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Social Entrepreneurs in India Tap Technology to Build Inclusive Markets

SOCAP Global March 9, 2022

From SOCAP21: Leveraging Tech-led Innovations to Create Impact at Scale — The India Experience

As one of the most vibrant impact investing markets in the world, India also holds potential for large-scale change. Technology is playing a key role in this impact investing revolution, as millions of people in India increasingly turn to online services to meet their personal and professional needs — and entrepreneurs create tech-driven products to meet those needs.

According to research by the Impact Investors Council, over the past decade, 600 early-stage impact enterprises have impacted more than 490 million lives in India across sectors including health, education, financial inclusion, and agriculture. Several of these entrepreneurs joined a SOCAP21 session to discuss the crucial role of technology in their impact journeys and the lessons they’ve learned to enhance this work in the future as they pursue social and environmental change.

Siddharth Nautiyal is a Partner at Omidyar Network India, an impact investment firm focused on social entrepreneurs. While the firm has been in business for about 10 years, he said, the pace of change has quickened in the last five years — driven in large part due to technology. While that change is exciting, he said it also presents new challenges to maintain progress on the primary goal. “Technology is an enabler, but sometimes there’s a risk of making the technology the product,” Nautiyal said.

Technology also creates new gaps to be bridged for entrepreneurs seeking funding for their businesses, said Hardika Shah, Founder & CEO of Kinara Capital, a leading lender to micro and small enterprises in India. Many of them lack collateral because they do not own land or property, as well as formalized structures to provide the paperwork needed to apply for credit.  

To help overcome these issues, Kinara Capital created a data-driven digital lending program that has dispersed more than $300 million in primarily small loans of $10,000 or less to manufacturing, trading, and service businesses. 

“Our focus on financial inclusion is such a large opportunity that it provides enough comfort for both financial investors and impact investors,” Shah said. “We are never debating about whether we should or shouldn’t do this because what we do is core to how we operate.”

For the last six years, that also has made Kinara Capital a profit. “We are making sure that this story is so powerful … that there is something for everybody in it,” she said.

Bridging the gap between farmers and the multi-billion-dollar agriculture industry drives Shashank Kumar’s work as Co-Founder and CEO of Dehaat, which provides a seed-to-market model for smallholder farmers. That includes building a last-mile distribution system with a network of micro-entrepreneurs, he said. 

“We have been connecting smallholders in India to the agribusiness institution,” Kumar said. “The overall approach has always been farmers-friendly, farmers first. Not just to exchange the information, but to be with them throughout the season. As an entrepreneur, you feel good when you see your impact is reaching a different scale.”

Guarav Agarwal, Co-Founder of 1mg.com, says impact and scale hold equal weight at the e-pharmacy and online health chain founded to improve access to health care information, products, and services. He said last year almost 200 million people in India — about 15% of the nation’s population — visited 1mg.com to access information on prescription medicine. 

“Our goal is to make sure that 1mg provides … a better alternative to the broken health care that exists for everyone in this country today,” he said, noting the site has grown popular, especially among residents of cities with populations of about 25,000 to 50,000 residents. 

In addition to pharmaceutical information, 1mg.com created transaction platforms to deliver lab tests to homes and online consultations. Growing demand for the company’s services is rewarding on professional and personal levels, Agarwal said. 

“Health care is so important, that you could get swayed by making money and making profit, but you have to do the right thing,” he said. “That’s what impact is all about: Doing the right thing for the right reasons. … That’s really been our journey and our learning from this experience.”

Watch Leveraging Tech-led Innovations to Create Impact at Scale: The India Experience

Speakers:

Gaurav Agarwal, Co-Founder, 1mg.com

Shashank Kumar, Co-Founder and CEO, Dehaat

Hardika Shah, Founder & CEO, Kinara Capital

Siddharth Nautiyal, Partner, Omidyar Network India, moderator

Finance & Capital / Impact Tech / Social Entrepreneurship
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