How these non-profit entrepreneurs are driving social change and transforming lives

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It was a conversation with a nine-year-old girl that changed Richa Shivangi Gupta’s course of life. While volunteering at a camp for refugees in Delhi in 2007, Richa asked the girl where she saw herself over the next 10 years. The girl gave her a baffled look and replied, “Probably still here, picking up garbage and selling it for Rs 20 every day.”

They say the world is your oyster and it broke 17-year-old Richa’s heart to see the girl giving up on her dreams so soon in life. She spent the next few years teaching in under-resourced schools and observing how the country’s education system failed to address students’ emotional needs. The gap in the education system led her to co-found Labhya Foundation in 2017 and build social emotional learning programmes for vulnerable and underprivileged children. Reaching out to more than 2.4 million children today, Labhya is making strides through a myriad of initiatives that include partnership projects with the governments in New Delhi and Uttarakhand.

Image courtesy of Labhya Foundation.

Labhya was among the 16 non-profit organisations that are a part of The/Nudge Incubator’s seventh cohort, where it helped these enterprises drive social change with impactful solutions. During the six-month programme, the incubator helped the participating enterprises with innovation grants, connected them with illustrious mentors from diverse sectors and provided them with networking opportunities. The programme concluded in June 2021.

Another of the cohort’s incubatees, India and Bharat Together (IABT), was co-founded by Aadya Singh in 2019 with an aim to create equal opportunities for the talent that resides in small villages, or the ‘real Bharat’ as she chooses to call rural areas.

While working with a cooperative project to provide livelihoods to rural women in Uttarakhand in 2012, Aadya noticed that the aspirations of the youths living in rural areas didn’t align with the opportunities that were available locally.

“I saw that while these women were proud of their work, they knew that it was very unlikely that their children followed in their footsteps. Most parents in the village had different aspirations for their kids — go to the city, find a job, send money back home if you can,” says Aadya while explaining her inspiration behind launching IABT. With The/Nudge Incubator’s support, Aadya and her team learnt to build a brand, boost marketing and communications and stepped out of their comfort zones to create individual-level success stories.

Currently, IABT is enabling youths from Uttarakhand to become self-reliant by launching their own businesses with its 'Margshala' initiative, while strengthening rural communities to become job creators and not job seekers with its 'Khojshala' awareness programme. The organisation aims to enable 100 rural youths from Uttarakhand to turn entrepreneurs by 2025.

When the going gets tough, the tough get innovative

The cohort featured 16 organisations that are aiming to solve a diverse set of challenges which can not just transform lives, but also encourage a new wave of entrepreneurs that can galvanise the social sector. Moreover, these organisations are well-versed with soldiering on even when the odds are stacked against them as was the case with the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the pandemic posed new challenges for the community at large, these not-for-profit organisations decided to double down and come up with disruptive solutions to fuel change. Take the case of the Raised Lines Foundation (RLF), which is working to improve the quality of education for visually impaired students by developing innovative and affordable tactile books and aids. “These tools can help students comprehend different shapes, objects and illustrations as most Braille textbooks do not include diagrams,” says Pulkit Sapra, Co-Founder, RLF.

Image courtesy of Raised Lines Foundation(RLF)

During the pandemic as students across the country resumed their education through online classes, it wasn't as easy for visually impaired students. "It became challenging for these students to learn during online classes as the content was inaccessible. Thus, we started sending books directly to their homes using the Indian Post’s blind literature service. We also launched a service to convert any kind of content in any language in an accessible format. They could also get a physical copy of the content at prices between Rs 10 and 20," adds Piyush Chanana, Co-Founder, RLF. Today, the school is reaching out to over 100 schools with its products across 30 cities.

While the pandemic might have taught the RLF team to rework their strategies and scale, Piyush and Pulkit say that they still miss the interactions with students, who never fail to leave them amused with their curiosity.

New Delhi-based VigyanShala is among The/Nudge Incubator's incubatees whose experience of powering through the pandemic helped it turn a crisis into an opportunity. Launched by physicists Darshana Joshi and Vijay Venugopalan, VigyanShaala is working to ensure equality and opportunities in STEM education for the marginalised communities of India. The founders have been able to drive change across several underserved areas as they believe that's where they can find the Srinivasa Ramanujans, CV Ramans and Kalpana Chawlas of the future.

Image courtesy of VigyanShaala.

When the pandemic struck in March 2020, the VigyanShaala team was working in the hilly terrains of Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand. Unable to continue with their on-ground projects, they reassessed their strategy and programme design. "We designed a unique initiative to connect global mentors to girls interested in pursuing STEM education. We reworked our mentoring curriculum for a completely online programme and that's how 'Kalpana' was born. Within two months of the programme's launch, we built a team of 15 volunteers across five countries and piloted our programme with 60 undergraduate girl students.”

Till now, over 200 girls from 80+ districts and 18 states have enrolled in the Kalpana programme and are being taught by 40 highly qualified mentors from 10 countries. “Tapping into the power of technology to reinvent our strategy, we were able to design a highly scalable program that now aims to create an opportunity for every aspiring girl in India to thrive in STEM fields,” says a jubilant Darshana.

Taking the road less travelled

For most of these organisations, the journey so far hasn’t been an easy one. What makes it more challenging is the lack of institutional support for non-profit organisations such as theirs. The/Nudge Incubator is among the few incubators that focus exclusively on not-for-profit enterprises that can make a difference with progressive ideas and innovation.

The programme is one of its kind that offers strong support to not-for-profit organisations. The push to scale, drive impact and build an empathetic organisation is a unique combination, and The/Nudge Incubator pushes organisations like ours to build just that," says Utsav Kheria, Co-Founder, Rocket Learning, which is an EdTech organisation that is catalysing early childhood education by building parent-teacher communities and creating viral byte-sized content to boost engagement.

According to Utsav, The/Nudge Incubator’s network of experienced mentors is what sets it apart from other incubator and accelerator programmes. “The/Nudge Incubator’s mentors motivated us to scale our impact, asked us difficult questions, facilitated connections and most importantly, believed in us,” says Utsav. Rocket Learning has impacted over 1 lakh children across three states — Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Chandigarh — in 2020. In 2021, it aims to impact more than 1 million children.

Seconding Utsav's thoughts, Richa says that Labhya has survived through some of its toughest times because of the individuals who have in the organisation's vision unconditionally. "Under our mentor’s guidance, Labhya has pivoted to robust organisational processes and strong growth strategies. His deep insights and extensive experience have helped us refine our perspectives. We came out of the mentorship experience wiser, more resilient," she adds.

Acting as agents of social change in a world full of possibilities, these organisations have their work cut out for them. Supported by The/Nudge Incubator, these organisations are all set to reimagine lives with innovation and discover new avenues of societal progress. The/Nudge Incubator’s seventh cohort was supported by Mphasis F1 Foundation, CGI Inc., Facebook Pragati and the Omidyar Network India.


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