December Newsletter: 1,139 Jobs and Counting!

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Today, I am proud to share Upaya’s latest milestone - as of this week, our five LiftUP Project partners are collectively employing over 1,100 people!

Combining the continued growth of our early partners with the addition of Samagra and Tamul Plates to our LiftUP Project, Upaya has seen the number of people employed by its partners more than double since the spring.

Click here to read Upaya's quarterly newsletter and learn more!

Tamul Plates Teams With Upaya to Expand Arecanut Tableware Production Across Northeast India

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Assam-based natural dinnerware producer Tamul Plates Marketing Pvt. Ltd. is pleased to announce that it has received a seed investment from Upaya Social Ventures through Upaya’s LiftUP Project. Based in the Barpeta District of Assam, Tamul Plates produces and markets high-quality, all-natural disposable plates and bowls made from arecanut (palm) tree leaves under the “Tambul Leaf Plates” brand.

Disposable arecanut dinnerware is hygienic, chemical-free, compostable, microwave safe, and in high demand among urban consumers around the world.

The production and sale of natural arecanut dinnerware not only reduces the deforestation and pollution associated with the production of traditional disposable dishes, but also provides a viable livelihood to disadvantaged communities.

“Unemployment is the root cause of so many problems plaguing the Northeast today, and Tamul Plates was launched to create new opportunities for rural youth to earn a dependable income,” said Tamul Plates CEO Arindam Dasgupta. “We feel that this partnership with Upaya affords us the resources needed to expand our operations and be a positive economic force in these communities,” said Dasgupta.

Tamul Plates produces dinnerware through a network of affiliates across tribal regions of Northeast India. The company ensures that each affiliate has the skills and machinery needed to produce superior-quality dinnerware. These affiliates are located in communities otherwise struggling with stubbornly high rates of unemployment, especially as heavy annual monsoons and floods diminish the ability of farmers to earn a dependable income from conventional agriculture alone.

Two men work a pair of presses in a community-run Tamul Plates production unit.

Two men work a pair of presses in a community-run Tamul Plates production unit.

A woman cleans recently collected arecanut leaves to prepare them for pressing.

A woman cleans recently collected arecanut leaves to prepare them for pressing.

“There are more than 100,000 hectares of arecanut plantation in Northeast India - one of the poorest and most backward areas of the country - but there is virtually no one connecting these small farmers to the equipment and support needed to produce high-quality disposable arecanut leaf dinnerware,” said Upaya’s Director, Business Development Sreejith Nedumpully. “Upaya is very excited to be working with Arindam and his team as we believe they can provide those services and be a major employer in poor tribal communities across the Northeast,” said Nedumpully.


The International Foundation Announces Grant Support to Upaya


Upaya Social Ventures has been selected by the trustees of The International Foundation to receive grant funding to support the organization’s LiftUP Project work.

Supporting world-wide development since its founding in 1948, the International Foundation continually looks for opportunities to learn from experience and to gain an understanding of what produces satisfactory results in the promotion of sustainable development.

Upaya Bolsters India Team With Addition of Tanya Jairaj as Director, Strategy & Operations

Upaya Social Ventures is thrilled to welcome Tanya Jairaj as the organization’s Director, Strategy & Operations. Based in Bangalore, Tanya will complement Upaya’s current leadership in India by overseeing the organization’s domestic operations, expanding its social performance capability, leading local outreach and brand-building, and contributing to the success of Upaya’s LiftUP Project partnerships.

“I am excited to be joining an organization with such a unique approach to meeting the basic needs of the very poorest,” said Jairaj. “I’ve spent the majority of my career promoting real change for those facing the injustices produced by extreme poverty, and believe Upaya’s work can have a very positive impact on India’s neediest communities,” she said.

A trained lawyer with experience litigating civil and consumer cases in Indian courts, Tanya has spent the last 10 years working in the development space in areas of good governance, education, women's and children's rights.

“From the first conversation we were impressed with Tanya's passion and desire to make a difference in the lives of the ultra poor,” said Upaya’s Executive Sachi Shenoy. “As we enter the next phase of the organization’s growth, we believe that Tanya’s unique blend of skills and experiences will be a tremendous asset to Upaya, its partners, and all those we are working to serve,” said Shenoy.

Prior to joining Upaya, Tanya was a Rural Business Development Advisor with Sun Edison, one of the world’s largest solar development and management companies. This followed several years with Ashoka: Innovators for the Public where she set up an initiative that gave access to social entrepreneurs to high quality legal services, helped law firms in India systematise pro bono lawyering into their practice, and managed a fellowship program that has since engaged more than 350 Ashoka Fellows. Tanya holds a B.A.LL.B, Law from University Law College.

With this addition, Tanya is taking over the title of Director, Strategy & Operations from Upaya Co-Founder Steve Schwartz, a move that reflects Upaya’s expansion of its India-based team and infrastructure. Steve is transitioning to Director, External Relations where he will lead the organization’s fundraising and outreach efforts, as well as continue providing ongoing strategic marketing support to Upaya's partners. 

Eco Kargha Baseline Social Metrics Report (November 2013)

In November 2012, Upaya initiated a partnership with Bhagalpur-based start-up Eco Kargha Marketing Pvt. Ltd., a company working to improve the lives of rural weavers through the production and sales of traditional handloom products. Surveyed in mid-2013, this Baseline Social Metrics report provides a snapshot of social metrics for 119 weavers working with Eco Kargha at the time of their hire, serving as a baseline for reporting their progress out of poverty.

The data in this report was collected before these households started their employment with Eco Kargha, and prior to receiving their new income stream. Before Eco Kargha was established, the only option open to these weavers was to sell their products to local wholesale agents and receive devastatingly low margins and irregular payments. Due to the uncertainty of demand from these traders they would end up with little to no work - especially in the summer months.

Among the report’s findings:

  • While only 15% of households live under the $1.25 a day extreme poverty line, the per capita earnings are just $0.49 per day for each member of the average five-person household.
  • For most of the households weaving not only employs a majority of their family members, but its contribution in the family pool of income is also the highest.
  • The majority of houses include one form of sturdy building material – either wall or roof – however 89% are categorized as “semi-pucca,” meaning that quality materials are augmented with mud or thatch.
  • Food expenditures consume 85% of the average weaving household income, which is 30 percentage points higher than the Indian national average.

The business generated by Eco Kargha comes as a shot in the arm for weaving households, increasing household earnings and allowing them to rely on their craft as their primary source of income, year round. Subsequent metrics reports will track these households’ progress and report on improvements in their quality of life as a result of these new jobs.

You can download the full report here.

Upaya Announces Collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Samagra


Starting in November 2013, Upaya Social Ventures and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are teaming up to incubate a Foundation-backed urban sanitation venture within Upaya's LiftUP Project framework.

Through this collaboration, members of the Upaya team will work with the founder of Pune-based Samagra to explore and refine the promising start-up's business model, and prepare the venture for follow-on growth funding.

Upaya Transitions Out of its LiftUP Project Partnership with Justrojgar

Upaya has decided to wind down its LiftUP Project partnership with Delhi-based Justrojgar following a difference with management about operating practices. With this change, Upaya will continue to hold its equity position in the company, however, the Upaya team will no longer provide technical support that is central to its LiftUP Project partnerships.

“While we are altering the structure of our partnership with Justrojgar, we maintain our fundamental belief that the facilities management sector - both commercial and residential - represents a tremendous opportunity to create large-scale employment for ultra poor slumdwellers” said Upaya Director, Business Development Sreejith Nedumpully.

October Newsletter: Committing to Job Creation

Two weeks ago I was honored to represent Upaya at the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative! We received widespread praise for our work -- so many attendees were impressed by what our partners have accomplished, against great odds. At the meeting, Upaya made a Commitment to Action to create dignified jobs for the ultra poor, primarily women, in India by October 2014 by doubling the number of enterprise partners in our LiftUP Project network.

Click to read the full newsletter.

Social Performance Metrics report 24% increase in the per capita income of MILK ROUTE dairy farmers


Committed to rural transformation, MokshaYug Access (MYA), the company behind the brand MILK ROUTE, in association with Upaya Social Ventures, released its first Social Performance Metrics report for 2012-2013. MYA undertook this evaluation to measure the social impact of its dairy business and assess the benefits MILK ROUTE has had on the lives of dairy farmers. The survey was conducted over a course of four months in 2012 and covered a total of 1,486 households across 269 villages in the districts of Tumkur, Mandya and Kolar.

According to key findings of the survey:

  • MILK ROUTE households reported a 24% higher average per capita income when compared to their counterparts (Control Group households).
  • By virtue of access to high quality cattle feed and veterinary services, MILK ROUTE households produced milk that consistently beat the industry’s average yield parameters, as measured by percentage fat and non-fat solids. These higher yields provided an additional 10% in earnings per litre for the households.
  • MILK ROUTE households were also able to provide, on average, 5.5 more litres of milk per month to their children compared to households that were not suppliers of the MILK ROUTE dairy. The choice to consume more at home versus selling the milk demonstrated greater income security in general.
  • As a result of increased, regular and transparent compensation combined with a support system that included access to training, high quality feed, and veterinary services— nearly 41% of all MILK ROUTE households reported dairy as their primary livelihood versus 25% of households before MILK ROUTE was introduced.

Harsha Moily, Founder and CEO, MokshaYug Access said, “One of MYA’s key objectives is to create income certainty for the farmers through our First-mile focus. It is encouraging to know that our efforts of transforming rural households are paying off. The social performance metrics survey helped us analyze our progress in our farmer centric approach and also helped us understand the gaps and what we need to do next to take this to the next level.”

Sachi Shenoy, Executive Director, Upaya Social Ventures added, “We believe in partnering with businesses that transform lives by creating dignified job opportunities. It is encouraging to see that MYA has had an impact on the lives of so many dairy farmers in Karnataka. This is just the beginning and we look forward to growing our association with MYA.”

METHODOLOGY: The data collection for MILK ROUTE involved both quantitative and qualitative approaches and relied on the usage of standard survey tools to directly collect and assimilate data from farmers. The SPM evaluation was carried out in three districts of Karnataka, namely Kolar, Mandya, and Tumkur. A total of 1,486 households were surveyed from 269 villages and fall into one of two groups: those who are suppliers of the MILK ROUTE dairy and those who are not (Control Group).

The process of narrowing down which MILK ROUTE households to survey included three tiers of selection criteria. In the first tier, milk procurement estimates were taken for each district to help in the selection of MILK ROUTE villages. Based on the percentage of milk procured from each district, a proportional number of sample villages were selected. Thus, 49% of the MILK ROUTE households were selected from Tumkur, 40% from Kolar, and 11% from Mandya, which roughly aligns with the fact that 48% of the total milk collected by MILK ROUTE comes from Tumkur, 44% from Kolar, and 8% from Mandya. In the second tier, the selection of individual villages was further qualified through purposive sampling. The only villages eligible for selection were ones that provided over 80 litres of milk per day to MYA. The third tier involved a random selection of households based on the short list of villages prepared through purposive sampling.

Control Group villages were selected in order to establish a proxy baseline to aid and assist in comparison. The selection of Control Group villages was completed through a matching process. This exercise involved each MILK ROUTE village being matched to a Control Group village based on key parameters such as economic activity, demographic profile, access to infrastructure, and distance to the nearest city. The selection of Control Group households was also purposive, i.e. those who did not own cattle were screened out.

To download a copy of the report,

click here


Upaya at Clinton Global Initiative 2013 in New York City


The Upaya Social Ventures team attended the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative in New York City on September 23rd - 26th, joining an esteemed group of organizations who have made far-reaching Commitments to Action in order to resolve the world's most pressing problems. The Annual Meeting's theme was "Mobilizing for Impact," and strongly encouraged the forming of partnerships and action plans in order to meet members' ambitious goals.

Executive Director Sachi Shenoy, represented Upaya at the meeting and had the opportunity to make a public Commitment to Action: to create dignified jobs for the ultra poor, primarily women, in India by October 2014 by doubling the number of enterprise partners in Upaya's LiftUP Project network. 


"The meeting was a fantastic opportunity to meet and collaborate with hundreds of other organizations -- both large and small -- who are all passionate about global social impact," said Shenoy. "Over the course of four days, we met influential thought leaders and other social entrepreneurs, and forged connections over a variety of working sessions and social events. The meeting left us energized, validated, and excited by all the potential partnerships that lie ahead!"

A particular highlight was the "Impact Investing: The Second Act" session. The room was filled with many prominent impact investors and entrepreneurs who engaged in an extremely frank discussion about both the opportunities and very real challenges that still face social start-ups in the so-called Pioneer Gap. "With so many leaders on both sides in the same room, it was a good reminder for me that Upaya is not alone in seeing the growth of Small and Growing Businesses (SGBs) as a transformative force in the fight against extreme poverty," said Shenoy, "but it also reinforced that we have a long way to go in realizing our goal."

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Upaya Welcomes Neal Winterhof as Director, New Initiatives

Upaya Social Ventures is proud to announce that Neal Winterhof has joined as the organization’s Director, New Initiatives. Working with the global Upaya team, Neal will lead the development of new strategies, tools, and relationships for the expansion of Upaya’s job creation capacity.

“Upaya is doing innovative work applying business principles and entrepreneurship to break the cycle of poverty,” said Winterhof. “The team built an incredible foundation over the past couple of years and I'm excited to help further Upaya's mission in the coming years,” he said.

A veteran of the financial services industry, Neal brings nine years of investment management and social investing experience to Upaya. He joins Upaya from Woven Fund, an investment fund he established to make early stage investments in positive impact companies. He was also Strategist at the derivatives hedge fund AlphaBet Management, leading the build out of the firm's global trading capabilities in the US, Europe and Asia. Prior to joining AlphaBet, Neal launched the physical oil trading business at Lehman Brothers after starting his career in investment banking.

“From our first conversation I was struck by the similarities between Neal’s thinking about poverty alleviation and the Upaya vision,” said Upaya’s Executive Director Sachi Shenoy . “His skills, experience and passion are a tremendous addition to the team as we look at new ways of scouting, selecting, and supporting promising entrepreneurs,” Shenoy said.

Driven by a commitment to fight social injustice in all of its forms, Neal is on the Board of Directors of Hope for New York and previously served on the Board of Restore NYC and advised Isaac Slade of The Fray on his philanthropic efforts.

Upaya Joins Grassroots Business Fund, Lumana at SOCAP13

Bringing the exploration of the Pioneer Gap to one of the nation's largest social enterprise gatherings, Upaya Board Chair Kate Cochran presented alongside Grassroots Business Fund COO Robert Webster and Lumana Village Ventures co-founder Sammie Rayner at the Social Capital Markets 2013 (SOCAP13) conference in San Francisco. 

Moderated by Managing Editor Scott Anderson, the panel explored the challenges impact investors face in supporting entrepreneurs in the startup phase and how different organizations  - Upaya included - have developed creative models for filling the void.


(L to R) Scott Anderson, Kate Cochran, Robert Webster, and Sammie Rayner discuss enterprise support in the Pioneer Gap at SOCAP13.

"It is exciting to see how much interest there is in nurturing early stage social enterprises, as well as the acknowledgement that this stage of investment is best served by philanthropic capital--from foundations, the public sector, and individuals," said Cochran. "Although our panel included people working at different points in the continuum--some providing returns and some not--we all agreed that priming the pump with "public good" money is the best way to build a thriving ecosystem for impact investing," she said.


The SOCAP13 audience posed questions to the panelists about the opportunities and challenges of supporting early-stage businesses.

Sreejith Nedumpully Joins the Upaya Team as Director, Business Development

Upaya Social Ventures is proud to announce that Sreejith Nedumpully has joined the organization as Director, Business Development. In his role, Sreejith will lead Upaya’s LiftUP Project in India.

Sreejith brings to Upaya over 12 years of experience in retail, emerging markets, financial inclusion, SME promotion, incubation and entrepreneurship. Most recently, he was the Co-Founder and Managing Director of ROPE International, a premium brand of natural, handmade lifestyle products from renewable materials. Today the company creates employment opportunities for over 1,000 rural artisans through its village cluster model, and wholesales its products to a variety of well-recognized domestic and international retailers.

Throughout his career, Sreejith has been involved with several social enterprise efforts including work with TeNeT Group, IIT Madras, Villgro Innovations Foundation, and the DHAN Foundation, and has consulted for organizations including Business and Finance Consulting GmbH Zurich, Women on Wings, the Sir Ratan Tata Trust, and Simpa Networks.

Nedumpully’s arrival follows the spring departure of Upaya Co-Founder Sriram Gutta. Gutta was recently named a Fulbright scholar and is pursuing a Masters degree.

Celebrating Upaya's Second Anniversary!


Two years! 24 months of highs and lows unlike any I've ever experienced. 730 busy days and long nights spent working with Upaya's ambitious partners, building our team, and expanding a network of wonderful supporters.

Has it been worth it? Absolutely. Over the past two years we've discovered some great entrepreneurs doing remarkable work, and are excited by the opportunities that the next few years of their growth will open up. We have also had the opportunity to visit families whose lives can be transformed by something as simple as a job milking a cow or weaving a silk saree. My colleagues and I have sat in their homes and listened not just to stories of their struggles, but also to their hopes for a better future. These stories, more than any other factor, have given us the inspiration and the resilience to keep moving Upaya forward.

Going into our third year, we are doing everything we can to keep building on that momentum. I want to personally thank you for supporting Upaya through these early days - we never would have made it this far without you, and I sincerely hope you will continue on this journey with us.

With boundless gratitude,

Sachi Shenoy

Executive Director

Upaya Social Ventures

July Newsletter: More Than a Job

The past few months have marked an exciting period in Upaya's evolution - our team has had the opportunity to share our story with some incredible groups, we have forged new partnerships to expand the breadth and depth of our work, and our partners have been acknowledged broadly for their successes. 

Click to read the full newsletter.

Upaya Awarded GuideStar Exchange Gold Seal


Upaya has been awarded a GuideStar Exchange Gold certification for its demonstrated commitment to transparency.

GuideStar's recently expanded Exchange program is designed to encourage greater nonprofit transparency and allow nonprofits to supplement the public information that is available from the IRS. The program's gold, silver, and bronze participation levels are structured to reward nonprofits based on the amount of information they share with the public.

Click here to view Upaya's GuideStar profile or to learn more about the Exchange program.

Upaya Partners with the Open Road Alliance to Bring its Social Metrics Online


Upaya Social Ventures is proud to announce that it has received a grant from the Open Road Alliance for the creation of an online platform that will be used by Upaya partners to collect and analyze data about the progress made out of poverty by their employees. This data will not only give Upaya’s partners critical business intelligence about the state of their workforce, but it will also allow them to quantify their social impact to prospective follow-on funders.

Through this system Upaya will also have the ability to aggregate data across partners, strengthening both the organization’s understanding of the key indicators of ultra poverty and its ability to identify trends among households benefiting from increased income stability.

Open Road provides fast funding for non-profits either to overcome unexpected obstacles that imperil an on-going project or to grow substantially with a one-time, targeted grant. This grant fits within the latter category as Open Road feels that an online platform for collecting and analyzing social metrics will significantly expand Upaya’s capacity to create employment.

“Measuring social performance has been a part of Upaya’s DNA from the very beginning, and this system will empower our partners to maximize their potential,” said Upaya’s Executive Director Sachi Shenoy.

Upaya’s Partnership with Chicago Booth School of Business on Display at 2013 Social New Venture Competition


As part of the organization’s partnership with the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Upaya’s Executive Director Sachi Shenoy recently joined a distinguished group of Booth alumni as final round judges for the school’s Social New Venture Competition (SNVC). While in Chicago, she also participated in the annual advisory board meeting of the school’s Social Enterprise Initiative.

The judging panel – which included leadership from organizations such as the Arabella Advisors, TransUnion Corp., CDW and Shorebank International – evaluated 16 finalists based on the strength of their business models and ability of their work to realize a positive social benefit. Upaya was well represented at the event.

The SNVC is lead by Chicago Booth Deputy Dean Robert Gertner, who also serves Upaya as an Advisor. Additionally, Upaya Board member Sonny Garg was involved in the planning of this year’s competition.

Upaya at Clinton Global Initiative Mid-Year Meeting


Upaya’s Executive Director Sachi Shenoy joined impact investing thought leaders from around the world at the Clinton Global Initiative’s May Mid-Year Meeting in New York City. Over the course of two days, the group discussed the ongoing maturation of the sector and explored the mechanisms needed to ensure that early-stage social businesses are given the support they need to launch, grow, and prepare for follow-on investment.

“I heard so often over the two day meeting that there are simply too few scale-ready, socially transformative businesses reaching the desks of impact investors, and that organizations like Upaya are exactly what is needed to solve this problem,” said Shenoy. “The conversation reaffirmed for me the power of Upaya’s model to empower small and growing businesses, build a pipeline of sound investment opportunities, and bring significant change to the people living below the extreme poverty line,” she said.

For more information on the Clinton Global Initiative, click