Indian social enterprise Action for India (AFI) recently held its annual forum on the role of technology in helping social enterprises scale up. With over 100 social innovators present at the forum, ICT was an important topic, leading further discussion around collecting and analyzing data, developing a multi-stakeholder platform, and promoting automation in training and skills development. Entrepreneurs who attended the forum came from a range of sectors including agriculture, education, energy, and healthcare.

The annual forum of Action For India at IIT-Delhi discussed the role of technology in scaling up social enterprises. Vishakha Sharma reports

Over the years India has witnessed growth in innovations in industrial, financial, and technological segments. However, as per Action For India (AFI), a social start-up enterprise, with 42% of the population living below the international poverty line of US$ 1.25 per-day, this growth fuelled by innovation has been far from inclusive. And despite a number of social enterprises working towards alleviating poverty, socio-economic issues continue to persist on a large scale. In order to arrive at possible solutions, AFIs annual forum held at IIT-Delhi on January 21, discussed how technology can help social enterprises scale-up.

Need for technology

Accroding to Sam Pitroda, entrepreneur, policymaker and honorary chairman, AFI, on the one hand, while India has the largest number of poor, it also has a large talent pool which can address challenges faced by them.

People in India are innovating, but the key is to scale some of these innovations, standardise, and make sure they reach out to a large number of people. To me, if innovation doesnt touch millions, it has very little meaning. In the 21st Century, we have a whole set of new tools to redefine ourselves and innovate. The use of technology brings about openness, accessibility, connectivity, networking, democratisation, and decentralisation. And as a result, new opportunities in productivity, efficiency, cost reduction and access provide a ground to innovate, he said.

Young innovators

Present at the forum were 100 young social innovators under the age of 40, whose innovations in agriculture, education, energy and healthcare, have impacted lives at the bottom of the pyramid. As per these social innovators, areas where technology can enable the scaling-up of social innovation, includes:

– Gathering, monitoring and data analysis: Computerised data management systems will permit tracking information at organisational, sectoral and regional levels

– Developing open multi-stakeholder platform: A platform that specifically addresses the need for developing software relevant to social enterprises is critical to achieving scale

– Automation in training and skills development programmes: Developing simulators and technology-enabled training programmes can ensure quality skills development across all sectors

Government support

To support social entrepreneurs set up new business models to bring about positive change, efforts are underway to increase the corpus of the National Innovation Fund that has been announced by Pranab Mukerjee, minister of finance. This fund is expected to be operational by June or July.