How has India’s social innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem responded to Covid-19?

Saturday, 6:30 PM (IST), May 9, 2020

Description: This webinar will provide an overview of India’s social innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem before looking at how its entrepreneurs, innovators, funders and incubators have responded to the Covid-19 pandemic in a variety of ways. We then discuss what might be the impact of the pandemic on the ecosystem and its stakeholders, and ways forward.

Speaker: Dr. Lina Sonne.
Dr. Sonne is an Innovation Economist with over 15 years of experience in research on inclusive innovation; social entrepreneurship; venture philanthropy; and technology, digitalization and inclusion in India. Dr. Sonne is associated with JSLH at JGU.

Moderated by Ms. Aiswarya Martin (IBM)2017 student

Dr. Sonne said that social innovation is a modern solution to a modern problem which is more sustainable. Social enterprises are agents trying to bring changes in the lower beneficiaries groups with an key change in the dual bottom line to create a social value as well as financial return by delivering livelihood opportunities. For example, creating agarbattis out of flowers discarded in temples. She also explains there are numerous characteristics acting upon it. In India, the change is mainly focused on poverty alleviation as different people have different idea about the pandemic. Also, social enterprises spread across different sectors, known as critical need sectors, which focus on a wide range of spectrum. The key challenge here will be of supply chain management as it has been disrupted, which asks organizations to build their own supply chain known as ‘last mile connectivity’.

This kind of ecosystem is made possible in India because of the investments made by the different investors, accelerators and incubators. Apart from financial help, they also provide services like technical support to help these start-ups grow with initiatives from the government as well. Also, certain private universities willingly take up projects with large foundations to build a social connection.

With India segregated with different containment zones as per the Covid-19 cases, response of an early lockdown from the government and NGO’s partnering with private organizations like Wipro to convert its offices in Pune to quarantine facilities, was a bold step to fight the pandemic. But social enterprise is declining as fewer investments will be made in start-ups and limited in the existing portfolios. On the contrary, start-ups turn themselves in direct relief work, providing food and shelter and try to pivot their resources for innovations in vaccines, ventilators and PPE equipment. An organization working on health care facilities is Padcare Labs which deals in sanitary wastes and created an UV based decontamination product which disinfects the virus within 15 seconds and making it available to the people. Similar organizations are working on similar grounds like Frontier Markets, which sells solar lamps to rural Rajasthan through its networked women called ‘Sahelis’, are now deploying field staffs to deliver essential goods to each household just like an Amazon delivery service.

There has been rise in investors, typically known as impact investors, which fund existing portfolios to conserve cash and protect employee well-being. Also, immediate response initiatives are rolled out by organizations like Omidyar Network, creating an initial rapid response fund of 11 crore rupees. Moreover, sector wise capital deployment has also been created for migrant and gig economy workers. Incubators, accelerators and lab makers have proven their worth as a contribution to the society by mass producing M-19 shields.

With the ecosystem in place, we need to change our thought process in terms of survival as the concept of blended finance will be needed to tackle the investment process in the future, whether it is equity, debt or market portfolios. We also see that there will be increased visibility of migrants and poor for which more rapid response funds and accelerators would be necessary.

Summary report by Aayush Poddar (IBM 2017)