Editorial for Indiaspora.org: Promoting entrepreneurship, combating poverty

This article was originally published 24 December 2012 on indiaspora.org.


Recently, both Bill Gates and the leadership at eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s foundation have come out and made strong calls for philanthropists to break the status quo and invest their charity dollars as the kind of risk capital needed by entrepreneurs globally to fund potentially-transformative social business models.

Each points to the catalytic role that philanthropic funding can play in breaking a stifling Catch-22 whereby entrepreneurs need capital to build and test their concepts, but these concepts need to be proven before most serious investors will consider funding them.

Nowhere is this problem more acute than in India. Despite the great need – roughly 400 millionpeople live at or below the extreme poverty line – and proliferation of impact funds wanting to invest in new models, investors claim “the supply of entrepreneurs is very low,” and there is a real dearth of investment-ready social businesses.

As Omidyar Network’s Managing Director Matt Bannick articulated perfectly, “it is as if impact investors are lined up around the proverbial water pump waiting for the flood of deals, while no one is actually priming the pump!”

How can we – a community committed to real change – prime that pump? What can we do to produce a new crop of entrepreneurs that is ready to tackle stubborn social problems through business solutions?


1) Let’s commit a certain amount of philanthropic funding to serve as seed capital for early-stage ideas.

Philanthropic capital is the ultimate risk capital — it can absorb a high amount of uncertainty and help an entrepreneur test what works and what doesn’t. It does not ask for an immediate return, or any return at all. In my personal experience, there is a shortage of “investment-ready” entrepreneurs in India, from the perspective of fund managers requiring market returns, but there is no shortage whatsoever of aspiring entrepreneurs with promising ideas that simply need a runway to test them out. Philanthropic capital, even amounts as low as $5K, can provide this runway and help unlock new business models.

By positioning philanthropic capital as an equity investment instead of a simple grant, we open up the possibility of an upside. If the entrepreneur manages to build a profitable and scalable business, our investment would yield returns that would flow right back to the seed fund and be recycled into future investments. As we build up the wins in our portfolio, we would have less and less of a need in future years to raise donor dollars.


2) Let’s commit to mentoring new, inexperienced entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs benefit most from the combination of funding plus hands-on business development support. Often times an entrepreneur will know his or her industry and community well, but may not have other skills such as sophisticated financial modeling or information system development. In addition, entrepreneurs and small-business owners from some of India’s poorest communities will have the best relationships with exactly the populations we wish to serve; they do not, however, have MBAs or the polish that venture capitalists wish to see.

I have consistently seen that 12 to 18 months of guidance and mentorship dramatically sharpens such an entrepreneur’s business acumen and ability to manage a scaling enterprise. Empowering less obvious entrepreneurs allows them to grow their businesses and create jobs for the poorer populations around them.


3) Let’s commit to exchanging best practices and “franchising” the models that work.

The seed funding and mentorship will certainly yield a few promising business models. Given the magnitude of the problem at hand, we need to think creatively about scale and replication. The more we compare notes and openly share our business blueprints, the better our chance of inspiring others to adapt these working models to different customer segments and diverse geographies. Again, in India there is no shortage of aspiring entrepreneurs … the biggest hurdles appear to be angel funding, involved mentorship, and a clear articulation of models that can be replicated by execution-oriented, passionate individuals.

The Indiaspora Forum was an exhilarating and inspiring gathering of Indians from across the world who have made great strides in their respective fields – whether it be in medicine, business, music, technology, the culinary arts, literature, or astrophysics! By simply dedicating some of our talent, time, and financial resources, each one of us can help unlock the productive potential of the hundreds of others waiting in the wings for their opportunity.


Justrojgar Joins With Upaya to Create Service Sector Jobs for the Very Poorest


Committed to skilling and securing employment for the millions of potential service industry workers currently living in ultra poverty, Delhi-based Justrojgar is proud to announce that it has secured an initial equity investment from Upaya Social Ventures. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“This strategic partnership will afford Justrojgar the resources and expertise needed to connect those living in extreme poverty with an ever-expanding array of opportunities in service sector,” said Ajaya Mohapatra, Managing Director of Techpeople, the parent company of Justrojgar. “Together we are working to ensure rojgar (jobs) for the poor in a way that is just and equitable for all,” said Mohapatra.

Justrojgar was designed as a social venture to bridge the demand-supply gap in the service industry by creating a comprehensive ecosystem to train job seekers and link them with potential employers. For corporate clients, service employees can fill roles such as janitors, security guards, and porters, while in a domestic setting these positions can include full- and part-time housekeepers, cooks, doormen, and caretakers. Through its partnership with Upaya, Justrojgar will build on its pilot National Capital Region operations to establish a national footprint for skilling and placing the manpower needed to fill the massive national labor market shortage for formalized service work.

“By allowing a variety of corporate and domestic employers to confidently source capable and reliable employees, Justrojgar is making it possible for those living in the furthest depths of poverty to directly benefit from the country’s economic growth,” said Sachi Shenoy, Upaya’s Executive Director. “Upaya has been impressed by what the Justojgar team has accomplished so far and see great potential in this model,” she said.

The partnership coincides with the launch of www.justrojgar.com, India’s first-ever integrated online employment exchange for the service sector. The company envisions the website as a complement to its other efforts to recruit, train, place, and support service sector employees. Justrojgar is also fostering on-the-ground partnerships with the government, NGOs, corporates, industries, microfinance institutions and microfinance associations to fully realize the potential of its platform.


on 2012-12-04 23:55 by Upaya

20 November 2012


on 2012-12-04 23:55 by Upaya


21 November 2012


on 2012-12-04 23:55 by Upaya

24 November 2012


on 2012-12-04 23:55 by Upaya

28 November 2012

Eco Kargha Partners With Upaya to Build Employment Opportunities for Bhagalpur Weavers


Eco Kargha Handicrafts Marketing Pvt. Ltd. is proud to announce that it has joined with Upaya Social Ventures to employ marginalized Tasar silk weavers in Bhagalpur, Bihar - a region commonly associated with the high-luster, strong, and lightweight fabric. With Upaya’s backing, Eco Kargha will hire and train slum-dwellers on new skills, techniques, equipment, and designs for producing wholesale Tasar silk as well as linen, cotton, and fine wool. Terms of the investment were not disclosed.

“Bhagalpur weavers have long been regarded as artists creating magic on their handlooms, but have faced challenges in scaling up the industry beyond handicrafts,” said Dr. Ravi Chandra, Founder and Director of Eco Kargha. “With Upaya’s help, we will be able create systems that will impact thousands of weaving families in a sustainable manner,” he said.

Bhagalpur is known for being the traditional home of Tasar silk products, and as many as 100,000 families are in some way involved in its production. However, while it is an increasingly popular material in men’s and women’s clothing, Tasar silk cultivation and production in the area remains very unstructured. The majority of people weaving Tasar silk do so as a secondary occupation as the linkages to tools, materials, training, and markets are not in place for weaving to be a primary livelihood for a significant number of people.

“The Eco Kargha team has spent years working with some of the poorest populations in Bihar, and the founders have a keen sense of both the needs and productive potential of Bhagalpur's artisans,” said Sachi Shenoy, Executive Director of Upaya Social Ventures. “We at Upaya look forward to working with Eco Kargha to develop a sound business model that can create a number of new jobs and social benefits for this geography.”

Most Eco Kargha weavers qualify as ultra poor - generally living under $1.25 a day at the time of their hire – and over 50% belong to a backward caste, scheduled caste, or minority community. Furthermore, the United Nations Development Programme has identified Bihar as one of the states in India with the highest rates of domestic migration in search of work because of the lack of opportunities to earn a viable living locally.

Midline Social Metrics: October 2012

Click to Download the Report

In August 2011, Upaya initiated a partnership with Samridhi Agri-Products to create steady employment for households living on less than $1.25 a day. Surveyed in early July 2012, this Midline Social Metrics report provides a snapshot of the progress out of poverty made by Samridhi’s 55 longest tenured employees.

Before Samridhi’s arrival, these families could only rely on hard manual labor on construction sites or working someone else’s land to earn a meager living. One year later, Samridhi has created 104 new jobs rearing and milking dairy animals for ultra poor families who did not previously own cows or goats of their own. The company has also improved the livelihoods of an additional 220 dairy farming families in the same villages by providing higher, more reliable payments than the local middle men.

For the purpose of this report, the employees have been separated into two groups. Group A includes those who joined the company in 2011, and Group B includes those who joined in the first three months of 2012. For both groups, baseline metrics (those collected prior to employment) and midline metrics (collected as of July 2012) are presented side-by-side for comparison. We are happy to report that both Group A and B have made good progress along certain indicators and we are seeing improvements to their quality of life.

  • Both Groups A and B have seen an 80% reduction in households living below the $1.25 a day extreme poverty line.
  • Group A’s average daily food expenditure quadrupled to nearly $0.81 following a 78% increase in households’ average daily income. Group B saw a similar rate of increase, with a 24% increase in income producing a 49% increase in average daily spending on food.
  • Both groups report consuming a greater variety of grains and vegetables in the home.

You can download the full report here.

Upaya Shares Insights, Experiences on Impact Measurement at TiEcon Delhi 2012

Upaya's Executive Director Sachi Shenoy presented on a panel titled “Measurement and Long-Run Impact: A Discussion with UChicago Social Entrepreneurs” at this year’s TiEcon Delhi 2012 event. Moderated by Chicago Booth Deputy Dean and Upaya Advisor Robert Gertner, the panel explored three different organizations' approaches to measuring outcomes and the implications that effective measurement can have on long-run impact. 

The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) was founded in 1992 in Silicon Valley by a group of successful entrepreneurs, corporate executives, and senior professionals with roots in the Indus region. Hosted by the TiE Delhi-NCR chapter, TiEcon Delhi 2012 recognized entrepreneurship’s move into India’s mainstream and the powerful change it has brought globally. TiE currently has 13,000 members, including over 2,500 charter members in 61 chapters across 17 countries dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship globally through mentoring, networking, and education.

For more information about the event, please visit www.tiecon-delhi.org


on 2012-10-30 19:03 by Upaya

More on the panel and the challenges of impact measurement:

9 October 2012

Upaya Well Represented at the First Indiaspora Forum in New York

Upaya's Sachi Shenoy and Sonny Garg were two of the 100 Indian and Indian American leaders who gathered September 14-16, 2012 outside New York City for the first annual Indiaspora Forum. The event was designed to facilitate discussion of the critical issues that impact the global Indian community and lay the groundwork for actionable solutions.

Indiaspora's Forum establishes an epicenter for the diverse array of Indian American perspectives. Representatives from all constituencies of the community – from technologists to activists, sage academics to "Rising Stars" – engaged in a mix of strategic discussion and candid conversation over the course of the intimate, three-day forum.

For more information about the event, please visit indiaspora.org.

Upaya Partners with the Indian School of Business for the iDiya Challenge

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Upaya is proud to announce that it has joined with the Indian School of Business (ISB) for the fourth edition of iDiya, the ISB's National Social Venture Competition. Through the partnership Upaya staff will participate in the mentorship and judging phases of the competition. In addition, those iDiya entrants with strong potential to create jobs and improve the quality of life for the ultra poor will be simultaneously considered for participation in Upaya's LiftUP Project.

iDiya accepts entries from small groups of working professionals in India. Teams submit an executive summary of their business ideas and plans, which are evaluated by student evaluators, faculty, investors and social VCs, and social entrepreneurs. Submissions are evaluated on various parameters, including measurable social impact, criticality of the social need and sustainability of the enterprise.

For more information on iDiya, click




on 2012-09-19 05:36 by Upaya

Excitement for this year's iDiya Challenge is building. Upaya's involvement in the ISB initiative has been cited in:

13 September 2012

13 September 2012

14 September 2012

Upaya Welcomes Sonny Garg and Dipika Matthias to its Board of Directors

Upaya Social Ventures is proud to welcome Sunil “Sonny” Garg and Dipika Matthias to the organization’s Board of Directors.

“We are very excited to welcome Sonny and Dipika to Upaya and are looking forward to working together to realize great change for families living in extreme poverty,” said Kate Cochran, Upaya’s Interim Board President. “Both bring tremendous experience and insights to the organization, and I am confident their leadership will be invaluable to Upaya as it continues to grow,” Cochran said.

“I am thrilled to be joining the Board,” said Garg. “Upaya can and will make an enormous difference in the lives of those who are typically ignored and deemed to be hopeless, and I am excited to contribute in whatever small way I might be able,” said Garg.

“I’m excited to contribute to Upaya’s pioneering approach of marrying venture capital with poverty reduction as it has the potential to be a game-changer in the field of international development,” said Matthias. “I’m also excited to be part of an organization that tracks real metrics of social progress at an individual unit level – which is at the heart of the impact we are trying to make,” said Matthias.

For more information on both new members and the entire Upaya board, please visit our Board page.

"Stand For Girls" with Upaya & GlobalWA

Upaya is proud to join Global Washington and the Seattle Center's Next 50 campaign in taking a stand for women and girls around the world.

Please join us September 22nd at the Seattle Center to learn more about Upaya and the community!

Click http://bit.ly/USV4women to learn more.


on 2012-10-30 19:22 by Upaya

Steve discusses Upaya's evolution at the Stand for Girls event:

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Upaya Teams Up with Chicago Booth Social Enterprise Initiative to Promote New Models for Social Change


Upaya Social Ventures is proud to announce today the appointment of its Executive Director, Sachi Shenoy, to the Advisory Board of the Social Enterprise Initiative (SEI) at Chicago Booth. Robert Gertner, Deputy Dean at Chicago Booth and Co-Director of the SEI, will also join Upaya’s Board of Advisors.

“Throughout the world, enterprise development and job creation have proven to be a highly effective way of ushering populations from poverty to prosperity. We look forward to working with Upaya to identify new models for social enterprise, while giving our students the tools and exposure to design and build companies that can provide social benefit,” said Gertner.

Chicago Booth established the SEI to enhance the efficiency and impact of social sector organizations through research, data collection, communication and education. The initiative builds on the school’s commitment to rigorous analysis and its discipline-based approach to understanding organizations, markets, and policy.

The collaboration allows Upaya to advise Chicago Booth on the design of its MBA curriculum for students interested in social entrepreneurship. It will also open internships and research projects for the Chicago Booth community, while allowing Upaya to call on the school’s thought leadership, academic resources, and vast alumni network to advance its mission. Additionally, Shenoy will be a judge in Booth’s Social New Venture Challenge and Upaya will contribute to the Social Entrepreneurship Lab programs.

“We are very excited by the invitation to help the next generation of social entrepreneurs both in Chicago and around the world,” said Shenoy. “As an alumnus, I am honored to join such an accomplished group of faculty and alumni on the SEI Advisory Board, and believe that Chicago Booth is well positioned to be a global leader in social enterprise.”

As a member of Upaya’s Board of Advisors, Gertner will work with the Upaya team to refine methods to measure social performance. He will also support Upaya’s efforts to identify new models and best practices for creating jobs and improving the quality of life in the world’s poorest communities.

“We are thrilled to welcome Rob Gertner to our team and know his involvement will ensure Upaya adheres to the highest standard of excellence in business development and social performance measurement,” said Shenoy.

About Chicago Booth’s Social Enterprise Initiative - The Social Enterprise Initiative (SEI) at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business aims to enhance the efficiency and impact of social sector organizations through research, data collection, communication, and education. Established to support interest in the non-profit and social sectors, SEI builds on Chicago Booth's commitment to rigorous analysis and its discipline-based approach to understanding organizations, markets, and policy. The initiative's mission is to further the field of research on issues of importance to the social sector and to support social enterprises that wish to apply proven business practices to strategic decision-making and organization management. For more information, please visit http://research.chicagobooth.edu/sei/.

Upaya and XLRI Jamshedpur Create New Pathways for Aspiring Entrepreneurs


Upaya has partnered with XLRI Jamshedpur, one of India’s premier management institutes, to empower and educate the next generation of social business leaders. The partnership establishes a free flow of ideas, learnings, and best practices between Upaya and XLRI faculty, students, and alumni.

“This collaboration will allow Upaya staff and partners to engage in knowledge sharing in the area of social business and finance, mentor students through lectures, open up internship opportunities for those having specific interests in the domain of inclusive business, as well as contribute unique content to the XLRI curriculum on social finance and impact investing,” said XLRI’s Dr. H. K. Pradhan.

Upaya will also create new channels through which XLRI student and alumni-led initiatives can be considered for angel funding and technical support as part of theLiftUP Project.

“XLRI Jamshedpur has long been a respected pioneer in the field of social business, and Upaya sees this collaboration as a great opportunity to further that work,” said Sriram Gutta, Upaya’s Director of Business Development. “I experienced first hand the passion of the students, and I expect this partnership will allow us to harness that passion as the graduates move into their careers,” Gutta said.

For more information about XLRI Jamshedpur, please visithttp://www.xlri.ac.in/

Upaya Joins Intellecap Impact Investment Network (I3N)

Upaya has accepted an invitation to join the Intellecap Impact Investment Network (I3N), India’s first angel network dedicated to start-up socially beneficial enterprises. I3N draws on the full spectrum of Intellecap initiatives - including the popular Sankalp Forum - to facilitate investments in early-stage enterprises that pair financial returns with clear social and/or environmental impact.

"We are honored to have been invited to join this distinguished group of angel investors, and see a great opportunity to expand our own due diligence capacity through the Intellecap network,” said Sriram Gutta, Upaya's Director of Business Development. Gutta will serve as Upaya’s representative to the I3N.

While the network supports start-up enterprises across sectors including healthcare, education, clean energy, financial inclusion and agri/rural businesses, Upaya is the first I3N member with an explicit focus on job creation for the ultra poor.

“Business growth and job creation require a full ecosystem of support for entrepreneurs throughout all phases of their development, and it is our hope that Upaya’s membership in I3N will help foster that ecosystem,” Gutta said.

Intellecap launched I3N in September 2011, and currently counts more than 20 high net-worth individuals and institutions among its membership.

For more on I3N, click here.

Sriram Gutta Shares Experiences, Insights at Acara Summer Institute


On June 20th, Upaya's Director of Business Development Sriram Gutta spoke with participants in the Acara Summer Institute about many of the operational challenges young entrepreneurs face in launching a new social venture. Drawing on his work with Upaya, as well as his role as a co-founder of Mobile Medics (now part of the Piramal Foundation), Gutta emphasized the importance of pilot testing a concept with pre-defined success metrics in place.

“No matter how experienced they are, every entrepreneur needs to go through a period of experimentation and refinement before they can think about scale,” said Gutta, “and before a pilot is launched, the team needs to establish a common understanding of how success will be measured.”

“Young entrepreneurs often make assumptions about how their model will work without ever testing those assumptions,” he said.

Over the course of the intensive nine-day program, participants from two US and five Indian universities are brought together for working sessions, workshops, panel discussions and presentations of their models. Participants include a wide variety of entrepreneurs focused on issues such as clean water, sanitation, energy, public health, and food and agriculture.

The Summer Institute is organized by Acara, a program of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (IonE). The Acara Institute was founded by experienced corporate and university professionals in 2009 and has since become a formal program of IonE. Acara's mission is to provide the infrastructure, education and awareness to find sustainable solutions, and then to assist in implementation where possible.


India Development Service Supports Upaya's LiftUP Project


Upaya is proud to announce it has received funding from the Chicago-based India Development Service (IDS), a nonprofit, non-political, and secular organization supporting economic and social development in India.

Varsha Pancholi, IDS Board Member, recently met with Upaya's Sachi Shenoy and Sriram Gutta, and visited Samridhi's operations on the outskirts of Lucknow. "I was really impressed with the level of motivation both Upaya and Samridhi have in working with the ultra poor," said Pancholi. "I know they all could choose an easier route in life but choose to do this."

IDS supports small grassroots development projects under various categories like income generation, education, health care, environment and disaster management across India. These projects emphasize self-reliance, accountability of project coordinators, and a strong sense of ownership for the beneficiaries. Careful prior monitoring and ongoing dialogue with the projects have been the mainstay of IDS project support.

“We are pleased the IDS board saw in Upaya the same potential it has seen in many other successful early-stage organizations,” said Upaya Executive Director Sachi Shenoy. “Not only will IDS’s financial commitment allow Upaya to support early-stage businesses through the LiftUP Project, but we will also have the opportunity to draw from the insights and experiences of IDS leadership as our own organization continues to grow,” Shenoy said.

Since 1974, IDS has given over $ 1 million in support to over 150 projects across India and remains a catalyst to new projects every year. For more information about IDS, please go to www.idsusa.org.

Upaya Joins Global Washington


Upaya is pleased to announce the organization has joined Global Washington, a coalition of Washington nonprofit organizations, foundations, businesses, academic institutions and corporations working to improve the economic, social and environmental conditions of the world’s poorest people.

"Upaya has undoubtedly benefited from the supportive environment for organizations focused on poverty alleviation in Washington, and membership in Global Washington is an opportunity to further grow that community," said Steve Schwartz, Upaya's Director of Strategy & Operations. "We are excited by the opportunity to connect with like-minded businesses and peer organizations who share our values, and hope that together we realize our goal of creating pathways out of poverty for the very poorest," he said.

Global Washington is a broad-based membership association that promotes and supports the global development sector in the state of Washington. Composed of non-profit organizations, foundations, businesses, government and academic institutions, our members work collectively to build a more equitable and prosperous world. Global Washington convenes members to generate new opportunities for growth, strengthens member organizations to increase their impact, and advocates across key global development issues at the local, national, and global level.

For more on Global Washington, click



Upaya Presents at the Social Venture Network 2012 Annual Gathering

Upaya Executive Director Sachi Shenoy presented on Building Markets & New Solutions to Fight Poverty at the Social Venture Network 2012 Annual Gathering on April 20th.

The interactive session explored "innovative  and high-impact approaches to alleviating poverty, building markets and creating lasting economic justice solutions," giving Sachi an opportunity to discuss Upaya's evolution and the approach of the LiftUP Project with SVN members from across the United States.

Upaya Social Ventures's Executive Director Sachi Shenoy presenting at the Social Venture Network 2012 Annual Gathering
Upaya Social Ventures's Executive Director Sachi Shenoy presenting at the Social Venture Network 2012 Annual Gathering

"I was really impressed with how engaged everyone was and how many organizations in the audience had thought of these issues -- such as investing in small, grassroots business -- at a deep level," said Sachi after the session, noting that almost half the session was a good debate among participants. "I was especially excited by the number of attendees who were interested in social metrics, and feel like a lot of good ideas were exchanged," she noted.

2011 Financials and 501(c)(3) Application Status

Consistent with our commitment to transparency, Upaya is pleased to share its final 2011 financial statements. Click here to download last year's Income Statement and Balance Sheet.

Upaya's application for IRS 501(c)(3) tax designation was submitted in Q1 2012 and is pending determination. 
The organization will continue to operate under its fiscal sponsorship agreement with Jolkona to ensure all 2012 contributions are guaranteed tax-exempt status.

For more information on Upaya's fiscal sponsorship relationship with Jolkona Foundation, click here.