Vera’s Caitlin Ferguson recently attended the Sankalp Global Summit in Mumbai. An annual event run by Intellecap, Sankalp provided a forum for more than 1,000 attendees – ranging from high-impact entrepreneurs to funders, corporates, and investors – to discuss “Innovations for the Next 3 Billion.”
By 2030, an estimated additional 3 billion people will enter the low and low-middle income brackets globally. While China’s population will play a central role in the burgeoning global middle class, India is not far behind. With this in mind, the Sankalp Global Summit focused on the needs of these “3 billion rising” with due attention centered on India’s role as a hub for social innovation.
The Summit included sessions on: Powering Villages the Smart Way, Harnessing the Impact of Hardware Pioneers, the Role of Government in Supporting Social Enterprise, and many more, with the goal of spurring conversations on entrepreneurship, innovation, policy, and investment for this emerging group. While these sessions highlighted the inspiring, necessary work of many NGOs, social enterprises, impact investors, and foundations, we were especially excited to see how the work of many of our clients, and fellow Sankalp attendees, intersects with industry trends.
With a spotlight on the environment, the Summit explored the implications of a growing low-middle income class on an already pushed climate. The Rockefeller Foundation kicked off these discussions with sessions on Powering Villages the Smart Way, which analyzed the delicate balance of needing to bring power and energy to rural communities in India – where an estimated 290 million people live without basic light – while maintaining India’s climate commitments. The sessions called on the global community to address energy needs through a multi-faceted approach and discussed solutions that have begun to take hold in emerging economies, ranging from solar photovoltaics (PV) to better batteries to cost-effective appliances. It’s a multi-pronged approach that a number of Vera’s India-based clients – such as Pollinate Energy and ONergy – have begun to tackle through unique business models; both organizations distribute varying forms of solar technology to meet household needs, ranging from solar inverters to the mini-grid.
In addition to energy challenges, India also faces a dramatic decrease in its water supply, coupled by poor drinking-water quality. Organizations like Drinkwell have begun to tackle this issue in India and Bangladesh using innovative hardware and filtration systems, which remove arsenic from water, making it safe to drink. It couples this technology with a micro-entrepreneur model designed to bring livelihoods and sustainability to the villages in which they work.
Sankalp acknowledged that in order for innovative business models to thrive – like those employed by Pollinate Energy, ONergy, and Drinkwell – the social impact community requires a policy backbone that supports entrepreneurs, distribution, and access to capital. A multi-country panel, featuring leaders from the U.S., Malaysia, India, and Vietnam, discussed policy breakthroughs that have propelled social entrepreneurs in their respective countries. Representatives from the social innovation community operating in India pointed to the need for India to define social enterprise and policies that come along with that definition, such as the ability to use CSR funds to invest in social enterprises.
Many of our clients, such as IFMR and IDinsight, are working diligently on policy and research in India so that non-profits, governments, and social enterprises can make better, data-informed decisions. Approaching the entirety of the social ecosystem in India, Dasra is another client who works at the intersection of the many players involved in propelling “Innovations for the Next 3 Billion” through research on social issues to inform and incubate business models, and enable donors and investors to give strategically.
Sankalp reiterated that none of us in the social innovation community can solve these issues alone. It takes a cohesive environment, inclusive of entrepreneurs, funders, and policymakers, to tackle the environmental and livelihood realities facing the 3 billion rising and their home countries. Vera’s Mumbai team is privileged to have worked with excellent organizations in India who are meeting these challenges head on, leveraging their data to make decisions which will impact the next 3 billion’s access to energy, water, and other life-line services.