'Vividh’, derived from the Sanskrit ‘Vividha', is a word found in many Indian languages and means diverse or different.
Welcome to the third issue of Vividh
The last few years have reaffirmed the strong business case for diversity in business and organisational leadership. We have also seen the significance of inclusive and supportive organisational cultures that foster trust, in increasing retention, collaboration, and job satisfaction. In this edition, we continue the conversation on 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 Sucharita Mukherjee, Co-founder & CEO of Kaleidofin, a fintech platform that helps informal sector customers achieve their life goals, using financial products whose design and delivery are tailored to the needs of lower-income customers. Kaleidofin leverages tech and data science to make savings, insurance, credit and liquidity more accessible and intuitive. 97% of their user base is women.
We also spotlight bold leaders – Nirat Bhatnagar of Belongg and Shaman Gupta of TWEET – who are bringing innovative thinking and strategies in the DEI space. TWEET focuses on the transgender community and Belongg is creating new knowledge on the intersection of identity with domains such as development, housing, income, SDGs, education etc.
We hope that you enjoy this edition, and the conversation on DEI continues to advance.
As always, 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, Aaina Duggal 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 Sucharita Mukherjee, Co-founder & CEO, Kaleidofin on how the use of DEI as a strategic lever has helped them build and strengthen their business.
1. You designed the Kaleidofin business model around women. Was this originally planned or did this happen organically as the model evolved? When we started out, we realised that, in India, women largely carried the responsibility of the household’s long-term goals, and therefore were much more motivated to be disciplined about regular savings. On the credit side, credit bureau data on unsecured loans shows that women have higher creditworthiness. So within a year of starting operations, we realised it made business sense to focus on women customers from a product standpoint.
When designing our platform, we realized that while most customers would struggle to figure out what financial plan or products would work for them, they have a very clear idea of their real-life goals, such as saving for their children’s education or for retirement.
So rather than talking about financial products, we adopt an approach that is more relatable – we ask them about their goals, income levels, and spending patterns. The platform then curates an individualized solution for each customer that stitches together a savings target, insurance for “goal protection”, and an on-demand loan for household financial management. By reframing the discussion around “goals”, we make savings, investment into mutual funds, and insurance products more accessible to our customers, thus lowering the barriers to entry.
2. Can you outline the design features in your products that are specifically tailored to women? Some specific design features tailored to women are:
1. Onboarding assistance: Both smartphone-owning women customers, as well as those who own feature phones, generally find the KYC and other set-up processes challenging and onerous. Our tech architecture enables onboarding assistance – over 3000 agents across the country help our women customers get onboarded painlessly, thus enabling a significantly better customer experience.
2. Use of voice for self-service: From our customer research and experiments, we learnt that our women customers responded better to voice than text. We designed voice stories to generate excitement around the goals and explain the importance of, and drive regular collections. Our listen rates are above 80%.
3. Privacy: In several households, while women own feature phones, it is the spouse who owns the smartphone. We had earlier thought Kaleidofin could leverage the smartphone in the household, but soon realised that most women desired to keep financial transactions confidential, particularly from their spouse. Driving an independent connect to the woman (not through her spouse’s smartphone) is critical to adoption and regularity. Our design empowers women to provide an alternate contact number – a trusted woman neighbour or a friend – rather than their spouse.c
3. The CEO and CTO at Kaleidofin are women. This is rare within the startup ecosystem. What have been the advantages and what were some key challenges you faced? This makes us stand out in both the startup and fintech ecosystems. There are numerous advantages, including having higher levels of inter- and intra-team collaboration. We also believe it helps deliver better results – women have higher EQ and are multidimensional in their approach to business strategy. We certainly want to leverage these strengths.
We’ve faced a “not-at-all level” playing field in the funding markets. However, we have been successful due to sheer tenacity, and support from other women investors and funders like yourself has accelerated our journey towards our mission.
4. How has this translated into the culture at Kaleidofin? How would you describe the culture and how do you ensure that diverse voices within the team are heard? The Kaleidofin culture embraces customer centricity and respects diversity at every level. We encourage a free flow of communication and transparency in decision-making. We actively seek out and hire diverse candidates. One of our guiding principles is “even if we disagree, we commit”. There is no place for passive aggression at Kaleidofin, as this is damaging and performance-destroying. Moreover, most of our teams are cross-functional, with individuals from varied backgrounds – their diverse opinions, experiences and perspectives enable us to consider all possible solutions, risks and outcomes.
5. Finally, how would you explain the importance of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion as a strategic lever to young founders? How would you advise them on getting started with DEI? We need to make a concerted effort to hire more women and queer employees, especially in tech and product-based roles where they are obviously under-represented. Also, since startup founders play a major role in setting the culture of the firm, they can embed DEI in the building blocks, beginning with low-hanging fruit, for example, using gender-specific pronouns and, subsequently, more elaborate diversity measures. We have found it easier to build loyalty and seen lower attrition amongst underrepresented groups. This has enabled continuity and better performance and will result in a long-term competitive advantage. I am hoping this will encourage “open” young founders to respond well to DEI.
Co-Chair of the Transgender Welfare Equity and Empowerment Trust (TWEET) Foundation
Transgender Welfare Equity and Empowerment Trust aka TWEET Foundation is a trans-led non-profit organisation that works for the socio-economic wellbeing of trans people including investing in the skilling and placement of transgender persons. Hear from Shaman Gupta, co-chair, on the inclusion of transgender persons at workplaces:
In 2017, TWEET Foundation helped place a person from the transgender community in an international bank as an administrator. The news made it to various social media channels and Rita* became the poster girl for corporate inclusion of trans people. Within a few months, Rita dropped out of the job. Both the company & candidate were left with a sour experience where they felt misunderstood and judged. The government of India provides legal recognition and protection to transgender persons under the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights Act) 2019, but most companies are yet to adapt their policies and strategies to include transgender persons as part of their workforce. Over the past few years, while there has been much talk about DEI and ‘why’ having a diverse workforce makes strategic sense for innovation, sustainability, and social impact, we believe the ‘how’ of it has not been adequately discussed. Some key principles become crucial to the success of any DEI initiative.
1. Acknowledge: Most leaders feel that their organisation has not discriminated/will not discriminate against someone just because of their gender identity. Yet most often, systemic exclusion starts from the hiring process itself – the binary gendered column in recruitment forms, defined criteria for higher education in job descriptions, and asking for changed legal documents before accepting the person’s preferred name and gender at the workplace, are just some of these barriers. Acknowledging our subconscious biases and accepting that as a society we need to reverse years of conditioning is a key principle to keep in mind.
2. Invest: The biggest misconception is that LGBTQIA inclusion only requires a mindset change. While that is necessary and crucial, it is equally important for systems in organisations to be overhauled when breaking out of traditional norms. Tata Steel is one such example. Over the years, the organisation invested in building strong policies, and infrastructure that was conducive to hiring trans people, training and sensitising their teams- eventually they hired more than a hundred trans persons and demonstrated that this was possible. True inclusion often requires organisations to invest time and monetary resources in undoing traditional setups and only those who absolutely believe that it’s worth the investments are the ones who take the leap and set a positive example.
3. Empower: The final and the most important principle driving inclusion is ‘empowerment’. It’s important to build the capabilities of the communities in ways that allow communities to come out of the systemic oppression they have faced. Education, mental health, career awareness, skill building, gender affirmation support etc are key initiatives that will provide a much-required leverage to build an empowered community.
*Name changed for identity protection
III) Ideas for practitioners
Field visits and grassroots engagement
While we have heard many powerful stories about the impact of Jan Sahas' work, the entire ONI team had an opportunity to visit their training centre in Sonkach, Madhya Pradesh, (an hour’s drive from Indore) to hear and see first-hand the impact their work has had on the communities they work in. Jan Sahas has been at the forefront of the fight against manual scavenging and bringing dignity to women’s labour through skill development, entrepreneurship programs and services such as counselling, legal aid, and land and property rights support. For over two decades, Jan Sahas has focused on economic empowerment for some of India’s marginalized communities - Dalits, tribals, women, migrant labourers, sex workers and survivors of sexual violence.
We are grateful to the Jan Sahas team and community for welcoming us to their centre. Our entire team came away inspired, with renewed optimism and commitment to supporting bold entrepreneurs like Ashif who are helping create a meaningful life for India’s Next Half Billion and beyond.
Expanding your team's thinking
The ONI team recently heard fascinating insights from Nirat Bhatnagar, Founder of Belongg, a social venture that focuses on intersectional diversity and inclusion, about how social impact organisations could drive greater intersectional inclusion, i.e. solving identity-linked challenges, in funding decisions, program design, investee support, and within investment teams. Read more about their work here.
Testing your own biases
A session hosted by The Alternative Story team, led by Paras Sharma and Rashi Vidyasagar, helped us learn about unconscious biases and highlight our own biases regarding the queer community. The Alternative Story is a mental health startup based out of Bangalore that helps organizations set up customized solutions, run and monitor mental health and prevention of sexual harassment initiatives along with leadership training and workshops. Read more about their work here.
IV) What We’re Reading
Addressing Gender-Based Violence
Gender-based violence affects one in three women worldwide, making it an urgent and important policy challenge. This insightful paper by Hari Seshasayee details this complicated challenge including the successes and failures of various public policy responses globally and offers recommendations for a path forward.
We’d love to know what you think about Vividh. Write to us at email@example.com. Do share this newsletter widely and encourage your friends to sign up for future editions here.
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 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 invest in the areas of Digital Society, Education, Emerging Tech, Financial Inclusion, Cities & Innovation and Property Inclusivity. 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.