The rise of India’s reputation as a center of technological innovation has in recent years been matched by the country’s growing reputation as a hub of social innovation. Indeed, social innovators in India are making progress against social problems as varied as the lack of high-quality education, limited access to clean water and hygiene, and inadequate nutrition. And Indians are achieving these improved outcomes at a low cost per client, using diverse business models, and at an overall scale that offers lessons to social entrepreneurs around the globe. Impact investors have flocked to India to vie for stakes in high-potential social businesses. And now, as our cover story “Giving Back to India” illuminates, Indians living abroad are rising as a force for philanthropy in their country of origin.
These trends galvanized three social impact organizations to combine forces and create a special magazine, Impact India. The Bridgespan Group, which recently opened an office in Mumbai, is an advisor to India’s largest philanthropists and invests in capturing and sharing insights that can help other funders and their grantees. Dasra, based in Mumbai, pioneered giving circles in India and builds multi-stakeholder ecosystems around underserved issues. To date Dasra has directed more than $49 million in funding commitments to help scale up India’s most promising nonprofits and social businesses. And Stanford Social Innovation Review, which edited and produced Impact India, has seen its readership in India grow significantly. In fact, SSIR’s second largest Facebook community, just ahead of Canada, now resides in India.
Impact India aims to surface India’s best ideas and practices, starting with insights from two high-profile Indian-American philanthropists, Ram Shriram and Desh Deshpande, via Q&As and case studies of Indian social ventures that they fund. Shriram, a founding board member of Google and a former executive at Netscape and Amazon, learned philanthropy at the feet of his grandfather in India, who built a K–12 school for his community. Serial tech entrepreneur Deshpande turned to social ventures in India after making grants in the United States to spur technology innovation. Whereas successful tech innovation begins with a new idea, then figures out its relevance to human endeavor, Deshpande observes, successful social innovation starts by focusing on a social problem, and then sparks ideas (which don’t have to be new) to alleviate it.
Two feature articles based on original research uncover trends in the Indian diaspora’s giving and investing. Bridgespan India office head Rohit Menezes and coauthors Sonali Patel and Daniel Pike analyze the historic giving patterns of India’s diaspora, a funding stream that has the potential to dwarf official US aid to India and strengthen the country’s NGOs. In the second feature article, author Michael Etzel, a Bridgespan manager, defines an underserved niche in impact investing in India and elsewhere, ripe for philanthropy’s involvement. Dasra, meanwhile, shines a spotlight on Indian organizations serving adolescent girls, the challenges they face, and the progress made against gender injustice, including the work of Kiawah Trust, a cosponsor of this magazine along with The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
We hope this collection of insights from leaders in funding, implementing, and analyzing Indian social ventures bubbles up the essence of India’s unique approach to scaling social impact and sparks new thinking and action by social innovators everywhere.
Read more stories by Eric Nee.