Vividh Edition II: Using DEI as a Strategic Lever in Building Businesses

Vividh Edition II: Using DEI as a Strategic Lever in Building Businesses

'Vividh’, derived from the Sanskrit ‘Vividha', is a word found in many Indian languages and means diverse or different.

Welcome to the second issue of Vividh

In the first issue of Vividh in January 2022, we made a clarion call: “Let’s talk. And let’s make it happen”. This edition spotlights how practitioners are using DEI as a strategic lever – embedding DEI in their core business and strategy to accelerate success and impact.

We speak to Ranjeet Pratap Singh, Co-founder & CEO of Pratilipi, India’s largest self-publishing platform covering 12 Indian languages. Pratilipi’s mission is to create an engaged community connecting readers and writers. Millions of people are using Pratilipi to discover, express and share their stories. Pratilipi is addressing barriers that the Next Half Billion (NHB) internet users in India, particularly women, face in going online and realising the power of the internet.

We also highlight Louie Voice Control (LVC), a pioneering accessibility platform built by Pramit Bhargava to assist virtually impaired persons navigate daily-use mobile apps through voice commands. We’re proud to partner with Pramit and the LVC team on this journey towards building a truly inclusive digital society.

In the inaugural issue of Vividh, we made a commitment to strengthening diversity within our own organisation. We’re delighted to announce that we reached a milestone of 50% women on our investment team in March 2022. You can hear from some of them here. 

Finally, kudos to our energetic ‘DEI Crew’: Abhirup Sarkar, Baani Bareja, Charu Chadha, Pooja Kini, Priyanka Pawar, Tariq Mustafa, Unnishankar Jayaprakash and Zitin Kaul. They were joined by Aman Totla, Kartik Sahni and Rohan Vyavaharkar in publishing this newsletter.

Best wishes,
Roopa Kudva 
Managing Partner,
Omidyar Network India

I) Perspectives from our portfolio

Roopa Kudva spoke to Ranjeet Pratap Singh, Co-founder & CEO, Pratilipi on how using DEI as a strategic lever has helped them shape and strengthen their business.

Can you give us a sense of the profile of your users – the 30 million readers and 600,000 writers on Pratilipi?
Our readers and writers come from all walks of life across different dimensions like gender, age, geography and financial status. A key highlight is that ~60% of our writers and 55% of our readers are women. 80 of our top 100 writers are women. 

Beyond gender, the age profile of our readers and writers is diverse too. ~50% of our readers are aged between 18-34 years but we also have 11% readers above the age of 55 years. 60% of our writers are between ages 18-34.

Within India, about half our readers and 60% of writers live in the top 7 cities, leaving a significant proportion of our readers (50%) and writers (40%) from smaller towns and villages.

Did you consciously set out to build a user base with a significant proportion of women or did this happen organically?
In the beginning, it happened entirely organically. However, in 2017 you (Roopa and ONI) challenged us to think more deeply about why this was the case and how that should impact our product and business strategy.

Once we dug into the data and spoke with our users we learnt that most online platforms of today are primarily geared towards the interests of young men. Pratilipi being a horizontal interest-based platform, had become one of the places that women could call home. For a large part of our women users, Pratilipi plays the same role that TV used to play -- our two biggest readership peaks are during the typical TV prime time slots (lunch / dinner).

How did the understanding of your user profile impact your thinking and approach to the business? 
Once we became conscious about our user profile, we started focusing on two key points. Since a large part of our audience is women and young people, we emphasised fostering the feelings of trust, safety and general positive emotions when people use the Pratilipi platform. As an example, almost everything about the user profile in Pratilipi is optional – you don’t have to enter any information if you don’t want to. Similarly, reviews and comments with positive messaging get more visibility than negative ones.

Second, given our very diverse user base, it was very important for us to keep our product as simple and intuitive as possible. When we launch a new language, we don’t just translate the features or communication, we also pay attention to the larger regional context to make it relatable for our users.

Give us a sense of the diversity in your own organisation (e.g., staff, Board).
We probably have one of the most diverse teams amongst start-ups in India across several dimensions including gender, age, geography, economic status, educational background etc.

Nearly a third of our staff identify as female. We have women in key leadership roles like Head of Product, VP-Engineering, Head of Legal, Head of Product for Pratilipi FM, and business head for IVM Podcasts.

We have consistently received very high Net Promoter Scores (NPS) in team surveys. I believe that it is at least in part due to the diversity we have.

How are decisions made in Pratilipi? How do you ensure diverse voices are represented in decision-making? 
Our decision-making process is fairly simple. Whoever is closest to the decision (or whoever will be most impacted by that decision) gets to make that decision. It is obviously not a representative way of decision making (we try to take care of that by virtue of our first core value - always try to do the right thing), nor is it the most efficient decision-making process. However, we believe that this is the most effective way of decision making for our context, since this gives people more independence and forces them to be more accountable.

Finally, how would you explain the importance of DEI as a strategic lever to a new founder? How would you advise them on getting started with DEI?
My advice would be to just start from first principles. Read as much as you can, speak to as many people who you think do a good job, have informal chats with your own colleagues and then figure out what works best for your specific context. So much of what we do at Pratilipi is what we have learnt from other companies and organisations and we are just trying to push the bar a little bit further. So newer founders and leaders can hopefully learn from us and take it further still. When you start thinking from first principles, you know that diversity is better both for your business and for the broader world. And true diversity (as against tokenism) can’t exist without equity and inclusion.

I see that leaders either want to be perfect or they give up saying it is challenging and risky, so why even try. To them, I would say – you are a founder, you have already learnt that being embarrassed by your first product release is a feature, not a bug. Good products come from thoughtful and long-term evolution. Think of culture and DEI similarly. You don’t need to be perfect, you need to start and then continuously and consciously evolve over the long term.

Read the full interview here 

Innovation spotlight: Louie Voice Control (LVC)

Nearly 300 million people globally are Visually Impaired (VI), as estimated by the World Health Organisation. With growing digitisation, businesses are moving online – today, almost every day-to-day utility such as mobility, food delivery and banking is being accessed through technology. Yet, there are no specialized platforms addressing the requirements of the VI community to use these basic apps.

LVC’s voice assistant, Louie – named after Louis Braille, inventor of the Braille language – mimics a human and allows VI users to operate popular applications via voice commands. Hear the inspiring story of Pramit Bhargava, founder of LVC.

II) DEI Voices: Hear from the community

Guest authors: Anurag Bhaskar, Avinash Mathews and Disha Wadekar

Co-founders, Community for the Eradication of Discrimination in Education and Employment (CEDE)

Even 70 years after the enactment of the Indian Constitution, there is systemic under-representation of Dalits (Scheduled Castes), Adivasis (Scheduled Tribes), Other Backward Classes, Nomadic & Denotified communities, transgender individuals, persons with disabilities, people from North-East India, women, and other minorities in both the legal profession and the judiciary. In the 70-year history of the Indian Supreme Court, there have been only 5 Justices who have been from Scheduled Castes. In the absence of due representation, the legal profession and the judiciary cannot ever be truly representative of the historically marginalised. The lack of representation also raises questions of caste exclusion, institutional credibility, and accountability.

CEDE was founded when one of the founders attended a webinar on diversity in the legal profession. Six panellists were called, and not a single Dalit or Adivasi person was represented. This limited idea of diversity, commonplace in the corporate world, is all the more pernicious in the legal field, where social capital and networks mean everything for career prospects.

CEDE works towards reducing the gap in representation by acting as an intermediary between students/graduates from marginalized communities, and the legal profession and judiciary. We have created a network of lawyers, law firms, judges, and other organisations and individuals, who are committed towards reforming the Indian legal profession.

CEDE has undertaken four key initiatives : 

  • Crowdsourcing Opportunities: Our network of lawyers commits to offering at least one paid internship each year to a student from marginalized social backgrounds. 
  • Capacity-building: We host regular sessions where both soft and technical skills such as preparing resumes, email etiquette and legal research are taught, and also help students from marginalized communities apply for higher education abroad.
  • Research: CEDE conducts research on representation in the legal field to inform policy. 
  • Advocacy: Our notable events include lectures delivered by Dr. Justice DY Chandrachud (Judge, Supreme Court of India) and Dr. Justice S. Muralidhar (Chief Justice, High Court of Orissa), among others.

CEDE hopes to start these conversations in other fields as well, and leverage our learnings in the legal space to help other organisations who want to make a difference in this respect.

If you’d like to donate towards our cause, please click here.

Read the more detailed version of the article

III) Ideas for practitioners 

Hear from external voices to deepen understanding

Guest speakers are a great way to learn more about DEI. Our two recent guest speakers provided fascinating insights:

Meera Shenoy, Founder-CEO of Youth4Jobs spoke on "Ability in Disability” – describing Youth4Job’s systems-change lens to supporting education and employment of persons with disabilities, built on changing mindsets, promoting accessibility infrastructure and skilling with job linkages.

Claire Sibthorpe, Head of Digital Inclusion in GSMA’s Mobile for Development team, spoke about accelerating digital inclusion for the underserved in low- and middle-income countries, and how phone operators are working to reduce the gender gap in mobile internet and money services. "The GSMA’s Mobile Gender Gap Report 2021" presents fascinating insights on mobile internet use in low- and middle-income communities.

Review employee policies

We recently refreshed our “employee handbook”, revising the content from a DEI lens to ensure that our core values are embedded in the written word in our policies, with a view to make every employee feel as included as they should.

Consider virtual volunteering with Goodera

Goodera helps companies provide volunteering opportunities to their employees with thousands of non-profits in 100+ countries. It is helping organisations around the world curate virtual or hybrid volunteering experiences relevant to their mission. Virtual volunteering enables employees to dedicate some of their time in giving back meaningfully to the community – popular areas for volunteering include racial inequality, education and climate change.

Our team at a Goodera virtual volunteering session

IV) What We’re Reading

Various Dimensions Of The Gender Gap 

The WEF Gender Gap Report 2021 provides important insights on the evolution of gender-based gaps among four key dimensions (economic participation and opportunity, education, health/ survival, and political empowerment) and tracks progress towards closing these gaps.

Journeys of Discrimination

Waiting For a Visa is a short autobiographical account by Dr. BR Ambedkar that provides a powerful reminder of the subtle and not-so-subtle discrimination in Indian society.  

We’d love to know what you think about Vividh. Write to us at
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