An Entrepreneurial Approach to Tackling Poverty: Why We Invested in The/Nudge Foundation

An Entrepreneurial Approach to Tackling Poverty: Why We Invested in The/Nudge Foundation

India suffers from extreme economic inequality with 373 million ‘multi-dimensionally poor’ and 145 million Indians living below the poverty line, as per World Bank estimates. A recent 2020 report by the World Economic Forum also states that Indians born into poor families will take seven generations to reach the country’s mean income. With India accounting for 60% of the global increase in poverty, there is an urgent need for innovation and a strong bias for action.

However, all is not bleak. In the fight against poverty, much has been achieved over the last few years. According to the United Nations Development Programme, between 2006-2016, over 271 million people in India moved out of poverty, recording the fastest reductions in the multidimensional poverty index values during the period.

During the last two decades, India has implemented several social protection programmes to improve living standards, and these have helped in poverty reduction. Atul Satija, founder of The/Nudge epitomises this hope and believes there is a lot more we can achieve by coming together and working collaboratively and creatively. In a recent blog titled Freedom from poverty is not an impossible dream  he writes “we are a country rich in resources and human capital. If we all put our minds to it, commit ourselves to find solutions to free our citizens from the chains of poverty, surely we won’t need seven generations to achieve it?”

Since its inception in 2015 by founder Atul Satija, The/Nudge has emerged as an important voice in the development sector, focusing on 3 broad areas of impact through its centres:

I) The Centre for Rural Development concentrates on alleviating ‘extreme poverty’ in rural areas, enabling sustainable livelihoods, food security, and access to government welfare nets for the vulnerable.
II) The Centre for Social Innovation aspires to draw talent, capital, and resources into the development sector through incubation/acceleration of non-profit start-ups and other social enterprises as well as pioneering projects in public-private partnerships such as the Indian Administrative Fellowship, etc.
III) The Centre for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship is focused on developing the employability of youth in service sector jobs.

The sheer size and complexity of India’s economic development challenges will necessitate a collaborative approach that brings together the ecosystem over a sustained period to find long-term solutions. The/Nudge works in tandem with governments, markets, and communities to catalyse social transformation across the country. It brings together entrepreneurs, leaders, and lawmakers to find comprehensive solutions to different aspects of poverty, and ensure they are implemented and scaled to achieve real impact.

In India, we believe this approach is going to be key especially in the post-Covid era, as the scale of problems will far exceed the volume of available funding in the development sector. It is therefore critical for developmental organizations to avoid duplication of efforts, leverage synergies, and make collaboration a key tenet of their work when they redesign their interventions.

The/Nudge at a Unique Vantage Point

What makes The/Nudge stand apart is its ability to apply a new-age, entrepreneurial approach to the field of development, by building evidence-based solutions focused on economic empowerment and social protection, while also addressing ecosystem barriers and supporting implementation at scale.

For example, one of the key initiatives that Omidyar Network India has supported over the last few years is the support that The/Nudge provides to early-stage non-profits through its incubator to help exceptional entrepreneurs begin their journey towards creating meaningful impact at scale. Atul’s motivation to support the non-profit ecosystem is driven by his own experience of running his first non-profit, where he often struggled to receive adequate support

First Job

India’s non-profit sector is inadequately developed. While this sector contributes 5.4% to GDP and employs over 10% of the workforce in the US, the corresponding numbers for India are less than 1% and 0.5% respectively. The non-profits that The/Nudge has nurtured through their incubator have had an impact on over 15 million Indians, while also contributing to building the ecosystem in nascent sectors like land rights and housing.

Another recent pioneering initiative of The/Nudge is the Asha Kiran project. The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic had a devastating impact on the lives and livelihoods of India’s poor, especially in rural areas. Asha Kiran has brought together government agencies, NGOs, and private organizations in Uttar Pradesh to respond to the immediate needs as well as find more permanent solutions to help UP’s rural poor, especially women, improve their food security, income security and build long-term sustainable livelihoods.

The program is building and scaling targeted, high-impact, and cost-effective interventions which include enabling access to public welfare schemes such as MGNREGS and PDS on one hand while figuring out scalable models of rural livelihoods such as goatery, poultry through end to end design of backward and forward linkages.

First harvest from her own kitchen garden - Nanki Devi, program participant - ultra poor program by TheNudge in Jharkhand

Such programs have helped redefine the sector by raising awareness, creating meaningful dialogue, and attracting funds for developmental work.

Core Support to Accelerate the Journey from Operator to Facilitator

Now at an inflection point, The/Nudge is all set for a new phase of growth, with a target of enabling 10 million people to come out of poverty by 2025. They are focusing on expanding their current operations, building capacity, and introducing new initiatives aimed at transitioning the foundation from an operator to a facilitator. A ‘facilitator approach’ will entail a greater focus on working collaboratively with the right stakeholders in the ecosystem, while continuing to expand the ambition of its work.  

Omidyar Network India’s core grant of $2 million aims to support The/Nudge in the next phase of its growth. We believe unrestricted funding gives innovative organizations like The/Nudge the flexibility they need to invest in strengthening their infrastructure and organizational capabilities to support their growth in the long term.

This core grant will also enable The/Nudge to further develop its strategy, hire key talent, bolster its data and technology layer and build stronger impact measurement tools. Given the positive experience of our previous engagement with The/Nudge’s Centre for Social Innovation (N/Core), we are excited to partner with The/Nudge in a wider and bolder ambition.

We believe that with the right support, The /Nudge can create a significant impact for millions of people struggling with the burden of poverty in India. At ONI, we believe in supporting bold entrepreneurs who are attempting to drive social transformation at scale. We do hope this grant supports The/Nudge Foundation to catalyse innovation in the developmental sector and for their work to flourish at scale.