'Vividh’, derived from the Sanskrit ‘Vividha', is a word found in many Indian languages and means diverse or different.
Welcome to the fourth issue of Vividh
Thank you so much for being a part of this journey with us. It has been 1.5 years since we launched our first edition of Vividh, and it’s been heartening to see the response to this newsletter. Several of you have taken the conversation further, continuing to build stronger organisations and businesses – and that is precisely what we set out to do.
In a bid to strengthen our own commitment to DEI, we at Omidyar Network India have added a new area of work – The Equal Opportunities Lab – to address structural inequities that inhibit progress for women, persons with disability, under-served regions, and the elderly. We are also undertaking a flagship survey and study covering 30 of our investees. This will help establish a baseline of the status of DEI within these orgs and help us support them more meaningfully in their DEI efforts.
In this edition of Vividh, continuing with the theme of using Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) as a strategic lever to build strong businesses we bring to you perspectives from some leading organisations which have built stronger businesses by focusing on the principles of DEI, and with that, have created differentiated value for customers, employees, and the ecosystem at large.
We speak to Shruti Gonsalves, CEO & MD of Sitara, an affordable housing finance company focusing on the female informal worker. By providing small-ticket loans to low-income women borrowers against properties with informal documentation, Sitara is helping these women create first-time financial assets in their name, leading to greater empowerment, autonomy, and involvement in decision-making in the family.
We spotlight bold leaders – Alina Alam of Mitti Café, Nivedita Krishna of Pacta, and Ratnaprabha Sable of Vividhataa – who are providing innovative services and strategies on DEI. Mitti Café provides a life of dignity to persons with disabilities through meaningful employment. Pacta, an all-women legal team, focuses on bringing legal services to non-profits aligned with the ethics of public service. Vividhataa is a recruitment and consulting start-up focused exclusively on meaningfully engaging diverse groups in the workplace. We also highlight the DOST app, which helps foster inclusivity in written communication at the workplace, by using AI to identify biased content.
We hope this can act as a useful guide for all of us to double-down on DEI within our organisations and our spheres of influence, and lead to stronger, more inclusive organisations and businesses.
We hope that you enjoy this edition. As always, kudos to our energetic ‘DEI Crew’: Abhirup Sarkar, Baani Bareja, Krishna Vadera, Lakshmi Pattabi Raman, Pakzan Dastoor, Shiv Moola, Tariq Mustafa, and Zitin Kaul. They were joined by Aaina Duggal, Rohan Vyavaharkar, and Shivani Daiya in publishing this newsletter.
Best wishes, Roopa Kudva
I) Perspectives from our portfolio
Rohan Vyavaharkar spoke to Shruti Gonsalves, MD & CEO, Sitara, on how the use of DEI as a strategic lever has helped them build a stronger and differentiated business.
1. What is the core philosophy behind building Sitara as a housing finance company? Our core philosophy has been inspired by and drawn from the SEWA (Self Employed Women’s Association) approach of organizing self-employed women in the informal economy and assisting their collective journey for greater social justice and equality. SEWA is among the largest central trade unions in India, with a membership of over 2.5 million low-income, self-employed women workers from the informal economy across India, with the twin goals of achieving full employment and self-reliance for its members.
At Sitara, we believe that every woman’s dream, especially in the lower income brackets, is “to have her own house”. Our vision is to help her realise her dream. Our mission is to finance access to decent housing and sound living environments for and with participation of low-income women and their families, particularly those employed in the informal sector. Sitara aims at improving the quality of life of these often informally employed women, by creating a tangible financial asset in their name, usually their first-ever asset.
2. What are the product design features that are specifically women friendly? We have several features aimed specifically at making our loan women-focused.
Firstly, the woman of the family has to be the main applicant in the loan request, and the money is deposited in the account registered in her name. The ownership rights of property should be with the woman, or she should be a joint-owner.
Additionally, building and maintenance of water and sanitation facilities are mandatory to keep receiving loan disbursals, ensuring that women have these facilities within the house, promoting better health, hygiene, and safety.
We also ensure that we have female loan officers and that branch officers form personal connections with applicants, assisting them throughout the process, especially since most of the applicants tend to be uneducated.
3. What is the composition of the Board and leadership team at Sitara? Has it been a conscious decision? How does this composition impact your business? The Board of Sitara consists of 5 female and 6 male Board members, a conscious decision on our end. A business like ours needs a more empathetic and balanced approach while driving business growth. It is also important to us that both male and female team members complement and support each other to create diversity of human capital, resulting in equity, and an innovative and diverse workforce.
4. At the overall team level, what have been the roadblocks in making Sitara a more diverse workplace? What is the most difficult axis of DEI to build out in an organisation? We have faced various roadblocks!
The big one has been in tier II and III cities where we face challenges hiring women in field positions due to aspects like demography, shortage of the right skills, road connectivity, safety perceptions, etc. There is also a preference to work in banks since they are perceived to be safer than privately owned housing finance companies. Hence, female employees prefer working in banks than in housing finance companies.
The most difficult axis for us to build out is Equity. People often confuse equity with equality. Equity strives to identify the specific requirements of employees — needs that are related to ethnicity, age, religion, gender identity, and so on. It subsequently takes the varying needs into account by working to make up the difference between the minority and majority groups. In short, equity is key to empowering minorities of any kind.
5. Finally, how would you explain the importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as a strategic lever to young founders? In today’s day and age where markets are getting highly competitive, Diversity & Equity in the workplace — with true inclusion — matters to employees and customers, and even for the long-term business growth. Diversity in the workplace expands and solidifies the customer base, by allowing various viewpoints and innovative solutions, and sometimes even unique ideas that can provide business edge. A well-thought through DEI strategy can also help build long-term business growth goals.
Mitti’s team of adults with disability have cooked and served over 11 million meals since 2017 through 35 cafes across India, and served over 4 million Karuna Meals to the economically less-privileged. The organisation also provides experiential training to over 4000 persons with disabilities and those from vulnerable communities. Their outreach initiative helps create awareness about inclusion and disability rights.
I started Mitti Café while still at University, with the aim of creating a platform for adults with physical, intellectual, and psychiatric disabilities. I wanted to showcase their potential for productive activity and create awareness for the cause of equal opportunities in employment.
Today, Mitti Café is empowering Persons with Disabilities towards self-reliance, financial independence, and, most importantly, a life of dignity, joy, and respect. Through this journey, I have learnt some key lessons, which have been crucial for the success of the organisation.
1. Leverage the Community: The power of the community to grow exponentially is key to success. I started Mitti with zero start-up capital and multiple rejections. Our first cafe was a small dilapidated shed that the community helped fix and set up. All our equipment - the second-hand fridge, used oven, tissue papers, and even the spoons - were donated by the community. The local electrician refused to charge me his fee to repair the fridge, saying it was his contribution! The community has enabled me to build, sustain, and scale Mitti Cafe. The ROI on kindness is very high.
2. 1% idea, 99% execution: I’ve learned to be ready for the unexpected: planning is great; so are strategies, action plans, and timelines. But when you are trying to impact lives, be ready to face the unexpected as ‘the only thing constant is change’. Adaptability, creativity, dedication, innovation, patience, perseverance, and resilience are among the many virtues that will come in handy.
3. Ask, and you shall receive: While it’s not as easy as it sounds, learn to not take refusals personally. Learning from them is very beneficial. Every partnership takes time to build, to cultivate a symbiotic relationship, rather than a transactional one. However, be clear with your asks, and don’t shy away from dreaming big.
4. Value your team: The people who stick with you and your purpose through thick and thin – your family, friends, acquaintances, team members – should be treasured. Through them, you are empowered to do more for others. Compassion, empathy, and respect are very important.
Read the more detailed version of the article by Alina Alam here.
III) Ideas for practitioners
Reimagining your team
Vividhataa is a recruitment and consulting start-up focused exclusively on DEI. Led by Ratnaprabha Sable, with over a decade of recruitment experience, the organisation strives to specifically and meaningfully engage diverse workforces including women, Persons with Disabilities, LGBTQIA+ individuals, “returning to work” women, veterans, acid attack survivors, and other socio-economic minority groups. Their flagship event – India’s Diversity Job Fair – is in its fourth edition this year and partners with employers such as Adidas, Aditya Birla Finance, Cummins, Dr. Reddy’s Foundation, Godrej Group, Puma, and Sarthak, among others. You can reach them there: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pacta is a Bengaluru-based, full-service boutique law firm and policy think tank, focusing solely on the legal needs of the social sector. An all-women team, led by Nivedita Krishna, provides legal advisory services to philanthropies, grassroots non-profits, schools, and universities, including National Law School of India University, Azim Premji Foundation, Sukhibhava Foundation, among others. Pacta also pursues independent research, culminating in policy briefs and strategy across sectors such as disability and inclusion, education, technology, philanthropy, and gender equality.
Your own DEI assistant
The Dost app, from the generative AI platform ishield, fosters inclusivity in written language at the workplace. Integrated within Slack and Microsoft Teams, whenever a person sends a message that could be deemed biased, Dost immediately flags the content to the user with a discreet message and provides them an opportunity to take corrective action of deleting or editing the language, helping reduce unintended microaggressions, toxicity, or bias in communications.
IV) What We’re Reading
One Size Does Not Fit All
In Invisible Women, Caroline Criado Perez provides eye-opening examples of the biases in the design of common, apparently gender-neutral, products used in everyday life and the ramifications of the “one-size-fits-men” approach – from housing to childcare . A must-read for anyone who is serious about addressing the challenges faced by half the world’s population.
The Start-up’s Guide to DEI
The DEI Playbook by Company Ventures is specially written for early-stage start-up founders who likely have a very full plate. While the recommended resources are global, the tools and frameworks can be adapted to and can facilitate deeper conversations and help kickstart, develop, and amplify DEI practices across contexts.
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 Advancing Cities, Digital Society, Education & Employability, Emerging Technologies, Financial Inclusion & Well-being 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.