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Can Techno-Social Innovations Solve Country’s Most Pressing Social Problems?

The Nasscom Social Innovation Forum (NSIF) provides catalytic grants and targeted mentoring for the strongest upcoming innovators with disruptive solutions to fill the gaps in the areas of education, healthcare, disability, environment, agriculture and livelihood and more. We speak to Shrikant Sinha, CEO, Nasscom Foundation and Dr. Meenu Bhambhani, Vice President & Head – CSR, Mphasis, on how NSIF has collectively built one of the strongest ecosystems to encourage tech aided development in the country.

Shrikant Sinha, CEO, Nasscom Foundation
Meenu Bhambhani, Vice President & Head - Corporate Social Responsibility, Mphasis

Given the diverse social, economic and political demographic of India, the country is host to a plethora of social problems. Its burgeoning population makes the provisioning of basic needs such as food, shelter and healthcare a challenge, with many falling victim to abject poverty. To further exacerbate the problem, there has been mounting pressure both internally and from the international community calling for change. Hence, it has never been more critical to find sustainable and scalable solutions capable of bridging these gaps and driving holistic development.

Through both for profit and not for profit models, individuals are leveraging the multiplying power of technology to create innovative solutions to some of the most pressing social problems. It is this new wave of technology led development that the Nasscom Social Innovation Forum (NSIF) hopes to embody. NSIF provides catalytic grants and targeted mentoring for the strongest upcoming innovators with disruptive solutions to fill the gaps in the areas of education, healthcare, disability, environment, agriculture and livelihood and more. It aims at recognising and supporting the best in class techno-social innovations that solve the country’s most pressing social problems.

With engagement from over 2000 diverse innovators, across 25 states in the country, Shrikant Sinha, CEO, Nasscom Foundation and Dr. Meenu Bhambhani, Vice President & Head - Corporate Social Responsibility, Mphasis, throw some light on how NSIF as a platform has collectively built one of the strongest ecosystems to encourage tech aided development in the country.


NSIF fosters innovative use of technology to create sustained social impact in collaboration with Mphasis. How has the collaboration with Mphasis helped in this effort? 

Meenu Bhambhani: Mphasis firmly believes in the power of technology to create effective solutions in the social sector and has been supporting a number of tech for good programmes as part of their larger CSR efforts in addition to the Nasscom Social Innovation Forum. Mphasis has been a driving force behind creating a social innovation ecosystem and with NSIF, the company has supported causes like education and disability in a big way. Mphasis has been providing with catalytic grants and mentoring support to projects in these areas since the past three years. Over the years, the company has identified a number of strong, innovative tech for good projects to support as a part of their varied CSR endeavours. The experience, so far for the company, has been significantly inspiring, with most projects starting to deliver impressive results. It has been able to bring to the fore its expertise in IT to help innovations and in partnership with Nasscom Foundation, has also been able to find the right mentors to help out NGOs and social innovators in various different areas like project management, marketing, technology, operational efficiency, organisational efficiency, process, quality control, etc.

Shrikant Sinha: To quote an example is SkillTrain, located in Chennai. Tamil Nadu is a social enterprise that provides vocational training through web-based videos to rural school dropouts. The training content is delivered through mobile phones, free of cost, and distributed through rural mobile recharge shops, thereby removing any need for internet connectivity. Currently, the organisation offers training content for 13 vocational courses including mobile repair, electrical repairing, computer hardware repairing, plumbing and masonry. On completion of these courses, the youth are mapped to on the job training certification after assessment. With the support of Mphasis, SkillTrain has been able to train 1,000 students across Jabalpur and Indore in Madhya Pradesh and Thane in Maharashtra. They have also been able to garner 103,000 subscribers through their YouTube channel across India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the UAE. With the recent launch of their very own mobile application, the organisation aims to aims to scale pan India and increase their impact internationally.

Can you briefly point out a few of the supporting innovations at NSIF?

SS: Yes, the winning innovators will be provided with catalytic grants to scale up their operations and create a larger impact; business mentorship will be provided at various levels and in various domains like marketing, finance, sales, upscaling, need based mentoring etc. to make sure that the winners are able to grow their innovations into products / services that can impact the whole country in the next few years; Technology Support to all innovators who seek to scale up their products using further technology interventions; Investor interface help winners to interface with the interested impact investors from across industries through various innovative interventions like speed dating, direct meetings, exhibitions, etc.

What are the annual initiatives recognised in different sectors? How many projects will be chosen this year?

SS: While we are still to finalise the categories for the current year, the last year categories were: Mphasis Primany and Secondary Education Honours, Primary Healthcare, Mphasis Accessibility Honours, Environment, Accessibility, Livelihood and Agriculture and other social issues. A special category for early stage innovators was also kept to encourage social innovators who have not currently established themselves as an organisation. In total 9 winners were selected from 1300+ applications received from across India.

Witnessing the changing landscape of CSR spends and the way companies are currently investing their CSR money, how far has this move been impactful and sustainable for the growth of social initiatives? 

SS: We are seeing that CSR teams from across the industry are increasingly looking at innovative solutions for social problems while giving out grants to the NGOs. The CSR money, has been able to help a lot of the innovative solutions come to the fore and scale up their impact. This has also given the innovators confidence to further ideate and create never thought before solutions to age old problems like sanitation, education, skills, healthcare, etc.

How can social enterprise leverage technology to help citizens lead better lives? How does NSIF support skilling related innovations?

MB: One thing that has created the biggest impact on mankind is technology. Over the decades, technology has changed the way we live and work. Technology has made many things possible; from air travel to talking over the phone, from email to pacemakers, these achievements are countless. Technology, which was a premium and luxury a few decades back, has become the biggest asset for society over time. Today, technology has become a social equalizer and is helping the bottom of the pyramid communities access essential services.

SS: Social enterprises are riding high on the technology proliferation across the country lead by mobiles and the internet. Some of the examples of how social enterprises are using technology in an innovative manner-- Rankskills Knowledge International Pvt Ltd created an online platform to connect graduates from Tier 2 - Tier 3 educational institutes to Start-Ups and SMEs. Callystro Infotech Pvt. Ltd. Created CoBELS - Competency Based Experiential Learning Solution an e learning solution that encourages learning by mapping curriculum into games and activities.

Social innovation combined with ‘Digital India’ and ‘Make in India’ can be a very powerful force. Please share your views.

SS: Digital India and Make in India have had a great impact on social innovation across the country. We are now witnessing many rapidly evolving, potentially transformative technologies on the horizon—spanning information technologies, biological sciences, education, healthcare, energy, and other fields. While new technologies continue to surprise us with their vision and possibility, there is a great deal of untapped potential in consistently applying existing technologies to support, and in fact, direct social change. They have given technology the power to disrupt status quo, alter the way people live and work, rearrange value pools, and lead to entirely new products and services to transform the future of a country. In India today, technology has created waves across sectors. There are skilled teachers available in remote areas addressing issues around geographical diversity, proximity, and access. There are solutions that support low income households in rural areas to alter the way they save money, their access to educational tools, accessibility tools created for persons with disabilities, remote diagnostics, portable X-ray machines - experiencing breakthroughs in areas that were untapped until a few years ago.

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shrikant sinha Nasscom Foundation Meenu Bhambhani mphasis

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