About the Authors
Managing Director at Omidyar Network India
Partner at Omidyar Network India
Special thanks to
Aman Totla, Kartik Sahni, Nandan Sharalaya, Rohan Vyavaharkar, and Shreya Deb
About Omidyar Network India
Omidyar Network India invests in bold entrepreneurs who help create a meaningful life for every Indian, especially the hundreds of millions of Indians in low-income and lower-middle-income populations, ranging from the poorest among us to the existing middle class. To drive empowerment and social impact at scale, we work with entrepreneurs in the private, nonprofit and public sectors, who are tackling India’s hardest and most chronic problems.
We make equity investments in early stage enterprises and provide grants to nonprofits in the areas of Digital Society, Education, Emerging Tech, Financial Inclusion, Governance & Citizen Engagement and Property Rights. Omidyar Network India is part of The Omidyar Group, a diverse collection of companies, organizations and initiatives, supported by philanthropists Pam and Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay.
The Next Half Billion (NHB) refers to the nearly 500 million Indians who will come online for the first time by 2022, and predominantly from the bottom 60% of India’s income distribution. At Omidyar Network India, this segment lies at the centre of our work. Our grants to non-profit initiatives form part of our unique “dual chequebook” approach to investing, the other component being equity investments in early-stage enterprises. Together, these two types of investments help us adopt a holistic approach towards supporting the NHB, and work in areas where we can be most catalytic. The NHB thus is the unifying element in our work across sectors.
The four elements of a meaningful life
The challenges that the NHB face are deep-rooted, pervasive and interconnected. The core of our grantmaking thesis is that driving social impact at scale requires taking a holistic approach – one that includes all the key elements that a constitute a meaningful life for the NHB – and fostering a supportive ecosystem in each of these elements. This focus on ecosystem development is a unique feature of our approach. Our grantmaking thesis combines this focus with a multidimensional grantmaking toolkit and nuanced tech-led sector level strategies that identify the next frontiers for change.
Building a supportive ecosystem for the NHB
Building a supportive ecosystem entails going beyond grassroot efforts in communities and government programme implementation, to supporting a range of efforts – a better understanding of issues, development of sector-level institutions, infrastructure and practices, and laying the ground for potential market-based solutions.
1. Supporting innovative entrepreneurs:
Entrepreneurs working at the grassroots - either by directly working with communities or partnering with governments to support policy and programme implementation – can be key drivers of change for the NHB.
2. Building sector infrastructure:
Grant funding can address critical sector infrastructure gaps by supporting knowledge creation, mobilising entrepreneurs and catalysing capital. Sector development efforts also include development of the non-profit sector itself, through initiatives like human capital development, improving funder practices and building sector-level institutions.
3. Supporting policy reform:
Achieving systemic change often requires policy reform and working directly or indirectly with government. By supporting think-tanks, research organisations and consultancy firms, we are able to enable policy reform through research and execution of high-impact initiatives.
The complexity of ecosystem building requires a multidimensional grantmaking toolkit
Given the complexity of ecosystem development, it is essential to have a grantmaking toolkit that can incorporate multi-dimensional considerations. For each element of the toolkit, there are a range of options to choose from.
Type of organisation
Grassroots/field organisations | Organisation providing implementation support | Think-tanks and advocacy organisation | Incubators and intermediaries | Research/consultancy organisation | Campaigns, events and communication organisation
Type of grant
Core grant | Programme grant | Project grant
Type of stakeholder
Citizens | Businesses | Government
Individual org vs consortium
Individual orgs | Consortiums
Sector-specific strategies focused on the next frontiers can accelerate change
Accelerating change requires us to apply our ecosystem-building approach and multi-dimensional grant-making toolkit into actionable sector-specific strategies. These strategies are tech-led and anticipate the “next frontiers” in each of these sectors.
Sector Specific Strategies
Informed and active internet users | Responsible tech by businesses | Inclusion and safeguards | Improving data governance policies
Governance & Citizen Engagement
Urban governance: Enhance state capacity | Citizen engagement | Civic tech
Justice: Increasing awareness & access | Dispute Resolution | Enforcement
Attract new players and build evidence | Enhance state capacity | Catalyse tech-led solutions | Unlock value of “informal” assets
Open Digital Ecosystems
Shaping delivery platforms | Strengthening governance | Nurturing community
Pre K-12: EdTech | Workforce development | Life skills | Generating demand for quality education
Financial Health of the NHB | MSME Finance | Digital Enablers
Non profit Sector Development
Improved practices | Strengthening sector identity | Catalysing giving ecosystem
At Omidyar Network India, we have deployed our grantmaking thesis to so far support 90 organisations (and 138 projects), which have together reached 180 million1 lives. These organisations have diverse approaches - some create direct impact among the NHB, others focus on creating sector infrastructure, building knowledge and informing policy change. What they have in common is demonstrating leadership and new solutions in approaching the critical issues for India’s future. Social change is a long and complex process, and success is hard to both predict and measure. Our experience in investing for the NHB shows us that building a supportive ecosystem for them that provides them agency, protects their rights and freedoms, safeguards them from harms, and fosters strong and responsive institutions to further their interests is essential to a holistic approach in helping them flourish.
1As of June 2019; reach does not include unique lives since the same individual might be served by multiple investees
Our purpose and the Next Half Billion 01
Omidyar Network India invests in bold entrepreneurs who help create a meaningful life for every Indian, especially the hundreds of millions of Indians in low-income and lower-middle- income populations, ranging from the poorest among us to the existing middle class. We define entrepreneurs quite broadly – they can be from the private, public and non-profit sectors.
An important aspect of our thesis is who we serve. We describe them as the Next Half Billion (NHB), i.e. the 500 million Indians who will come online for the first time by 2022. The NHB framing puts “who we serve” at the front and centre of our work. Given India’s immense diversity and its development challenges, it provides a unifying element to our efforts across multiple sectors.
The NHB come predominantly from the bottom 60% of India’s income distribution. They encompass a wide spectrum – a portion of middle income, the lower-middle-income (aspirers) and a portion of lower income (deprived) households. Within this spectrum, the “aspirers” comprise the bulk of the NHB (see Figure 1).
We invest in bold entrepreneurs who help create a meaningful life for every Indian, especially the hundreds of millions of Indians in low-income and lower-middle- income populations, ranging from the poorest among us to the existing middle class. We define entrepreneurs quite broadly – they can be from the private, public and non-profit sectors.
The NHB’s income
The NHB typically earn under Rs. 21,000 (~USD 300) per household per month
2 We’ve anchored the Deprived definition on World Bank’s 2011 global poverty line (<$1.9 per person per day in 2011 PPP) and the Aspirers definition on the low income line ($3.2 per person per day in 2011 PPP). We have used $9 per person per day in 2011 PPP as the Middle Income threshold, which aligns with CMIE (2018) data. 2. We have used the average exchange rate for 2018 i.e. 1 USD = 68.41 INR. 3. The total population of India is 1.353B in 2018 (World Bank) and the average number of people per household is 4.85 (NSSO, 2011). 2018 NSSO data is expected to be published in a few months, at which point, we will refine our analysis.
We have chosen to focus on the NHB because they have traditionally been underserved, excluded and disempowered. Notwithstanding the differences in incomes, education levels and internet access that exist within this group, all of them tend to have significant unmet financial and daily living needs and are vulnerable to economic shocks. We also believe that this section of the population can benefit from our tech-led investment approach. With the proliferation of mobile phones and affordable mobile data, they can benefit from tech-led business models that provide them access to a range of affordable services and products that can improve their lives. This easy access to data & phones can also help governments and businesses reach and serve this segment much more easily than they previously could.
A holistic approach to creating a meaningful life for the NHB 02
Given the range of challenges they face, keeping the NHB front and centre of our work has steered us to adopting a holistic approach to serving them. This approach takes a 360-degree view of what creates a meaningful life, which then leads us to choose sectors or areas of work where we believe we can be most catalytic. We can adopt this approach because we have the benefit of being able to deploy capital flexibly – making both equity investments in early-stage enterprises and providing grants to non-profit initiatives – to create positive social change. We call this vital part of our toolkit our “dual chequebook”.
We believe markets and technology have the power to help in creating a meaningful life for millions of Indians. However, not all problems lend themselves to business solutions. Nor are they sufficiently understood. Non-profits play a crucial role in helping develop a better understanding of the problems, addressing market failures, protecting individual agency and creating strong and responsive institutions.
Be it improving education quality within government schools, leveraging land and housing to create livelihood opportunities, strengthening access to justice and civic amenities, or protecting individual privacy in a digital world, non-profits are at the forefront of solving or indeed laying the pioneering rails of solutions to some of these “wicked” problems. This “dual chequebook” approach enables us to work in relatively nascent areas such as access to land and housing, citizen-centric legal systems, data privacy and tech policy, which are fundamental to societal health and well-being.
We seek to help make a difference in the lives of the Next Half Billion with this holistic approach covering the four elements of a meaningful life, as shown in the Figure 2 below. While the majority of our equity investments have focused on “access to aspirational services” and “opportunities for employment and productivity”, our grants are predominantly in the areas of “protection of individual agency” (rights, freedoms and protection from harms) and “strong and responsive institutions” (justice, transparent and accountable government, accessible local governments etc.) i.e. the last two elements in Figure 2.
With equity investments, we focus on innovative market-based solutions: businesses that serve NHB consumers, NHB-owned small businesses and businesses that employ the NHB in large numbers. Even though our equity investments are predominantly across the first two elements in Figure 2, we are increasingly seeing early signs of entrepreneurial innovation in sectors that build individual agency. These are sectors such as privacy tech (building greater digital resilience for the individual), civic tech (enabling better quality civic services), legal tech (strengthening contractual rights and rights to redressal) and property tech (enabling inclusivity in land & housing). These emerging sectors are integral to individual agency, and to creating strong and responsive institutions, which in turn form the societal foundation for a meaningful life. Our equity investment thesis is laid out in the document ‘Next Half Billion: The Next Frontiers | Our investment thesis Innovating for the NHB’
With grant funding too, we support grassroots organisations that directly work with the NHB. Organisations like Foundation for Ecological Security, Akshara Foundation and PRADAN directly impact millions of people from the NHB segment. Additionally, to drive sector change, a broad-based approach that goes beyond support to grassroots efforts in communities and government programme implementation is required. It is in the ecosystem building efforts – including supporting a better understanding of issues, development of key sector-level institutions, infrastructure and practices as well as laying ground for potential market-based sustainable solutions in the future – that grant capital can be highly catalytic and impactful.
Across our work we emphasise the role of technology. We believe in the power of tech, in particular the mobile phone to drive impact at scale in ways that were not possible earlier. Our “tech for good” approach has resulted in equity investments in nearly 50 tech-led start-ups that are enabling access to aspirational services and providing opportunities for employment and productivity to previously underserved populations. This approach has also extended to informing / building governmental tech capacity. Lastly, we also fund a number of innovative (and often tech led) non-profit organisations that are enabling access to citizen services, property rights etc. At the same time, we recognise that tech has increased the vulnerability of individuals and society to harms. We therefore fund initiatives in “responsible tech” – helping governments, businesses and consumers implement policies, practices and behaviours that promote data security, privacy, consent, user control and recourse in the case of harms.
Together, our equity investments and grants complement each other in creating positive social change. In particular, for grants, our thesis is summarised below:
- The challenges that the NHB face are deep-rooted, pervasive and interconnected. Fostering a supportive ecosystem across all elements of a meaningful life, thus, is essential to drive social impact at scale. This requires going beyond field/grassroots organisations and projects, and supporting a broader set of areas like developing sector-level infrastructure and policy reform. (Chapter 3)
- Given that ecosystem development is complex, it requires deploying a multi-dimensional grant-making toolkit (Chapter 4)
- Working at the next frontiers of each sector, based on a sector specific approach, can accelerate impact (Chapter 5)
Building a supportive ecosystem for the NHB 03
A mix of equity investments and grants enables us to support change at three levels – innovative entrepreneurs, sector-level infrastructure and policy reforms – thereby driving sector change (see Figure 3). For example, our work in the education sector aims at increasing access to education and improvement in learning outcomes through a multi-pronged approach. Towards this end, we are investors in ed-tech innovators like Doubtnut and Vedantu, both of whom help students learn better. At the same time, the non-profits we support are doing stellar work in driving sector change. Teach for India, a non-profit, seeks to improve the quality of human capital — teachers and leaders — in the education sector. The Education Alliance is a non-profit working with state governments to encourage public-private collaboration in school systems.
Supporting innovative entrepreneurs
Entrepreneurs working at the grassroots, who bring innovative approaches to solving problems and last mile challenges for the NHB can be key drivers of change. These organisations work both in the communities as well as partner with governments to support implementation of various government policies and programmes.
Grassroots/ field organisations working with communities
The Foundation for Ecological Security (FES) is the largest organisation focused on restoration and rejuvenation of pastures, grazing land, forests and other common lands (“the commons”) which are critical to enhancing agriculture productivity and ensuring food security for India’s rural poor. FES works with rural communities to secure their rights to common land and empower them to invest in governance of these resources, leading to improved tree cover, fodder and water availability. Today, FES works with rural communities to secure over 9 million acres of commons, impacting over 16 million people.
Orgs supporting implementation of policies and government programmes
Our grant to World Resources Institute’s (WRI) cities programme has helped them build capacity around integrated urban planning and support various governments in adopting best urban planning practices. WRI’s work spans areas such as transit-oriented development policies, developing industry clusters and mapping infrastructure development plans closely to industrial zones that could best use this infrastructure. Through this work, it has impacted over 114 million urban citizens across 16 cities in India.
We worked with the Government of Odisha and Tata Trust on Asia’s largest slum titling project, using drones to map slums and provide land titles to slumdwellers in the state. Drones were deployed to rapidly map and create high-resolution images for over 200,000 slum households. As a result, nearly 70,000 slum households have received land rights certificates, and over ₹2.7 billion of PM Awas Yojana funding has been unlocked to help these families improve their housing condition. Other states are now looking to replicate this approach.
Building sector infrastructure
Deploying grant funding allows us to address critical sector infrastructure gaps by supporting knowledge creation, mobilising entrepreneurs and catalysing capital.
We support creation of knowledge through a diverse toolkit: landscaping and opportunity sizing studies, behavioural research, surveys, data and frameworks in nascent areas, to mention a few. Quality research can help support policymakers and regulators. The research we fund is typically made public, for the benefit of all.
Research projects and public interest communication campaigns can also help entrepreneurs understand middle and low-income customers better or increase awareness amongst current and prospective entrepreneurs about market opportunities. "EdTech in India" report in collaboration with RedSeer Consulting, was an extensive stakeholder study of the EdTech landscape in India including the gaps in current offerings, trends and potential market opportunity. This report has helped drive an understanding of the market for current and potential entrepreneurs.
Similarly, the State of Aadhaar project that we have supported since 2016 has resulted in three reports, including a survey of 167,000 households – the largest survey on Digital ID globally. It introduced high-quality quantitative data to one of India’s most pressing public policy discussions, shining a light on the citizen experience and hitherto unexplored populations like the homeless and third gender. The raw data is open for public access and has been used by the media, government and civil society. Another example is the “Mapping Indian Land Laws” project spearheaded by the Land Rights Initiative at the Centre for Policy Research. It is the first such attempt to create a comprehensive, indexed and searchable database of the varied land laws across multiple Indian states and has already compiled over 1000 original and active central and state laws pertaining to land.
Several vital areas in India face a dearth of entrepreneurial talent and funding. Civic tech, privacy tech, land and housing, and the judicial ecosystem are some nascent sectors which experience this. We support incubators and accelerators to mobilise changemakers in these nascent areas. Other gaps in the entrepreneurial ecosystem include awareness and narrative building efforts, where campaigns and convenings play an important role.
An example of mobilising entrepreneurs is our support to Village Capital in conducting an accelerator programme for civic technology start-ups. Consequently, new “for-profit” entrepreneurs were able to showcase novel ideas to a wider audience, attract funding, build partnerships with players in adjacent areas, and raise the profile and understanding of the civic tech space. Similarly, a grant to N/Core is helping incubate new non-profit entrepreneurs in the land and housing inclusivity space and has attracted 20 early stage entrepreneurs who are working to solve a range of problems, from improving services and shelter in informal settlements, to securing forest rights for tribal people.
Lack of capital is the other significant issue that affects such sectors. Mobilising funding and attracting new funders is thus an important part of our work.
Dasra is playing an important role in catalysing capital. It works with individual philanthropists, families, foundations and corporates in helping them design a strategic philanthropic agenda. It also provides potential donors with research to increase their awareness of relatively less-known areas that require funding and builds funder coalitions through initiatives like “giving circles”. For example, Dasra has created funder collaboratives in the areas of governance and adolescent children.
GiveIndia is a giving marketplace for trustworthy NGOs and individual donors. It is a crowd-funding platform to connect donors and non-profits, bridging the trust deficit among donors towards non-profits and helping trustworthy non-profits access retail donations at significantly lower costs. Since the beginning of our partnership in June 2019, GiveIndia has crowded-in over INR 1.64 billion in capital for over 5,000 non-profits, impacting over 7 million people across India.
Supporting policy reform
Think-tanks, research organisations and consultancy firms can play an important role in supporting policy reform.
Our report on “The Potential of Open Digital Ecosystems (ODEs)” with BCG shaped thinking in the new area of open public digital infrastructure in India. The report laid out guiding principles for India to build ‘responsible’ ODEs, drawing attention to the critical aspects such as robust governance and community engagement. It also studied the impact potential of National ODEs in sectors like health, jobs and skilling, agriculture, logistics, etc., which can together unlock over USD 700 billion in economic value for India by 2030. In parallel, we worked closely with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology in supporting the development of a ‘white paper’ on the concept of National ODEs, that was put out in the public domain by the Ministry. Similarly, we partnered with Dalberg to build a body of knowledge on regulatory sandboxes which served as an input to the RBI’s technical committee on household finance. The sandbox has since been implemented by RBI.
We supported the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship on developing a ‘Vision 2025’ towards building a flourishing skilling ecosystem in India. This included support on design of a new institutional architecture as well as the design of key priority initiatives including use of open technology systems. We partnered with Dalberg and Samagra Governance to help set up a technical support unit in the Ministry. We also supported other consultants providing additional technology services to the Ministry. Key elements of this vision and subsequent action plan, especially the focus on greater decentralisation, are reflected in the newly launched Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) 3.0, which was announced by the Government in January 2021.
In addition, our sector development efforts include development of the non-profit sector itself, through initiatives like human capital development, funder practices and building institutions and organisations that promote sector identity and development.
The ecosystem building efforts as described in (B) and (C) above are typically not well funded in India and represent some of the more differentiated aspects of Omidyar Network India’s work.
Grantmaking toolkit - multidimensional considerations 04
In the case of equity investments in early stage businesses, starting and scaling a business is a long and arduous journey; nevertheless, as funders a relatively homogenous approach is possible. Typically, this entails identifying strong entrepreneurs with unique business models, taking an ownership stake, a governance role on the board and decision and veto rights in several key aspects. Thereafter, the key objective is to support the organisation in scaling up by providing strategic inputs and access to networks, among other ways.
However, ecosystem development is quite complex, spanning a multifaceted range of interlinked areas: policies, practices and behaviours across governments, businesses and citizens. It also includes implementation of development programmes, building and strengthening vital institutions, infrastructure and human capital. To be effective, it is essential to have a grantmaking toolkit that can incorporate multi-dimensional considerations. The key elements of the toolkit are described below in Figure 4. For each element, there are choices to be made from a range of potential options.
Type of organisation: Working with a variety of changemakers
As described in Chapter 3, adopting a sector-change approach requires us to work with a wide variety of organisations. Potentially an array of organisations can be supported:
- Grassroot/field organisations
- Orgs providing implementation support
- Think-tanks and advocacy orgs
- Incubators and intermediaries
- Research/consultancy orgs
- Campaigns, events and communication orgs
While grassroot organisations work directly with the NHB, the interventions by the other types of organisations contribute towards building a supportive ecosystem. Figure 5 below provides some examples of our partner organisations:
2Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology
Type of grants: Core grants as a lever for strengthening organisations
There are three types of grants: core grants, programme grants and project grants.
1. Core grants
Core grants provide financial support for the basic “core” organisational and administrative costs of an NGO, including salaries of non-project staff, rent, investments in technology, leadership and team development. Since most donors provide funding tied to specific projects and place limits on operating expenses of the non-profits, core grants play a vital role in enabling non-profits to focus on organisation building and resilience. Core grants also provide the leadership team the flexibility to decide how to best deploy the funding.
In 2018, we made a core grant to Dream A Dream, an organisation focused on building life skills in youth. It helps children in developing the skills necessary to adapt to 21st century complexities, including cognitive and socio-emotional skills. By doing so, the organisation aims to equip children to adapt to and overcome adversities like abuse, neglect and poverty. Through its strategic partnerships, including with Delhi government schools on the happiness school curriculum, Dream A Dream has reached over 1.65 million students.
We provided a core grant to Bridgespan, an international, non-profit social impact organisation that has established itself as an important advisor to capital givers (philanthropists, foundations, and investors) and change-makers (non-profits, and social enterprises) in India. Bridgespan helps social sector organisations to scale their impact, build leadership, advance philanthropic effectiveness and accelerate learning to address society’s most important challenges and opportunities.
2. Programme grants
Programme grants help organisations develop a particular area or programme of their work, which may not be directly linked to their core business. The Digital Identity Research Initiative (DIRI) at the Indian School of Business (ISB) is a research initiative to explore key questions around digital identity systems, with a focus on Aadhaar. DIRI also funds researchers from different universities in India to produce high-quality and timely research on digital identity.
For example, DIRI has created a geospatial platform for high-frequency government data (like Goods & Services Tax) and a social media sentiment analysis tool on Aadhaar. DIRI’s research on the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) job demand formed the basis of Chapter 10 of the Government’s 2019 Economic Survey.
3. Project grants
Project grants are given for specific time-bound projects with a clear pre-specified outcome. Our project grant for Dalberg’s “Currency of Trust” report helped improve the understanding of the barriers that low-income customers face in accessing and using financial services. A project with Tandem Research led to publishing research on Big Tech in the Indian context – actors and institutions; trade-offs and challenges; and, plausible and preferable policy pathways.
Type of stakeholder: working with citizens, businesses and governments
Grants can seek to target three main categories of stakeholders: citizens (influencing awareness and behaviours), businesses (improving business practices) and governments and regulators (providing policy input and supporting implementation of key government programmes that benefit the NHB).
The Zindagi Mobile (ZM) radio campaign showcases an innovative way in which grant-making can drive change in consumer awareness and behaviours on a truly large scale. ZM was a 10-episode radio show hosted by storyteller Neelesh Mishra on Big 92.7 FM with the goal of informing and engaging audiences on – ‘Tech for Good’ and ‘Responsible Tech’. Through a relatable storytelling format particularly tailored to the NHB context and life experiences, the show sought to inform, sensitise and equip people to deal with the rising vulnerability of data breaches and other data privacy concerns. The show was broadcast in five languages, reaching an audience of 26 million and the #1 position in Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kolkata.
A Monitor Deloitte report on the data collection and handling practices of private enterprises was the a first-of-its-kind study of its nature. The report, titled “Unlocking the potential of India’s Data Economy: Practices, Privacy and Governance”, sought to highlight the nature and quantum of data collected by companies in a few representative industries, as well as understand what early stage investors in these companies think about data practices of their investees. The report highlighted the business case for privacy and led to creation of a toolkit by Arrka to support organisations in improving their data practices.
Our grant to the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS) helped set up a centre for land governance, building inter-disciplinary research and practice to devise pathways for systemic solutions to the knotty land governance issues in India. Since 2017, this centre has engaged closely with multiple state governments, tackling a range of issues from urban property records management in Maharashtra, Ease of Property Registration in Delhi, land pooling policy in Chandigarh, to forest management and customary tenure in Himachal Pradesh and Meghalaya. The centre has also played a pioneering role in strengthening the roles of the newly created state Real Estate Regulatory Authorities (RERAs), and acts as knowledge advisor to the All India Forum for RERAs.
Individual org vs consortiums
While most of our grants are to single organisations, more recently we have started giving grants to consortiums or collectives. This approach is particularly useful in nascent areas or those areas that are less prominent and where building knowledge, narratives, or movements is necessary to build momentum for change. It also helps bring together organisations with different but complementary strengths to accelerate the impact agenda.
Akshara Foundation is an example of an individual organisation supported by our grants. Akshara offers a range of in-school and community-based programmes designed to improve literacy and numeracy among primary school students, as well as to increase the capacity and efficacy of teachers. Through their mathematics programme, which is now scaling across the entire states of Karnataka and Odisha, Akshara has impacted nearly three million children between 2016-20.
The Data Governance Network (DGN) is a multidisciplinary community of researchers generating a wide body of research on Indian’s burgeoning digital society. The DGN comprises IDFC Institute, IT for Change (ITfC), Internet Democracy Project (IDP), and National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP). The IDFC Institute acts as the secretariat of the Network. Since its inception in 2018, DGN has contributed to answering India’s most pressing data governance questions, including non-personal data, and Aarogya Setu (IDP’s Covid-19 tracker was taken on record by the Karnataka High Court). DGN also uses podcasts and comics to make these topics relatable to a larger audience.
Evolutionary and experimental approach
Over more than a decade of grant-making in India, we have made deliberate choices to experiment with a wide range of options in our framework. Recognising the need to be bold and creative, our approach too has evolved.
We began with the traditional approach of grants to grassroots organisations. Our portfolio now has organisations running internet campaigns and radio shows. Newer approaches tried in recent years also include funding consortiums and very large-scale citizen surveys. Beyond funding, our support to grantees takes a variety of forms - through governance roles on their boards, membership of advisory and steering committees for specific projects and programmes, enabling access to networks and support in fundraising. Given the complexity of building a supportive ecosystem for the NHB, such a diversified approach has been essential to our success. Overlaid on this framework are several sector-specific strategies which are informed by the dynamics of each of our different areas of work.
While most of our grants are to single organisations, more recently we have started giving grants to consortiums or collectives. This approach is particularly useful in nascent areas or those areas that are less prominent and where building knowledge, narratives, or movements is necessary to build momentum for change.
Sector specific strategies: focus on the next frontiers to accelerate change 05
Accelerating change requires us to translate our ecosystem-building approach and multi-dimensional grant-making toolkit into actionable sector-specific strategies that create impact for the NHB. As philanthropy funded, mission-driven investors, Omidyar Network India seeks to consistently work at the “next frontiers” with a unique tech-led approach. Our sector-specific strategies based on our expectations of what lies ahead for each area of our work are described below.
5.A DIGITAL SOCIETY
India is rapidly digitising. Digitisation is an invaluable tool in addressing the development needs of the country faster, better and more cheaply. Our goal is to enable every Indian to feel empowered and safe when she is online, reap benefits from technology, and face minimal harm from its risks. For this, we need to collectively create a thriving and well-governed digital and data economy.
We also need the widespread adoption of responsible tech practices: inclusion, privacy, security, transparency and good governance. Our investment thesis focuses on four key pillars:
- Informed and active internet users
- Responsible tech by businesses
- Inclusion and safeguards, to protect individual agency
- Improving data governance policies
Informed and active internet users
We support innovative solutions that are:
- Building appreciation of the benefits and risks of the data and attention economy
- Enabling individuals to take steps to protect themselves from digital harms
- Building a thriving community of tech innovators working on responsible tech practices
Reclaim Your Privacy is a first-of-its-kind, independent national awareness campaign to help Indian internet users make informed choices about their data privacy. Run by 21N78E, a marketing agency, and Aapti Institute, a think-tank, it has reached over 50 million people, by taking abstract data privacy issues and simplifying them, telling real-life stories, and providing tips to be safer online.
Respect Your Privacy reached over 50 million Indians and sought to educate users on issues around data privacy and provided tips to be safer online
The Centre for Social and Behaviour Change (CSBC) at Ashoka University tested 20 design ideas that can help businesses be better stewards of data. It found, for example, that a privacy rating can help users make better decisions when sharing their data online.
An IntAct researcher conducting a Focus Group Discussion with women in Sonipat, Haryana to understand attitudes and behaviour relating to data privacy
Responsible tech by businesses
We aim to encourage innovations that promote:
- B2B solutions for privacy and good data governance
- Business models that use responsible tech practices as differentiators to build customer trust
- New models that value and monetise data differently, and in an individual-centric manner
- Stewardship on responsible tech practices and standards by tech product leaders
The Data Security Council of India (DSCI) is creating three sectoral handbooks that provide practical and actionable tips on what businesses in healthcare, financial services and other sectors can do to improve their data practices.
HasGeek, which is a platform for building peer groups, has launched #PrivacyMode, a programme that aims to bring together technologists to have discussions on privacy. The programme surfaces privacy-tech ideas, and forms communities of innovators discussing these.
Inclusion and Safeguards
We believe that in order to promote inclusion and safeguards in a digital society, it is important to have:
- Evidence to inform the design, refinement, and user-experience of tech for public functions
- Capacity-building of policymakers, and external change-makers and communities
- Solutions for equitable access to the digital economy and welfare benefits using tech
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, as soon as the national lockdown was announced, Dalberg Advisors initiated a rapid response survey of 47,000 low-income households to help policymakers with real-time data. The first set of results, released in early April 2020, showed remarkable success in sending cash to bank accounts, but challenges in beneficiaries being able to withdraw it. Dalberg shared these results with the government as a feedback loop.
Improving Data Governance Policies
We aim to build evidence and frameworks that decision-makers can use to set policies for the data economy covering elements like data privacy, non-personal data, governance of tech businesses, and online speech regulation
We funded the International Innovation Corps (IIC) at the University of Chicago to launch the ‘Young Leaders in Tech Policy (YLT)’ fellowship in 2020. The aim was to host young professionals with an engineering degree with think-tanks and non-profits working on regulation of technology. Intended to bring diverse voices into the conversation, the inaugural cohort saw 210 applicants and a selection rate of 2.4%. The fellows are contributing to the conversation on misinformation, algorithmic bias, open data and other topics through public discussions, op-eds etc.
Our grant to the National Law University Delhi helped its Centre for Communication Governance (CCG) to undertake a two-year research programme on privacy jurisprudence in India and globally. The CCG is curating a global privacy law library that already has 100+ privacy-related cases from India, Europe, Canada and USA. Stakeholders can browse through the case summaries, filter them by keyword, jurisdiction, year, and aspect of privacy. At its launch event, the Chief Justice of India called it a ‘great resource for judges, lawyers, academics’ and ‘a definitive guide on privacy in India’.
5.B GOVERNANCE & CITIZEN ENGAGEMENT
Our work in Governance & Citizen engagement seeks to strengthen urban governance, access to justice and the delivery of services by the state.
We enable citizens to be informed, have agency and engagement on the issues that matter most to them. Our work primarily focuses on two pillars:
- Urban Governance
With India’s rapid urbanisation and a high proportion of the NHB now living in cities, we seek to develop equitable, resilient and self-sustaining cities where citizens can access and afford high-quality basic public services, and actively participate in governance.
Government Implementation Capacity: Enabling the development of well-resourced and accountable government organizations through policy and technology innovations related to revenue enhancement, capacity building and performance management.
Citizen Engagement: Empowering citizens to access public services, participate in public decision making, and provide feedback to the government through technology and community mobilization initiatives.
Civic Tech: Facilitating the development of tech-led enterprises that help enhance the reach and quality of public services either by supporting governmental efforts or by working directly with citizens.
Janaagraha works with local, state and central governments to improve the financial health of cities. In partnership with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA), Janaagraha conceptualised and launched ‘City Finance’, a technology platform that serves as the means for validating audited budgets of India’s cities and making them open to the public. The portal currently hosts 3,500 financial statements of close to 1,700 urban local bodies – such information is a key initial building block in building a municipal bond market. Through its engagement with 15th Finance Commission, Janaagraha has also identified and developed policy solutions to improve the fiscal health of India’s cities, in particular through improved property tax collections.
eGovernments Foundation uses technology to transform urban governance. Digital Infrastructure for Governance, Impact & Transformation (DIGIT), its open-source technology platform, enables efficient municipal operations, improves transparency and enhances citizen access. The platform, adopted by MoHUA as part of its National Urban Innovation Stack (NUIS), has scaled to 2,000+ cities across India and impacted over 200 million citizens.
An Integrated Command and Control Centre in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh that leverages the platform created by IUDX.
The India Urban Data Exchange (IUDX) is an initiative set up at Indian Institute of Science (IISc) to address the twin problems of fragmented datasets and weak data stewardship in the context of India’s 4,000+ cities. By building a technology platform that enables easy discovery, exchange and use of public data, and cultivating a community that will both contribute data as well as leverage this data to improve public service delivery in India’s cities, it seeks to unlock the massive untapped societal value of data.
We seek to support the development of a law & justice system where citizens are aware of their rights and are able enforce them with ease.
Increasing awareness and access: Increasing awareness of legal rights, and enabling increased access to legal services through marketplaces, technology and policy innovations and grassroots models.
Dispute Resolution: Enhancing access to affordable, quick and conclusive court-led as well as alternative dispute resolution mechanisms through data, technology and policy innovations.
Enforcement: Facilitating the development of an effective and fair law enforcement and criminal justice system through evidence and technology.
Ashoka works to develop an ecosystem of innovators looking to strengthen India’s justice system to further the goal of ‘Law for All’. The program aims to increase the number of changemakers focused on the Justice system and provide them support to scale their work and impact. It has done this by supporting social justice fellows and by partnering with initiatives such as the Agami Prize that helped identify the most promising innovations in justice and supported those innovators to contribute to improving access to justice for citizens.
We also support innovations and initiatives that improve state capacity to deliver services and meet the aspirations of citizens in areas such as independent media and open data.
5.C PROPERTY RIGHTS
We believe secure rights to land, and housing are critical for economic and social empowerment, especially for the most marginalised people. . We support India’s national priorities such as effective land administration, enabling access to affordable housing, improvement of informal urban settlements, and capacity building within think tanks and other institutions engaged in policy support.
We have backed innovative business models that underwrite informal property documents to provide access to housing finance to the NHB, as well as tech-enabled platforms that improve the ease of managing land records
Our work primarily focuses on four key levers:
- Attract new players into the ecosystem, and build evidence
- Support and enhance state’s capacity in providing inclusive land and housing
- Catalyse tech-led solutions to improve access to and accuracy of property records
- Unlock the value of people’s “informal” assets through housing finance and quality land and property information
Attract new players into the ecosystem, and build evidence
We believe it is important to support innovative entrepreneurs and research that demonstrate how land and housing impact other critical development issues such as livelihood, access to finance, urban development and gender empowerment. We hope that this in turn will help catalyse more solutions in this nascent space.
The Property Rights Research Consortium (PRRC) brings together India’s leading think-tanks to collaborate and drive policy action in the field of property rights. It takes a multi-disciplinary approach to produce high-quality, evidence-based research on property rights, land governance and housing issues in India. The PRRC includes leading research institutions like National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), Center for Social and Economic Progress (CSEP), National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP) and Centre for Policy Research (CPR), each contributing uniquely with their own expertise. The consortium organisations have already produced ground-breaking research to inform the property rights discourse in India. One such example is the Land Records and Services Index (N-LRSI) produced by NCAER, which assesses the extent of digitisation of land records and the quality of these land records in the States and UTs of India.
Support state capacity in providing inclusive land and housing
In order to ensure the NHB’s inclusive access to land and housing, it is important to partner with government stakeholders and ensure effective delivery of various state policies, right down to the last mile in the hinterlands of the country.
As one of the largest grass-roots change makers, Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN) operates in some of the most backward districts in rural India to enhance livelihood opportunities for families through agriculture and allied activities. Given the importance of land as an asset to increase agriculture output, PRADAN has set out to help over 1 million tribal people in Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh gain secure rights to their forests through the Forest Rights Act, and significantly improve economic and social opportunity for these families.
Similarly, Jan Sahas works with Dalit communities in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh to enable access to land and related services, and also offers legal aid. They also partner with the local state Revenue departments and support communities in accessing government schemes such as PM KISAN which are closely linked to land record information.
Catalyse tech-led solutions to improve access to and accuracy of land records
With the advent of the mobile phone and geospatial data, technology can help bring about greater transparency and accuracy in property records.
The Foundation for Ecological Security (FES) has built an open-source, geospatial platform called India Observatory, that aims to put the power of geospatial data in the hands of village communities. Their Android tools, such as CLART and GEET, are actively used by communities. CLART helps NGOs and state governments to create village development plans and MG-NREGA plans while GEET helps rural communities in accessing government entitlements and schemes that they are eligible for.
Unlock the value of people’s informal assets
Land and housing form nearly 70% of an average Indian household’s assets, yet incomplete property documentation may render them “informal”. Even as we look to encourage solutions that improve quality of land records, it is important to enable the NHB to access finance and a host of other benefits by leveraging their existing assets. Our grantees CPR Scaling Cities for India (SciFi), is working closely with government of Odisha to enable over 100,000 slum households gain access to land title documents, sanitation services and government housing subsidy finance, through the state’s flagship Jaaga Mission.
5.D OPEN DIGITAL ECOSYSTEMS
Open Digital Ecosystems (ODEs) are the public infrastructure that we need for an increasingly digital world. We define them as “open and secure digital platforms that enable a community of actors to unlock transformative solutions for society, based on a robust governance framework.” ODEs enable interoperability between siloed systems so that innovators can build solutions on top, by leveraging open source software, open data, open standards, open licenses and open APIs. Our work focusses on the ‘non-tech’ layers of ODEs – governance, and community.
Shaping Delivery Platforms
Responsible ODE builds and pilots through investments in platform design, architecture and/or technical support to demonstrate the impact potential of ODEs in practice
One of our partners is IDInsight which is supporting NITI Aayog to create a National Data Analytics Platform (NDAP). NDAP will provide access to all major government datasets mapped to a common schema, through a user-friendly platform, enabling policy makers, researchers and businesses to conduct analysis and build solutions using this data.
Creation and implementation of 'good governance' for ODEs through responsible technology, rules and processes, and strengthening public institutions to mitigate potential risks of ODEs
Our grant to Dvara Research Foundation, aims to help create better governance frameworks for digital social protection systems, which a large number of vulnerable households rely on to access government benefits.
Building a vibrant community of open source technologists, start-ups, and civil society to drive adoption of responsible ODEs
We supported Civic Data Lab to develop a report on the Free & Open Source Software (FOSS) ecosystem in India, shedding light on the challenges and opportunities ahead for FOSS communities to help shape India’s digital future.
Our work in educations aim to improve learning outcomes for millions of students by reimagining what is taught and how students learn in the 21st century. This includes developing competencies like critical thinking and creativity, and mindsets such as grit and empathy which are vital to quality learning and critical for learners to succeed as the workforce of the future.
Our work in education spans four key areas:
- Pre K-12: EdTech
- Workforce development
- Life skills
- Generating demand for quality education
Our investments in the education sector are a mix of equity, grants to non-profit organisations solving various aspects of the education system and research projects.
One of our grantee organisations is Teach for India (TFI). TFI recruits, trains and places college graduates and working professionals in government and low-income private schools. Over the last decade, TFI has built a strong leadership talent pipeline for the education sector. The organisation estimated that its alumni are serving more than 33 million children in India, i.e. one in ten Indian school-goers. TFI’s alumni have founded more than 150+ organisations, many of which are in the education sector.
5.F FINANCIAL INCLUSION
Our financial inclusion initiative is predicated on the power of technology to make affordable, accessible and convenient financial products for underserved customers. Thus, we support entrepreneurs building financial products and services that improve the financial health of the NHB and MSMEs. We also invest in digital enablers and market infrastructure that can catalyse digital financial inclusion.
Financial Health of the NHB
Innovative models in responsible credit, savings and insurance that can improve the financial health of the Next Half Billion
Disruptive models serving MSMEs in liquidity management, asset creation, income generation, efficiency improvements and risk mitigation
B2B companies that help incumbent financial institutions in digital transformation and strengthen their ability to address underserved customer segments
The majority of our financial inclusion investments are in equity. We deploy grants to understand and address structural impediments to financial inclusion.
The Centre for Digital Financial Inclusion (CDFI) works on creating evidence-based commercialisation pathways for innovations in the digital financial inclusion space. CDFI has achieved considerable success in India as innovator, collaborator and thought leader in bringing change through technology. It has developed and supported innovative solutions in areas such as benefits delivery, data-driven governance and agriculture.
Our grantmaking thesis combines our focus on ecosystem development, a multidimensional grant making toolkit and nuanced tech-led sector level strategies that identify the next frontiers for change.
Using this approach, we have so far supported 90 organisations (and 138 projects), which have together reached 180 million lives. 6The organisations have diverse approaches - some create massive direct impact among the NHB, others focus on creating sector infrastructure, supporting state programmes and projects, building knowledge and informing large scale policy change. What they have in common is demonstrating leadership and new solutions in approaching the issues that will define India's future. Be it preparing India's children for the 21st century to governing the data of over a billion Indians; from building household assets to escape the poverty trap to ensuring equitable access to justice; from re-imagining our cities to building open digital infrastructure, they bring evidence, insight, new perspectives and solutions to fill white spaces.
We recognise that social change is a long and complex process and there are multiple pathways to impact. Success is hard to both predict and measure. What we do know, however, is that building a supportive ecosystem for the NHB that provides them agency, protects their rights and freedoms, safeguards them from harms, and fosters strong and responsive institutions to further their interests is essential to a holistic approach in helping them flourish. Since this work is complicated and difficult, we have chosen an approach of experimenting with a wide array of tools and approaches. We are continuously refining them as our understanding of the sectors we work in evolves and are committed to sharing our learnings in this journey.
The Next Half Billion represent the heartbeat of an aspiring India. The fortunes of this segment will determine India’s future for the next several decades. The shock of a world altering pandemic has placed them at a critical juncture. For us at Omidyar Network India, it has been inspiring to partner with bold and purpose-driven entrepreneurs who seek to improve the lives of the NHB.
6As of June 2019; reach does not include unique lives since the same individual might be served by multiple investees
Understanding data stewardship- taxonomy and use cases: Aapti Institute
Building a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem in India: Bain in partnership with the Planning Commission
Unlocking Digital for Bharat: $50B opportunity: Bain in partnership with Google
Credit Disrupted: Digital MSME Lending in India: Boston Consulting Group (BCG)
Building India’s Digital Highways: The Potential of Open Digital Ecosystems (ODEs): Boston Consulting Group (BCG)
The Identities Project: Caribou Digital
State of the Sector Report of Private Schools in India: Central Square Foundation
Access to justice during Covid-19: Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
Currency of Trust: Dalberg
Regulatory Sandbox for India Blueprint:Dalberg
Informal Housing, Inadequate Property Rights: FSG
Study of Informal Settlements in Bengaluru using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML):Duke University
Early Childhood Education Research: FSG
State of Aadhaar Report 2016-2018: ID Insight; State of Aadhar Report 2019: Dalberg
Linking welfare distribution to land records: a case-study of the Rythu Bandhu Scheme (RBS) in Telangana: IGIDR
Land Records Modernisation in India: IIHS
Improving Governance Through Biometric Authentication and Secure Payments in India: J-PAL
Impact Investing: Purpose-driven finance finds its place in India: McKinsey
Customer protection, risk and financial capability in India: MicroSave
Unlocking the potential of India’s data economy: practices, privacy and governance: Monitor Deloitte
Study on Digitisation of Land Records in 5 states in India: NCAER
Disclosures in privacy policies: Does “notice and consent” work?: National Institute of Public Finance and Policy
EdTech In India: RedSeer Management Consulting
A Balancing Act : The Promise and Peril of Big Tech in India: Tandem Research
Aadhaar-Enabled Fertiliser Subsidy Pilot Study: Tata Trusts
Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE), E&Y
Impact Investors Council (IIC)
Praxis Global Alliance
Sattva Consulting Pvt Ltd
The Indian Express
The Quantum Hub
21N78E, Reclaim Your Privacy Campaign
Rapid Response Funding Initiative
On March 24, 2020, Omidyar Network India announced a Rapid Response Funding Initiative (RRFI) to support organisations tackling the challenges posed by Covid-19 and its consequent socio-economic impact. We received over 2000 applications in response to our call for proposals, and approved 67 proposals, for a total commitment of INR 10.75 crore ($1.4 million). Of this, INR 3.25 crore ($0.4 million) was contributed by employees of Omidyar Network India.
The RRFI was launched keeping in mind the unprecedented socio-economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. We recognised early on that the Next Half Billion (NHB) would be among the most vulnerable to health (physical and mental) and economic shocks in the wake of this crisis. These shocks were not only felt immediately and drastically, but we expected them to have an unknown duration given the evolving circumstances created by the pandemic.