow through on savings behaviours, account labelling, automatic transfers and mental accounting can nudge people to manage their money better.

Photo courtesy : Wikimedia Commons

The optimum management of money is linked to how people handle money. People manage money using payment instruments like bank accounts, prepaid cards or mobile wallets. But as we have experienced, even financial tools like a bank account are not incentive enough for people to save or change their attitude towards money. So what helps?

Why does a large part of the Indian population find it difficult to save? Nitin Chaudhary shares insights on the importance of promoting financial inclusion to change behaviours.


he poor live in the present. They are acutely biased towards immediate consumption instead of saving for later. Promoting saving as a habit then has been an uphill task or our team at the Payments and Financial Inclusion LAB at Micro Pension Foundation. Our organisation is focused on creating breakthrough business models for the effective financial and social security inclusion of the informal sector workers (ISWs). 22

One of the key components of cracking these business models is the promotion of ‘savings’ habit amongst our target beneficiaries (income level?). If the enrolled beneficiary drops out of the program, or is inconsistent with his/her contributory savings, it has a negative impact on the beneficiary, the channel and the product provider. If we were to map the affordable finance sector, we would find a number of initiatives aimed at acquisition i.e. on providing an individual savings bank account for everyone. That is the reason that most of the small deposit accounts and no frill accounts in the country have near zero balances. This heavy bias towards present-day consumption and the lack of self-control often impede with any saving made by the economically weaker sections in society.

Understanding the Problem In the absence of financial tools, the poor face a spending vs saving dilemma. It’s not practical for them to hire private wealth managers to help them with these choices. Therefore, providing accounts to everyone rarely addresses the problem of high discount rates or problems of unplanned, uncontrolled spending. Opening accounts don’t help people budget better or help them make optimal use of their savings bank account to manage their finances efficiently. The challenge before the LAB is thus: how do we empower informal sector workers to manage their finances more efficiently? In recent years, many economists including the likes of Richard Thaler and Senthil Mulainathan have used behavioural economics to influence efficient management of finances and more importantly, promote savings

People are inclined to save if they are aware of what they are saving for. For example, a childcare plan is a strong reminder for parents to save for their child’s future. Dividing a family’s monthly income in a pre-determined manner goes a long way in creating efficient mental cues for managing this money. The Bucket Approach The psychology is simple: different mental accounts and account labelling helps people manage their finances more effectively if they could divide their income and savings into different buckets and account for them mentally, based on the end use.

Opening accounts don’t help people budget better or help them make optimal use of their savings

At LAB, one of the approaches we are working on is to use mental accounting and accounts labelling to encourage people save, by asking them to put Rs 300 into a savings bank account or a payment wallet (a prepaid card). This contribution to a single payment interface is labelled against various purposes like retirement savings, insurance, childcare savings and other financial goals. The periodic (monthly or quarterly) contribution is transferred by default from his or her savings bank

account. The contributions can even be increased with some periodicity, in small increments, as a default option. On the face of it, it is simple for the beneficiaries as it is equivalent to the creation of multiple sub-accounts with a single interface. Each of these accounts has a specific end use and therefore keeps reminding the beneficiary about what he or she is saving towards. The single interface of the bank account or the prepaid card gives people a tool that helps them structure their budgets for their financial goals by accounting for them mentally. It is much easier to visualise and manage by the beneficiary as it does not result in them dealing with multiple accounts or account numbers. Therefore, it seems to address both the behavioural and budgeting challenges. Furthermore, if the card can be linked to the beneficiaries’ Aadhaar number, some of the subsidies can directly flow into the card as direct benefit transfers, which could then be leveraged to achieve optimum savings behaviour. This coupled with reminders and other commitment features can have a greater impact on the saving discipline. There are many psychological and physical frictions that impede savings. Physical frictions like access to a cash-in transaction point and convenient access to ATMs for withdrawals play a big role in saving decisions. But these are larger infrastructure issues, which will take their own time to make it conducive and easier for people to save. Countering psychological frictions, however, is easier. Using behavioural approaches, such as determining clear goals and streamlining the process of saving, is easier and can be controlled at a beneficiary level thus leading to better saving outcomes at a very low cost. Nitin Chaudhary is Senior Vice President, Operations & Payments, at Invest India Micro Pension Services (IIMPS).

experimenting with the partner model as well, the only difference being that the franchisor doesn’t gets paid by franchisee here. This change has been implemented considering the fact that it is only HarVa that will be responsible for everything. Ajay shares his short term goal as to strengthen the middle level management which is responsible to drive the organisation at regional level whereas in long term he would like to consolidate the development at national level and replicate this model in other countries. Poor infrastructure and bad connectivity were the top two challenges Ajay had to face while setting up HarVa XPOs and other centers. The other major issue was to change the mindset of the people and convince them to cooperate towards inclusive growth with HarVa. But what separates HarVa XPOs from any other rural BPO is the extremely low attrition rate. Explaining the reason for this behavior Ajay said, “The loyalty comes from the best of the opportunities (including the white-collar jobs) HarVa is providing to the people and communities. We pay a handsome 7% premium for our micro insurance plans. Our focus remains on creating the value in the ecosystem.” Ajay’s work has been recognized and applauded worldwide, including the prestigious honor by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader in 2013. Recently he was shortlisted as one of the 50 creative leaders across the world by The Amsterdam School of Creative Leadership. In his journey of entrepreneurship and impact Ajay shared what has kept him motivated. “It’s the frustration building up beyond a point which takes over the conviction and keeps you running. What facebook has done to over 1 billion people, I want to do the same with rural India. We’re working on a producer’s model for our economy and not a subsidized consumers’ model and hence it’s tough. We understand this space very well and convinced about the value it contains.” This article first appeared on SocialStory, India’s leading destination for stories, news and views on social entrepreneurs and social enterprises.’ For more information, log on to 23


It’s time to WasteLess!


magine for a moment that our problems with waste are like a leaking tap. The most logical thing to do would be to turn off the tap and then start mopping up the water. Unfortunately today, our global waste management policies focus on mopping up the water – transport, disposal of waste and some recycling. In 2011, I started a social enterprise called WasteLess with my sister Chandrah, to tackle this problem. The organisation is dedicated to changing the way we make, dispose of, and think about waste. Not only do we want to improve the way waste is managed but also target reduction at the source- close the leaking tap.

What surprised us all was the response from children. Children look at something and see possibilities. They have the capacity to imagine things as they would like them to be. They are not limited by past failings or fixed thinking and behavior. The schools wanted us to organize these campaigns regularly and wanted to include education on waste into their curriculums. Wasteless was born and with it Garbology 101, an educational tool kit on waste, consumerism and the environment. This interactive, inter-disciplinary curriculum for children aged 6 to 12 years included a teacher’s guidebook, posters and fun games that encouraged hands-on learning. We are also launching a new card game called Pick It Up. This game, based on the ‘Go Fish’ concept, teaches players how to segregate household waste into categories that can be sold to scrap dealers. This empowers players to maximize resource recovery through recycling and at the same time earn extra income. It’s a way to improve the way we use resources in waste today without

massive changes to our infrastructure or management policies and practices. Today, only between 5-10 percent gets recycled because we mix waste in one bin. This makes our recycling rate low. If we segregate, we can recycle up to 35 percent of our non-biodegradable waste. I feel the concept of throwing something ‘away’ simply does not exists because there is no ‘away’. We live on a round and finite planet and everything we throw ‘away’ stays here with us. For us, it’s out of sight, out of mind. For our public systems, it’s a nuisance to be dealt with cheaply and quickly. For future generations, it’s one of the biggest mistakes we’re making. To me, it makes the most sense to work on empowering future generations to manage resources better. It’s the only way in which we can bring about systemic change and demonstrate that we can all act today for a better tomorrow. Ribhu Vohra is the Founder of WasteLess ( a social enterprise that aims at transforming education through an innovative education programme on waste called Garbology 101. You could view his TED talk at -

Photo courtesy : Vimal Bhojraj

When I returned to India after spending a decade in the Netherlands, the population, amount of waste and manner in which we managed waste was sobering. Between 2001-2010, the amount of solid waste created in a day rose by an estimated 400 million kilos. All but 6 percent litters the streets or is dumped in landfills. My sister, Chandrah approached me to help her with an awareness campaign called Litter Free Auroville (LFA). We wanted to engage 50 percent of the population in activities concerning waste, consumerism and the impact of this on our planet. It included a large litter clean up with over 18

schools and 1500 students, an exhibition showcasing art and recycled products and in the evening, a Trashion show; a fashion show with clothing and accessories made from trash.

Ribhu Vohra, enjoys a meal with his wife, amidst a garbage dump they work in. For more stories of young Changemakers, visit ‘The Changemakers’ series on the Ashoka India website

Fellow Connect October 2013  

This month, Fellow Connect focuses on Financial models that would help social entrepreneurs scale their models.

Fellow Connect October 2013  

This month, Fellow Connect focuses on Financial models that would help social entrepreneurs scale their models.