Creating impact in a right way

Often working from a foreign soil which often tends to look at the issues in developing country through their market centric eye which can often bring undesired and often negative impact to the society.  I personally witnessed effect and often juggled my evil twin during my month long trip to India.  During my visit, I was very fortunate to meet prominent economist who worked @ planning commission, various leading entrepreneurs and management gurus from leading institutes, and talked to at least 40+ leaders with different background.  I was also fortunate to visit leading healthcare delivery NGO SEWA-RURAL and worked with SEWA (see attached email) to understand some of their key challenges (both organizations not related).  With this summary, I hope to give a very clear & concise snapshot of my learning in a hope that next time you work with a development issue, you have some guideline and  right approach while dealing with social space in India.

1. Mentoring Key Partners

This is by far the best thing that ICA is doing today.  In fact, we are already building a significant value to  Pallium and ARMMAN in both India and US.  My trip clearly exposed importance of meeting these experts who can clearly have better understanding of public health and out-of-box approach more suitable in Indian market place.  There are couple of organizations that I would like to introduce in this category Jeevan Stem Cell Bank and RADHEE (sent as a separate project proposal).   One area ICA clearly do not have any experience but it would be great if others can take on – “building low cost/low technology health care products for a larger rural market” (See some background here and more please contact me for specifics)

2. Solve key challenges in BOP Products R&D and Distribution:

Through my recent experience at SEWA (with help of friends of Charity Focus), some of the major challenges got exposed in a key BOP product development and distribution side.  I believe that ICA can do a lot of good by initiating and putting together a strategy solve this major challenge.


Successful co-ops/trade union (like SEWA) have a scale and large users to implement many key green/sustainable products like smokeless chula, solar lanterns, replacing diesel tech with alterative for salt workers.  However, this NGOs have historically not been very successful at rolling out large segment of products within their user base.  This is because they primarily come from the mindset that they have a big base and hence they have a capacity to invent the solution. This may have been true the issues becomes more challenging as they enter new age of deploying technical products with varying requirements from their consumer base.   Historically, they are used to deploying customized handmade chulas.  However, these solutions often breakdown in support, operation, and maintenance.  Though it is tempting to tweak their internally homegrown solution, I believe they are not well prepared to support these solution in a long term.   In addition, they do not have enough technical expertise to implement key technical specification both of their sides and vendor sides.  Neither they have a strong strategy of rolling out different types of products for different needs within their larger groups with different needs.   For example, in some cases they can become a distributor of the different products to meet larger need within their large membership.

On the other hand, product vendors simply do not have a scale to do R&D to meet diverse need of large population dominated by different trades, regions, food habits and housing configuration.   Hence, they tend to push the product in a way that doesn’t always meet diverse market segment needs. I propose that we need to court people who already have long experience in rolling out deployments like Yoo Mi/Mark Jacobs and startups like D-REV, Villgro and KickStart, how they are tackling this issue.  Only way to tackle this challenge is by being in a system with the help and blessings of organization like SEWA, who can benefit most. I hope this becomes a base of a long dialogue – and hopefully a solution yet to come.

See more about distribution challenge:

3. Income Generation for Farmers:

After visiting SEWA-Rural and starting to discuss different approaches of social impact and issue one theme that was coming up on top was – “if you want to work on one social issue with deeper impact”, that is “income generation for poor”.  This is an age old problem and I am not the first one to bang head.  Many have used innovative approaches like Paul Polak’s irrigation approach.   However, even that seems to reaching roadblock due to uneven market and lack of agro-information for marginalized farmers. Economist Rohit Shukla has convinced me that this is one approach that is worth solving using new approach– without fear of failing!

At that point I went to a leading agro-ICT expert (B. N. Hiremath) and my friend at DA-IICT (Sanjay Chaudhari) to help me understand this issue and output of our discussion is attached here (concept note). Governments top down approaches have failed, Shakti had limited impact, eChaupal has some success but it works in the limited context, etc.  There are numerous examples still in pipeline even today. You can see traces of some potential solution from our friends at Avaaj De, Labor Voices and UID/Cash Transfer and either trust based currency like Vipani or market based solution (Mobile Bazaar) from Intuit.  Though this is still in early phase, further visits to India will strengthen definition, partnership, and approach.

Though, each area is worthy of its own and it cannot possibly be alone tackled effectively by one organization like ICA.  It requires a collective approach by working with like of Charity Focus, many similarly minded orgs and many other people who have shown an interest in this subject.  I believe that all these major challenges can be tackled in its own way.   If you ask me, I am likely to spend my energy on income generation issue (#3) in a long term, partly because it is a most difficult issue, suits my background and ability to make long term impact.






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