Meet the New-Gen do-gooders who don’t wear khadi, run NGOs, carry jholas or protest banners : Cover Story
They don’t run NGOs, wear khadi or carry jholas and protest banners. The only thing that drives them is wanting to make a difference to society. Which is why they have harnessed their resources and their education to find simple solutions to everyday problems and change millions of lives. There’s Harvard graduate Gitika Srivastava, who founded Navya Network to help cancer patients access expert opinion and seek treatment accordingly. Warwick graduate Ankit Agarwal teamed up with his friend Karan Rastogi in Kanpur and found a way to process 800 kg of waste flowers into incense sticks and vermicompost, a venture they call Help Us Green.
IIM-A graduate Sucharita Mukherjee likewise teamed up with rural management graduate Puneet Gupta to set up Kaleidofin, a financial solutions firm that helps the poor manage their life goals, be it marrying off a child, completing a child’s education or building a home. ‘Impact entrepreneurs’ such as these are turning traditional business models on their heads, and leveraging technology to deliver human-centric solutions. “As a service provider, your lens needs to shift from what products you have to what the customer actually needs.
This is what these new-generation impact entrepreneurs do,” says Roopa Kudva, managing director of Omidyar Network India Advisors, a firm that invests in early-stage innovative companies.
How do these entrepreneurs do this successfully and consistently? Higher levels of mobile penetration and better internet connectivity help. So does the access to data. Every user in the digital world is leaving a footprint as she browses, and that becomes marketable data. So Prerna Mukharya’s Outline India captures qualitative data from rural India, which governments and others use to design effective social schemes. Equally perceptible, however, is the determination to do good. “You are seeing entrepreneurs as well as investors driven by a sense of purpose. That precedes the desire to make money,” says Kudva, whose firm has invested $225 million (around Rs 1,440 crore) in Indian firms so far. May their tribe increase.
With a bachelor’s in computer science from Harvard and an MBA from MIT Sloan, Gitika is also partner at Cambridge, Mass. angel investing firm KAHM Capital
Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Bengaluru
Technology became an obsession for Jamshedpur girl Gitika after she went to Harvard and MIT Sloan. In 2007, when a family member was diagnosed with cancer, she spent days at the Tata Memorial Centre (TMC) in Mumbai, and discovered how hard it was for patients to access experts in oncology. Thus was born Navya Networks in 2010. It allows patients to register for a fee, upload medical history and access opinion from 200 experts, drawn mostly from TMC, AIIMS in Delhi and some from overseas. A team of 40 in Navya’s Bengaluru and Cambridge, Massachusetts, centres synthesises information from medical literature and the experts’ opinions and reverts in 24 hours. The network has advised 17,000 patients so far. “In 78 per cent of the cases, patients have received the treatment we had recommended,” says Gitika. Navya also provides online service for the National Cancer Grid.
Sucharita Mukherjee, 38; Puneet Gupta, 38
Economics graduate from Delhi University and an MBA from IIM, Ahmedabad. Was founding CEO of IFMR Capital, a firm that works towards financial inclusion. Mukherjee has also worked with Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank in London Puneet is a commerce graduate from Kurukshetra University and a PG Diploma holder in rural management from IRMA. He was the cofounder of IFMR Trust.
For long, the financial services industry has been churning out products-credit, investment, insurance or savings-and trying to find customers to suit these. One casualty of this is that the economically weaker sections, who neither have any awareness regarding these financial products nor any credit history to help them apply for loans or other financial products, are left out. Sucharita Mukherjee and Puneet Gupta, who, in 2007, co-founded IFMR Trust, a firm working on financial inclusion, knew well the issues of the marginalised folk. “They may be poor, but they too have aspirations like anyone else, be it in educating their children or securing their future, or improving their homes,” says Gupta. Thus was born Kaleidofin, which partners with customer-focused institutions, banking correspondent networks and producer co-operatives to give curated financial solutions to financially excluded customers. Moreover, there is a lot of jargon used around financial products, which further alienates customers. Kaleidofin works with these customers as well as the networks that could provide them with these financial products-agents, cooperatives, self-help groups or microfinance institutions-and brings both sides together. “We believe everyone deserves and requires access to financial solutions that are intuitive and easy to use. There are 800 million who have no financial access,” says Mukherjee. “At Kaleidofin, we want to keep the customer at the centre and provide mass tailored solutions that are best suited to meet the customer’s own goals.”
JUST LIKE FARMVILLE
Shameek Chakravarty, CEO, 39; Gitanjali Rajamani, COO, 36; Sudaakeran Balasubramanian, CTO, 37
Shameek is an alumnus of ISB, Hyderabad, and BITS, Pilani, has worked with Amazon and Yahoo Gitanjali handled large scale delivery management at TCS, and is founder &CEO of landscaping firm GreenMyLife Sudaakeran is a computer science graduate from Anna University.
Horror stories of vegetables laced with pesticides, or sprayed with chemicals to make them look fresh have long haunted city-dwellers. You hear a lot about organic vegetables, but few know how and where to get them. That is where Farmizen, a company launched by Shameek Chakravarty, Gitanjali Rajamani and Sudaakeran Balasubramanian in June 2017, has stepped in. Enabling people to grow their own vegetables at a nearby farm according to their needs, Farmizen allows a customer to register and rent out a 600 square foot plot on a farm for a monthly fee. Each plot has 12 raised beds for growing various vegetables. The farmer who owns the land is already on the Farmizen network, and tends the crop. Farmizen, meanwhile, takes care of the distribution, marketing, inputs and know-how. There are adequate checks against violations-crowd-sourced audits, remote supervision using drones. Farmizen provides all inputs, to ensure no chemical is used. Customers, on the other hand, can control their farm through an app on Android and iOS-just like Farmville, the social network game. You can also visit your farm anytime and harvest your own chemical-free crop. Should you be busy, Farmizen can home deliver the produce every week.
“What we offer is trust,” says Rajamani. Moreover, farmers are assured of a steady income. Produce from 600 sq. ft of land can fulfil 70 per cent of the needs of a family of four, she claims. On an average, a family spends Rs 2,000 a month on vegetables via Farmizen.
Farmizen, which has over 250 customers, currently has five farms in Bengaluru, and will be launching five more in early 2018. It also plans to take its business to Hyderabad, and is looking at a presence in Chennai and Delhi thereafter. The company has an annual revenue run rate of Rs 75 lakh, and expects to break even by the middle of next year.