Upaya Updates

Upaya extends debt to partners in India for the first time

Upaya Social Ventures has made 10 equity investments into Indian-based businesses employing the very poorest but until now, has not been able to extend debt due to regulatory restrictions. For the first time, in August of 2016, we have been able to structure small loan agreements with our partners to provide working capital assistance as they grow their businesses.

Parvata Foods

Parvata Foods

The first partner to receive debt from Upaya is Parvata Foods. Parvata aims to eliminate middle-men in the agricultural value chain so that poor farmers can keep more of their profit. Founded by Siddhi Karnani and Anurag Agarwal, their particular focus is to process and market the organic products from the state of Sikkim in northeastern India, which was recently declared the first fully organic state in the country. They source their products—currently spices and squash— from about 100 farmers with one to two acres of land who previously earned about $0.75 to $1.50 per day per person. Upaya has extended a two-year loan to Parvata and may make an equity investment in the future.

The second partner to receive an Upaya debt investment is Karmantik, a Delhi-based enterprise that aims to revive artisanal hand-crafted shoes. Founded in 2015  by Sruthi Niveditha Kande and Apoorva Kamath, who are alumni of the Young India Fellowship Program of Ashoka University. "Upaya came in at a time when we needed support to push ourselves forward, and for that we are very grateful," according to Kande.

Karmantik artisan

Karmantik artisan

Upaya Welcomes Bangalore-based Saahas to LiftUP Project, Promotes Job Creation Through Waste Management

Upaya Social Ventures is proud to announce today that it has joined with India’s largest business angel group the Indian Angel Network (IAN), to invest in Bangalore-based Saahas Waste Management Private Limited (SWMPL).

SWMPL provides end-to-end waste management solutions for bulk waste generators in Bangalore while creating secure employment for women from disadvantaged communities. Following this agreement, the company will receive seed funding and business development support through Upaya’s LiftUP Project.

“The waste management problem in Indian cities is staggering and is growing fast with increasing urbanisation. At the same time, the ‘waste industry’ in India is largely informal and exploitative,” said SWMPL founder and CEO Wilma Rodrigues, who has 13 years of experience in the waste management sector.  

“SWMPL was founded to responsibly manage all kinds of waste generated within corporate campuses and institutions with the firm conviction that waste has to be handled at the source itself,” said Rodrigues.

The company provides on-site waste management solutions to a wide range of waste generators, beginning with an audit to determine the types of waste generated, recommendations for recycling solutions and infrastructure requirements.

Many of the on-site facility staff employed by SWMPL are women who have worked as informal waste pickers in highly exploitative and dangerous environments. The organization provides them with reliable, formal employment and regular salaries.

“Upaya's focus on ultra poor job creation really goes into the heart of our model and I am very glad to have Upaya join this round as they will help us to remain people-centric while growing as a movement for cleaner cities,” said Rodrigues.

Across the company SWMPL emphasizes safety with adequate protective gear and training for hygienic waste handling practices. The company provides each employee with a fair salary and full benefits.

“The SWMPL team is highly experienced and respected in the industry for their work,” said Upaya’s Director, Business Development Sreejith Nedumpully.

“We are excited to work with a great organization that helps corporations and institutions reduce their carbon footprint significantly and be more ecologically sustainable and socially responsible,” said Nedumpully.

Mr. Nagaraja Prakasam, lead IAN investor, commented on the company’s growth strategy saying, “SWMPL pioneered the zero waste campus model and has successfully delivered onsite waste management services to bulk waste generators. IAN Impact was launched in 2013 to support ventures working on the ‘triple bottom line’ -- like SWMPL -- as IAN would like to encourage the growth of social enterprises that are creating better lives for people.” As an active IAN impact angel, Prakasam has lead four other deals and has made 12 investments through IAN.

Upaya’s support to SWMPL has been made possible by Open Road Alliance, a private philanthropic initiative that provides grant capital to non-profits for mid-implementation projects facing an unexpected roadblock or a sudden catalytic opportunity.

 

Patricia Devereux, Steve Schwartz Join Upaya's Board of Directors

Upaya Social Ventures is proud to welcome Patricia Devereux and Steve Schwartz to the organization’s Board of Directors.

“We are thrilled that Patricia and Steve are joining the Board,” said Upaya’s Executive Director Sachi Shenoy. “Each brings valuable experiences, insights, and relationships that will serve the organization well as it continues to grow,” said Sachi. 

 

Patricia Devereux

Patricia Devereux

Patricia Devereux most recently served as MasterCard’s Executive Director, Global Philanthropy. In this role, she transformed MasterCard’s corporate philanthropy program into a global program with more than 20 partners in 40 countries helping to drive the company’s financial inclusion strategy. She was also instrumental in the creation of the MasterCard Foundation, which is now the fourth largest private foundation in the world.   

“Upaya is leading the way in promoting a new model for ending extreme poverty, and I am excited by the opportunity to be a part of this burgeoning movement,” said Patricia.

 

Steve Schwartz

Steve Schwartz

Steve Schwartz is no stranger to Upaya. As one of the organization’s co-founders, he oversaw marketing communications and operations over Upaya’s first five years. In addition to his transition to Upaya’s Board, Steve also recently joined Tableau Software as the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility Marketing Manager. 

“From the very beginning Sachi, Sriram [Gutta, Upaya’s third co-founder] and I talked about seating as much of Upaya’s day-to-day activities in India as possible. This is simply the next step in that process,” said Steve.   

While Upaya welcomes Patricia and Steve to the Board, the organization must also say a heartfelt thank you to Deepika Mogilishetty and Sonny Garg as their board terms come to an end. Each played a pivotal role in Upaya’s evolution in its earliest days and has expressed continued support for the organization in the coming years.

New Report: Impact Investors See India’s Social Entrepreneurs Lacking Basic Financial Management Skills to be Investable

Right Click -> "Save As..." to Download

Right Click -> "Save As..." to Download

Over the past four years, the Upaya team has repeatedly heard from impact investors that the pipeline of investable social enterprises in India is frustratingly thin. While these investors regularly hear about interesting concepts, they lament the lack of entrepreneurs who have the business management skills needed to lead such a venture to profitability. In fact, many leading investors have said that a social entrepreneur who does not have a sufficient command of fundamental business tools is not someone they can even really consider an entrepreneur.

Looking to turn these anecdotes into actionable information, Upaya is today releasing the first of a series of spot surveys that dig deeper into investors’ impressions of the entrepreneurs they encounter.

Titled What They Really Think: Perceptions of India’s Early Stage Social Entrepreneurs Among Impact Investors, the series provides data and recommendations to the multitude of incubators, training programs and mentorship networks currently operating in India. The report captures investor opinions about the collective critical skills and competencies of entrepreneurs, and starts a substantive conversation on improving the ecosystem for early-stage social businesses.


In “Spot Survey #1: Financial Management Capabilities,” 18 of India’s 25 most active impact investors shared their impressions of the financial management competencies of entrepreneurs they have conducted some level of due diligence on. The report looks at entrepreneurs' skills in utilizing a variety of financial management tools for decision-making. It also looks at the quality of documentation investors receive from entrepreneurs, as well as the ability of those entrepreneurs to use valuation tools to communicate the financial health and long-term projections of their companies with investors.

Click to download the report.

Upaya exits its investment in Justrojgar, will recycle 100% of funds for future LiftUP Project partnerships

In March 2015, Upaya exited its investment in Delhi-based Justrojgar after its shares were bought back by the entrepreneur, Ajaya Mohapatra.

This is the first full exit of a partner from Upaya's LiftUP Project. The organization will re-invest 100% the returns from the transaction into a future LiftUP Project partner in a manner consistent with its Pioneering Capital model.

Upaya initially invested in the Delhi-based skilling company in 2012.

"Art to Mart" at the Deshpande Foundation’s Development Dialogue 2015

Following the Deshpande Foundation’s Development Dialogue 2015 conference in Hubli, thealternative.in published a series of session excerpts to share the learnings. I (Sreejith) had the chance to be a part of the "Art to Mart: How can we build an end-to-end value chain that brings artisans profitably to market?"  panel. 

The transcript of that session has been reprinted below as it appeared on thealternative.in. The original article can be found here.


With over six million people (officially) working with Handicrafts in India, traditional handicrafts are a major source of income for a large number of people in rural communities, and have a huge market potential, about 20,000 crore according to some estimates, across the globe.

But while the market itself seems to be thriving, the livelihoods for most of these artisans are not.Various factors – like wages, market price gaps, and lack of technology – are forcing these artisans to move away from the handicrafts industry, to more profitable work.

How does one create a sustainable, equitable value chain for these markets? How do we ensure that rural artisans – all artisans, for that matter – are able to reach the right markets without losing out on the profits due to them?

A panel discussion hosted by Sattva at the Development Dialogues 2015 brought together practitioners who work across the craft value chain in India,: Sreejith from Upaya Social Ventures and ROPE International; Neelam Maheshwari from Navodyami.org, and RangSutra‘s Sumita Ghose, moderated by Rathish Balakrishnan of Sattva.

Edited excerpts from the discussion:

Can market led solutions bring about equitable development?

Sumita: If we are talking about an equitable model of development, it is possible only in an organisation owned collectively by all, which is why RangSutra is a company owned by these artisans. It gives you a say in how the company is run, your wages etc. Earlier, a lot of the women we worked with were paid a pittance while working for middlemen, being paid per piece.

Now, they are paid properly, according to the material, skill and time inputs required. Having shares in the company gives them not just a right but also a responsibility. They ensure that the work is quality work because they know that the company’s profit decides their dividends.

The idea that your work is valuable, that there are people who are going to buy it and that you can make profit out of it gives them a power, an awareness of the value of your work, and that comes with equitable ownership. Using your own money makes a difference because it’s something you believe in, versus just doing something out of program funds.

An incident that really motivated me is when I visited this woman’s house in a village and she had framed a share certificate we had given her. She said it was the only property that I own, the land and the house are owned by my husband’s family. She was so proud.

Should the producer/community facing entity be different from the market-facing entity?

Sumita: We decided in the formation of RangSutra not to have many organizations, we don’t have one community facing and another market facing, that’s too complicated!

What these artisans do need are quality inputs, access to markets, efficiency, timing, delivery response etc. That remains a challenge especially in our case, where 95% of the artisans we work with are from villages.

Sreejith: A very important thing is for artisans to produce what sells, to keep updating what he makes. Can we find alternatives to the saree that a weaver can make if the saree market is going down? It’s possible. Like with artisans making mats for sleeping etc.. that market has completely vanished, nobody uses them anymore.  A few players including Industree started making table mats or runners with the same material, a lot of these artisans were able to come back to their profession.

Sreejith: I completely agree that we should have a model that combines the equitable value distribution of community owned model with the efficiency of the dynamism of a private enterprise. But if I had to choose one, I’d choose market focused, more dynamic and efficient model for the question of sustainability.

Let me tell you an example which inspired me to entrepreneurship: In 2005, in Thanjavur, I visited some of the weavers’ cooperative societies that started with the best of intentions but were not working very well. We went to procure some sarees and find market for it to give an assured market to weavers.  The cooperative societies complained that they had a huge stock of unsold sarees and therefore were unable to procure more from weavers. The weavers said that 90% of the weavers had migrated to cities to look for other jobs, so they had very little skilled labour.

They told me that someone had visited them from Holland, and was stunned by the beauty of these pieces but he asked them to make scarves or shawls as there was no market for sarees in Holland. But back then, there was no internet or any way of getting in touch with the market(or that man) and they got in the same rut of producing sarees in cooperative societies. The weavers told me they don’t want to weave sarees if there is market for it, they are glad to make anything else if it’s sold.

If that type of market dynamism were possible in a community led model, it would be great. But it’s not. Another reason is the shortage of capital.

I think for these reasons, the sustainability of the enterprise depends on their ability to continuously engage the artisans, irrespective of the structure is.

We always look for scale. Would you say that a simpler model could scale better?

Sreejith: A simpler model is more accountable, more efficient etc but that depends upon the entrepreneur who runs it. Of course, you need to scale, scaling is great, but it is not easy. Just because it has worked for some organizations in some sector, it doesn’t mean it will for all.  It takes investment in capacity building, in system and community owned structure to have a good organisation. In some cases, private entrepreneur can do it much more efficiently and they have access to capital.

Neelam: To think that in 60 years in India, we have had just one FabIndia.

We don’t have enough models, we should look at these people as beneficiaries, but also entrepreneurs. For me, it’s an information gap, we need to connect producers to market opportunities. There are so many artisans, we need many more models, we can’t stick with one or two models that we think are good.

Sumita: Today, there are also lots of people leaving the field, I have seen that it’s more for young men than women. For women, it’s convenient as it allows them to earn a livelihood while working from home, but sometimes with the men, it’s more profitable to work in a city in some other job.

Sreejith: In my experience, I’d say men too are interested… provided they have a sustained income from craft. It’s not that they want to preserve the art of anything, they really need a livelihood.

Which one is more relevant to artisans, the B2B or B2C model?

Sreejith: I think B2C is extremely relevant, but in my experience, it takes more capital and therefore for  smaller entrepreneurs with  less access to capital it’s a difficult ball game. Look at FabIndia, it’s a very successful B2C model, but it takes a lot of capital.

When I started my company (ROPE International) in 2007, I was attracted by B2B opportunities and therefore I’ll talk more about that. When we started out, we did a market research and we saw that the US had 60 or 70 retailers double the size of FabIndia. They said that India has beautiful artisanal products but they don’t source majorly from India as they had issues about production, organization, compliance to social norms and so on in India. So when I started ROPE, my challenge was to build a model where consistent large scale, quality production is possible.

Sumita: RangSutra’s overarching goal is sustainable livelihoods for artisans. So for us, B2C model wasn’t viable for us when we started out. It is more difficult in India, because people take hand-skills for granted, they don’t understand why they have to pay more. Globally there is much more respect (than India) for handmade, because most people in other parts of the world have lost that skill. We do have challenges given our goal, there have been situations where we have had to make an order and make no margin at all just so that an artisan can work.

The panel wrapped up with 2 important takeaways: Building sustainable livelihoods is the obviously the most important thing to keep artisans in their work. Produce what sells, be flexible.

This article is part of a series of panel discussions and reports from the Deshpande Foundation’s Development Dialogue 2015 conference in Hubli. The Development Dialogue is a conclave of like-minded people from across the country who believe in entrepreneurship as a way of nurturing scalable solutions for development, an International social entrepreneurship ecosystem conference hosted by Deshpande Foundation India.






Upaya Joins With Ennovent IIH, LAF: Creative Venture Fund to Expand Youth Employment and Employability Through Investment in Anant Learning & Development

Upaya is proud to announce today that it has come together with Ennovent Impact Investment Holding (Ennovent IIH) and LAF: Creative Venture Fund (LAF:CVF) to invest in Anant Learning & Development (Anant), a Delhi-based company that is working to ensure young people from poor communities across India have adequate skills training and regular access to secure stable employment with credible employers. Upaya will provide funding and business development support to Anant through its LiftUP Project framework.

Anant has developed a two-track model for improving labor markets for young people. First, the company provides placement and post-placement services through its Rozgarmela.com platform to youth in both urban and rural communities across India. Second, Anant consults with private and public sector employers to assess the effectiveness of their skill development programs through skills assessments and post-placement tracking. Anant currently operates in nine states [within India].           

“Having overseen many vocational training projects in the past, I saw that the young men and women who graduated out of training programs quickly fell back out of the formal sector workforce,” said Anant Founder and CEO Ajit Singh.

“These young people often claimed frequent miscommunication of salary, benefits as well as job roles by training and placement agencies while, at the same time, employers complained of high attrition and need for credible intermediaries for sourcing candidates. The misalignment of incentives of training and placement agencies is a central issue, and I thought that a more transparent, data-driven approach could iron out the inefficiencies in the market,” said Singh.

Unlike many placement websites in India, Anant does not collect fees from the young people being placed. Instead, the company harnesses its data collection capabilities to provide actionable insights to employers, training agencies, and government agencies so that each can improve the efficacy and efficiency of their efforts.

Singh expects to enroll 10 employers every month on Rozgarmela.com, who are collectively projected to hire approximately 250 candidates.

The Ennovent Circle, an exclusive group that collaborates to accelerate innovations for low-income markets, facilitated the investment in Anant. Both Upaya and Ennovent IIH are Ennovent Circle members.

 “The unique selling point of Anant is its strong linkages to the industry and direct contact with the beneficiaries. This helps the company understand the needs of the potential employees and connects the disconnected rural youth to the employment system,”said Ennovent Circle Manager Joel Rodrigues. “The Ennovent Impact Investment Holding is optimistic about the impact Anant will be able to create at the grass roots through this investment,” said Rodrigues.

Upaya’s support of Anant has been made possible by LAF:CVF, a venture philanthropy fund that invests in employment and empowerment initiatives that provide vulnerable youth around the world with the means to create a better life for themselves.

“Upaya sees Anant’s platform as enhancing the ability of young men and women from poor communities to earn a stable, dignified living,” said Upaya’s Director, Business Development Sreejith Nedumpully. “By harnessing technology along with a geographically diverse network of trainers and assessors, Anant is able to remove the inefficiencies from the system,” said Nedumpully.

Upaya Teams Up With LAF: Creative Venture Fund To Bring Employment Opportunities to Vulnerable Youth

Upaya and LAF: Creative Venture Fund (LAF:CVF) have come together to build skills and create thousands of jobs for young women and men living in India’s poorest communities. Through this partnership, Upaya and LAF:CVF will identify, invest in, and provide business development support to promising early-stage ventures with significant youth employment potential via Upaya’s LiftUP Project initiative.

Together, the two organizations will work to support multiple new ventures and create significant new employment opportunities across India.

LAF:CVF is a venture philanthropy fund that invests in employment and empowerment initiatives that provide vulnerable youth around the world with the means to create a better life for themselves. This partnership lays the groundwork for LAF:CVF to make its first investments in India following similar efforts in Haiti and Kenya. 

“Not enough organizations are focused on giving youth opportunities to build critical life and job skills while also ensuring they have the opportunity to utilize those skills to earn a viable living,” said LAF:CVF Executive Director Kate Genereux. “Sachi and her team have an incredible track record of providing critical financial and advisory support to promising entrepreneurs who have, in turn, become large scale employers of young people in their areas,” said Genereux.   

Upaya’s flagship program, the Life-Changing Interventions for the Ultra Poor (LiftUP) Project incubates early-stage enterprises in low-income communities by combining patient seed equity funding with hands-on financial management support. Upaya’s goal is to help each enterprise reach financial stability, scale, and become a significant local employer.

From our initial conversations it was clear that LAF:CVF leadership shared Upaya’s vision of poverty alleviation and youth empowerment through employment.  We are thrilled to translate that philosophy into action and help young men and women from poor communities earn a stable, dignified living.” 

Drishtee, Upaya Come Together to Launch New Rural Supply Chain Social Venture

Upaya Social Ventures and Drishtee Development and Communications Ltd. are proud to announce a social venture collaboration that will create new opportunities for rural artisans to rely on their trade to earn a stable and dignified living. This pilot project with Drishtee will fill gaps in regional value chains by connecting groups of producers in rural communities across Assam, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh with raw material suppliers and wholesale buyers of their products.

The pilot provides these groups - known as Community-Owned Enterprises (COEs) - with the technical training, management infrastructure, and market linkages needed for community-level entrepreneurship to thrive beyond their immediate area.

“In building Drishtee, we saw a new opportunity in organizing and formalizing the thousands of sole proprietors in or adjacent to our network,” said Drishtee Co-Founder and Managing Director Satyan Mishra. “Right now, village level producers are generally on their own. They are sole proprietors with very little reach outside their immediate area, and do not have the means or ability to develop customer relationships with larger clients for their product or service,” said Mishra.

Drishtee is a social enterprise that provides goods and services across rural India through locally owned village kiosk franchises. The kiosks provide services such as health, education, banking, microfinance, and livelihood services, as well as market linkages for independent farmers and other agri-processors. The Drishtee network currently serves the needs of over 14,000 rural households.

“This pilot with Drishtee - a successful company in its own right - is somewhat different from the typical business Upaya incubates through the LiftUP Project. However, the pilot’s ambitious and unique model provides an opportunity to secure stable, dignified livelihoods for small scale rural producers by connecting them with larger regional and national buyers,” said Upaya’s Director, Business Development Sreejith Nedumpully.

The initial pilot will focus on incubation of three to four COEs in the handloom textile and apparel production value chain. Per the initial plan, each of the prospective COEs will perform different steps in the process including thread spinning, weaving, sewing and garment finishing. Over the initial months of the pilot, Drishtee will organize and formalize the groups, provide training in design and quality control, and provide the necessary connections with wholesale customers. Each COE affiliated with Drishtee will employ at least 10 -15 people on a consistent basis.

“By building individual skills and allowing each person to focus on a piece of the production process, each participant can earn a living without fully bearing the burden of managing their own sole proprietorship” said Nedumpully.

At the time the company is launched, it will be lead by Vikas Mukundan, a Drishtee veteran who was selected to head up the new project. Throughout the process, Vikas will be supported by Mishra as well as members of the Upaya team.

As the pilot reaches its one-year mark, Upaya and Drishtee will review the progress toward the milestone goals and consider an expansion of the program.

 

 


 

Upaya, Artha Initiative to Co-Invest, Expand Management Resources Available to Job Creating SGBs in India

Artha.png

Upaya Social Ventures and the Artha Initiative are proud to announce that they have formalized a collaboration through which they will work together to develop a pipeline of and co-invest in India’s Small and Growing Business (SGB) sector.

Together the two organizations will deploy seed capital to help these SGBs scale and create employment for the poor, share best practices around sound financial management, and disseminate tools and training for the benefit of India's wider SGB ecosystem.

“In order to promote entrepreneurship in India, the barriers to financial management skill development must be addressed and be paired with improved access to patient investment capital that best meets the entrepreneurs’ needs,” said Artha Initiative Director Audrey Selian. “This partnership does exactly that by improving the access to management resources and seed capital for the next great wave of Indian entrepreneurs,” said Selian.
 
Upaya and Artha have each found that when early stage entrepreneurs receive seed funding and have the resources to master basic financial management practices, their confidence greatly improves and they are far more likely to see a new venture through its tumultuous first year. By equipping entrepreneurs with financial management tools and a roadmap for their use, they have been able to reduce the risk and uncertainty inherent in a new venture and, in turn, attract follow-on debt and equity investment needed to grow the business.
 
Through this collaboration Upaya will share its tools and training materials for dissemination across Artha’s platforms and networks.
 
“Although a number of tools are already available, the uptake by entrepreneurs currently is minimal as most tools are geared towards later stage businesses,” said Upaya’s Executive Director Sachi Shenoy. “Entrepreneurs find the more general templates difficult to adapt to their specific business models,” said Shenoy.
 
In addition to sharing materials and best practices among the two organizations, Upaya will explore co-investments in job creating businesses that participate in the Artha Venture Challenge. Furthermore, Upaya will leverage the Artha Platform, an online community and website dedicated to building relationships between sector participants, to expand the pool of resources available to its partners as they continue to scale.
 
This is the second co-investment and tool-sharing partnership of its type for Upaya, following an announcement earlier this year of a similar collaboration with 3rd Creek Foundation.