‘India is ripe for investments in social innovation’

by Jamsheed Gandhi    Mar 07, 2011

Nasscom Foundation, the social development arm of Nasscom, has been steadily working to get NGOs and small organizations to the limelight. Recognizing that many good ideas never see the light of the day due to lack of finances and recognition, the Nasscom Foundation has, since the past three years, been holding the Nasscom Innovation Honors. We caught up with Rita Soni, CEO of Nasscom Foundation, to learn more about the foundation’s plans for the coming years.

What has the Nasscom Foundation been doing recently to foster social innovation?
In the last few years, a lot of work that the Nasscom Foundation has done has been to help NGOs do their job better, whether it’s in software or hardware or getting volunteers to work with them, but they have all been only up to a certain level. The Nasscom Social Innovation Honors, which is in its third year, is something that I think really takes this idea of innovation and entrepreneurship to a different level. We witnessed it, this year the award categories spanned the entire gamut of social issues.

The most exciting thing for us is that we are moving into the social entrepreneurship space. Part and parcel of what we are trying to do is to ensure that these solutions get the right exposure; that they are scalable and replicable in other parts of the country. Whether, through these awards, the companies can get additional capital or bring their ideas to more people.

So are you also arranging for finances or sponsorships to deserving candidates?
I hope in future, both of these are available. As of now we have talked with Indian entrepreneurs, not in terms of sponsorships, but with an aim of providing mentorships and this will be imparted to all the shortlisted candidates and winners. Interestingly, I think that it is such a different time in India at present; we have this whole breed of social investors who are looking to put their money in the right ideas. Even when we were going through the shortlisted candidates with our jury members, we had at least 5 cases in which they showed a lot of interest in the project.

India is ripe for these kind of investments and we could become the incubator for these kind of ideas; it’s just a matter of time.

Which are the key areas you are focusing on?
We are working on a number of initiatives for our non-profit partners and we are looking to grow them and make them more holistic. What we are trying to do is move up the value chain and get into more social innovations and services which can benefit the society on a larger scale. Education is a big initiative we are looking at. Nasscom has tied up with the National Skills Development Institute, where Nasscom’s focus will be on the IT vertical and IT-related skills and the Nasscom Foundation can come in and help with the other verticals.

The second major area for us is to work with our 1200 members to spread the word city-by-city wherever these companies are working. We hope to spread social innovation throughout the Indian hinterland through this, not only in the cities but also within the company by trying to figure out how our members can come out with social innovations by digging deep inside their own organization.

One of the ideas we are grappling with is how we can use available technology to make things like microfinance more easily available to the people. There are a lot of innovations coming out of the IT sector, they just need to be channelized properly. Another idea that needs to be incubated is that of rural BPOs as this will help create jobs where they are needed most. If we can overcome challenges like infrastructure, finance, etc; then these are the changes that will have a far-reaching affect on India.