Frequently Asked Questions About Upaya

What is Upaya?

  • Upaya is a nonprofit organization that builds businesses to create jobs and improve the quality of life for the ultra poor.
  • Upaya provides business development support and investment capital to entrepreneurs with the potential to create or improve needed jobs.
  • Upaya has chosen to focus its efforts in India, which has over 400m households living in extreme poverty.

How is Upaya Structured?

How does Upaya Raise Funds?

  • Upaya has three main fundraising channels:
    1. Institutional giving – the organization regularly submits grant requests to large and small charitable foundations.
    2. Online giving – Please visit
    3. Offline giving – Upaya is able to accept cash and checks from individual supporters, and can provide timely tax receipts. All checks should be made out to “Upaya Social Ventures" and mailed to:Upaya Social Ventures
    4. P.O. Box 9603, Seattle, WA 98109 
    5. If contributions are to be restricted to a specific project, please include the name of the project in the memo field.

What is Upaya’s Model?

  • Upaya pursues its goals through two channels - incubating early-stage businesses through the LiftUP Project, and consulting with established companies to expand operations to include ultra poor communities.
  • This model has produced three revenue streams – philanthropic funds raised to support the LiftUP Project work, fees from consulting with established organizations, and returns from Upaya’s LiftUP Project investments (returns are not projected in the first three years of operation).
  • Adopting this model makes Upaya a very efficient organization, making the most out of the resources available to it. Consulting fees cover overhead, allowing philanthropic funds to be applied directly to Upaya’s work with LiftUP Project partners.

What is the LiftUP Project?

The Life-changing Interventions for the Ultra Poor (LiftUP) Project is a 24-36 month accelerator program that provides early-stage entrepreneurs with business development support and financial resources to launch and scale their businesses.

  • Selection – Upaya runs entrepreneurs through a three-phased selection process:
    1. Staff does a general screening for fit with the mission and potential for scale.
    2. Staff works with high-potential candidates to build a more robust projection of the social and financial outcomes. This also involves a small financial commitment by Upaya ($10,000 or less) to help candidates put more structure around their ideas.
    3. Board reviews investment materials and feedback from the team to make a decision about a full LiftUP Project partnership including a larger investment of time and financial resources.
  • Investment – In a full LiftUP Project partnership, Upaya makes equity investments between $10,000 and $75,000 in selected businesses with a minimum three-year time commitment.
  • Business development support – Upaya works alongside partners to help them build the business in this early phase. This work includes operations consulting, intervention and pilot design, product or service development, marketing and fundraising, and development of systems for tracking and analyzing social metrics.
  • Any returns from investments are restricted exclusively for re-investment in future LiftUP Project partners.

How does Upaya do Consulting?

  • Consulting engagements are pursued and accepted based on their fit with Upaya’s skills and ability to help the organization reach its goals.
  • The team is very mindful of the social benefit generated by the work and the capacity an engagement would build within the Upaya team.

How does Upaya Track Social Metrics?

  • Just as accounting systems allow an entrepreneur to make decisions about the financial health of the organization, well designed social performance systems with regularly collected data allow an enterprise to keep moving toward its stated social goals.
  • Collecting and analyzing social outcomes is vital for the long-term success of a social business, as it gives managers the ability to adjust their operations to improve the quantity and quality of social outcomes.
  • Without information about how a business affects the lives of its employees or customers, it is impossible to verify that change is happening or make the types of adjustments that would increase those positive outcomes.
  • Poverty scorecards are survey tools that offer a snapshot of a household’s level of impoverishment, ideally consisting of 10-25 questions carefully selected for their relevance to the local community. Upaya customizes scorecards by blending 15-20 industry-accepted metrics with additional categories selected for their relevance to an entrepreneur’s stated goals. A typical scorecard combines standardized observable indicators about a household’s asset base (e.g. is the house a temporary mud structure or made of more permanent cement, do they have access to electricity, and do they have basic household appliances collectively worth more than $100?) with interview responses from the family (e.g. number of meals the family eats, the makeup of those meals, if the family has access to healthcare, and if they have access to basic financial services). Upaya helps the entrepreneur track the changes to these indicators over time.

Where is Upaya?


  • Upaya’s approach emerged from the Sachi Shenoy and Sriram Gutta's work on the Sorenson/ Unitus Ultra Poor Initiative (UPI) between 2008-11. It was during this project that the team validated the connection between job creation and effective ultra poor programs.
  • In several pilots across different Indian states, the team saw ultra poor men and women passing up free food, healthcare, and housing to go work in menial labor jobs. When asked, they said the earnings – no matter how meager – were more important than the handouts. Once the team altered the pilots to lead with an income-generating activity, program beneficiaries were able to make demonstrable progress out of poverty.
  • With the new model, the team saw how increased and regular income allowed beneficiaries to cover their own basic food, housing and healthcare costs. Employment was more effective than handouts in meeting their needs. In addition, the new models had significantly lower per-beneficiary costs and led the team to believe a business-led ultra poor intervention was possible.
  • In conjunction with the conclusion of the UPI, Sachi and Sriram began work in October 2010 on what would become Upaya Social Ventures, a new organization focused on creating jobs and improving income for the ultra poor. Fellow Unitus alum Steve Schwartz got involved in December 2010 to help set up U.S. nonprofit operations.